Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Black Block

Pre-post script: It occurred to me after I wrote this entry that it might raise some distracting COVID concerns, so I just wanted to add this to the beginning: We were masked and gloved and as socially distanced as possible throughout the class. We also limited our practice partners to minimize potential exposure.

For three days last week, I took a fully immersive self-defense instructor training course for work. It was something that I raised my hand for thinking that it was going to be mostly about “soft skills” and verbal de-escalation, but it turned out to be about 80% hard physical skills. When I say physical skills, I mean defending from gun and knife attacks, escaping choke holds and bear holds, and protecting your head from flying fists. I am a remarkably slow kinesthetic learner and always have been. It takes me numerous repetitions to learn anything physical, especially complex and precise physical movements. I get overwhelmed very easily and forget steps, and it takes me forever to make compound movements work together smoothly. (My former trainer can attest to that.) This class was one compound movement after another, stacked hour by hour, and it almost broke my brain. I was definitely one of the worst students in the class in terms of awkwardness and slowness to get it. But on the plus side, I got high marks on my verbal presentation (apparently I was very personable,) and the co-instructor gave me kudos for my “amazing” attitude, which made me feel all warm and approved-of. And I’m proud of what I was able to do, even though I wasn’t good at most of it. (I know I wasn’t good at most of it because they kept partnering me with the co-instructor, I assume because it was clear that I needed extra help.)

Yesterday, after a long rest, I hopped on to the instructor’s website and methodically watched the videos of each of the techniques. Everything started to make a little more sense and come together in my mind once I had time to observe and absorb in my own time, without all the noise and the pressure of having to hurry through every technique and struggle with being overly-tentative due to the fear of accidentally hurting my partner. I am in no way ready to actually teach this stuff yet, but I have a glimmer of hope now that I can eventually master it, especially since Mr. Typist is willing to be my test dummy at any time. (I already used the “compassionate take-down” method on him and it worked!) I just need a lot more practice.

The physical technique stuff is learnable, even for me. But developing the true emotional readiness to defend yourself from an attack is a whole other layer. I can visualize myself doing the defensive moves. I can run the programs in my head and ready myself to act rather than freeze in the event that the worst happens. I am fully willing to protect myself, but I need to work on that small seed of doubt that I cannot. That small seed of doubt could literally kill me. Used correctly, these techniques will work reliably every time, so the only thing in the way right now is my thoughts, which are much harder to master than anything physical. 

My one regret is that I wasn’t able to break the black block. We did block-breaking as a mental exercise, and I broke every other one fairly easily after a few tries, but the black block was the hardest, and I couldn’t break through it, despite everyone cheering me on. One of my bruises from the class is on my wrist from whacking that thing over and over again, until the instructor took it away and gave me plaudits for trying. I am now haunted by that black block. That black block represents to me an unconscious lack of readiness, and a deep layer of shame about all of the times I have been attacked and bullied and was unable to protect myself. (And there it is. I didn’t expect to get so deep on myself that I would start crying as I wrote this.) I need to break that black block in my mind. I need to understand that I am not a frail, boundary-less, vulnerable person anymore. I am eons away from being that person. I have to know that and believe that, because my life truly could depend on it. So that is the real work ahead of me, grappling not physically but emotionally. Defeating not the enemy outside of me, but the one inside of me.

It’s been an intense few days, topped off by our air in Seattle being so thick with wildfire smoke as to be almost edible. As I was looking for a video to tie everything together, I came across a lot of martial arts compilation videos, but after three days of immersion in alarming scenarios, I just wanted something peaceful. Mr. Typist downloaded the game “Subnautica” for me as a surprise on my last day of class and it’s been a nice mental break. Enjoy the fishies!

--Kristen McHenry


ofir said...

This post really has a punch to it and is such a kick to read, Kristen!

Kristen McHenry said...

Ha!! I see what you did there. :) Thank you for reading, Ofir!