When I signed up for Juno Self Defense, I wondered what I could learn that I hadn’t learned before. Back when I was in college (in the US), I took a self-defense class and even served as a teacher’s assistant in the self defense class for a semester. Could I really learn more about self-defense? I tried the moves from my previous class on my boyfriend (obviously not all the moves… I want him to survive 😉 ) but I still couldn’t always break free from a wrist grab, for example. I wasn’t sure it was possible to get out of every situation.
I was uncertain, and I was nervous. I didn’t have many expectations about how the class would be : what would we do, how would I learn to defend myself better than I already knew how to? All I knew before the class was that Synthia, the Juno Self Defense instructor, is a bad-ass krav maga fighting, 3rd degree black belt wielding chick who would whip me in to shape.
Honestly, living in Amsterdam I hardly ever feel like I’m in a dangerous situation. I try to stay away from deserted areas and always avoid biking through the park during late hours. But recently I read several news articles about female joggers who were attacked (in the US) and in some cases killed. Not here in the Netherlands, I told myself. Then a few weeks ago a colleague of mine was attacked – she got away, and the police caught the criminal – but she was attacked in broad daylight. My eyes were opened and I knew it was a good idea that I signed up for the Juno Self Defense class.
If it could happen to her on a morning jog through Haarlem, it could easily happen to me on my runs in Vondel Park, the Amsterdamse Bos or along the Amstel. The best you can do is learn to defend yourself so you can fight back in this situation, if it should ever happen.
“You can kick harder”
The class started off with the basics – throwing palm strikes, learning how to kick (did you know there is a right way to kick someone in the balls? Watch out, cause I know how to now 😉 ), and other fighting techniques to fend off attackers. Each time we learned a new technique, I did it with hesitation.
I was with my friend, she was the one holding the pads I was hitting. What if I hit the pads too hard and it hurt her? I certainly didn’t want her to be injured. In my opinion, this is thought that is typical for females. I never think of myself as someone who is overly feminine or gentle, but I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone. I was surprised that although I might think I’m tough, when it came to hitting someone or something, I initially felt unsure.
During the kicking exercise Synthia came over and told me that I could kick harder – why didn’t I just give it a try? Well, I didn’t want to hurt my friend, but she did have a pad and all so… I went for it. And you know what? My friend didn’t get hurt (thankfully she was holding a pad), but I can also kick pretty hard.
As the class continued, I got more and more comfortable with fighting, and it actually felt pretty good to see how strong I could be in defending myself.
I always imagined that if, god forbid, I should ever be attacked, I’d fight like hell to get away. When I stood on the mat, with Boudewijn (our “attacker) coming toward me, I was filled with anticipation and uncertainty. What would he do? Would I react? How would I escape?
Of course, you can say, it was a safe situation since it was just a class. But it felt real. It felt so real. The presence of a man in class changes the entire way that you fight back. When I was practicing with my friend, we hit each other sure, and we kicked and we yanked our wrists free from each others’ grasps. But with a man attacking, everything changed. There’s the element of added extra strength, but what I didn’t realize as how different the presence of a man feels compared to a woman. It was intimidating.
The “attacker” is also trained in self-defense. He tried to grab us and hold us, and fought to control us until we truly got away and escaped him – through our hits and kicks. He attacked us each 3 times, and each time I felt a surge of adrenaline rushing through me. Each time I was uncertain. Would he try to grab my hair? Would he choke me? If he did, would I remember what I needed to do to get away?
Each time, I escaped fairly quickly, but in the split seconds when he started attacking me, I felt like I froze. Although I knew the attack was coming, I felt stunned. What now? It felt like ages that it took me to respond, but in reality it didn’t take me long at all. Each time after I escaped I thought “see, you do fight back, and you do know what to do.”
Synthia taught us that the brain doesn’t distinguish between a real attack and a staged attack because the stress that your brain feels in both situations is the same. I can confirm – the stress was real.
Exhausted, but confident
After the class I was tired. So much more tired than I had expected. The physical element of it was tiring – the repeated kicks, palm strikes, and elbow strikes left me sore for 3 days after! But what really made me tired was the adrenaline levels and the intense stress of the class. In each exercise, your stress level is heightened little by little, until the “attack.” The whole class climaxes with a fight you need to escape. There are extreme highs and lows in that – but that’s how you need to train your mind and body to be able to fight back. An attack could happen at nearly any time, when you might be least expecting it, or not recognize you could be in a compromising position.
Yes, I was tired. Yes, I went to the Food Hallen afterward and ate a giant burrito then went home and watched Netflix all night. But I felt stronger. Now I feel like I have the tools in my pocket to defend myself if I ever need to. I know how to fight back, and maybe more importantly, I know for sure that in the situation I would fight back.
It’s exhilarating – both to physically defend yourself against an attacker, but also to know you are strong enough to do it.
In my opinion, it’s in every woman’s best interest to learn how to defend herself. Juno Self Defense gave me the knowledge I didn’t know I was missing to make me feel more confident. I hope I never find myself in a situation where I have to use my “tools”, but hopefully sharing my experience will encourage other women to learn to defend themselves, too.
If you live in the Netherlands and want to learn more about these classes, go to https://juno-selfdefense.com/
Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.