The dojang smelled. It was an odd combination of sweat, aromatic shoes and dirty socks. It'd been years since I last entered a dojang, and even longer since I'd actually trained with anyone.
Parents sat in folding chairs along the edge of the mats. Some watched and smiled as their children held guns to the chests of other children. Other parents cringed, and busied themselves with their phones, or some other distraction. I suppose watching your 8-year-old hold a gun to another child’s head is a bit unsettling, even if it's a rubber gun.
The class ended with a rush of kids and teens making their way to the front to retrieve shoes and school bags. The S.A.F.E. class would begin soon. From what I understood, it was a women's self-defense class. I was skeptical, but came anyway. What could they possibly teach in two hours that a woman would retain and use if attacked? It took years of dedicated training to even hope you'd react the right way. I knew.
I watched the women walk onto the mat. Most came with a buddy. At least they understood one thing: There's safety in numbers. A short, stumpy older man stood in the middle of the room. His students formed a circle around him and he invited the newbies to join.
I stayed back. He caught my eye and smiled.
"You're right on time. Good." He greeted me with a handshake and brought me into the circle.
"Everyone, this is Dezeray Jackson. She's a private detective and she knows a thing or two about being attacked. Ms. Walker," he gestured to one of his black belts, "suggested she speak with you tonight."
"Thank you, Mr. Walls. We’ve all heard the stats. Turn on the TV and you’re inundated with story after story about attacks, shootings, domestic violence — the list goes on. The most important thing I can tell you about self-defense is what Mr. Miyagi said: The best defense is not to be there. Don't put yourself in bad situations. Listen to your gut.”
"Ms. Jackson, tell the ladies some of your experiences," Mr. Walls said.
"Well, I don't want to take up too much of your time. I'll give you the short version. In my line of work, things can get physical. What I never expected happened years before I became a detective. When I was in college, I met a guy who was all "champagne and roses" in the beginning. By the second month,he became verbally abusive. By the third month, the abuse became physical. It culminated in a knock-em down, drag-em out fight. He finally had me pinned in a corner of my kitchen."
"Ms. Jackson?" A young women, maybe 19 years old, interrupted. "I thought you knew martial arts."
"I did, but I wasn't training regularly at the time. I had the knowledge, but not the speed. Let me be perfectly clear. I was a cocky 20-something martial artist, but I wasn't much of a fighter."
I made eye contact with each newbie. "Just because you're attending this training doesn't mean you'll suddenly know, and be able to use everything right away. You have to be willing to practice. What you learn needs to become embedded in your muscles."
I turned and asked one of the male black belts to attack me from behind, but not to let me know when he’d do it. I faced the young woman again.
"When he pinned me in the corner, all I remember seeing was his knee raising up to my face.”
"What did you do?" asked an older woman. I'd put her at about 42 years old. She had remnants of bruising along her left forearm that she kept touching as I spoke.
"I don't remember exactly what I did, but his knee never made contact with my face. The fight ended. I never saw him again, but he was around. He made that known.”
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