Monday, November 7, 2011

My voice was no longer a whisper; it was full of power I didn’t know I had

Olga Adamska (September 2011 graduate)

I left work early on Friday to make it to the first class of the three-day self-defense course at IMPACT. I didn’t know what to expect. Driving to the class, I felt curious but at the same time anxious and even nervous. Would I have to stand in front of a group and look silly trying to punch somebody? Would I look awkward repeating fighting routines I had no idea about? Am I even cut out for this? IMPACT was recommended to me, and not knowing too much about it I decided to give it a try. I felt it was an interesting way to spend a weekend and try something new. But I also hoped I would learn how to be more confident and assertive, and how to stand up for myself with more success.

The class started with introductions. Our instructor, Margaret, told the group of 11 women how she had gotten involved with IMPACT nearly 20 years ago. She said she divided her life into two parts, pre- and post- IMPACT. That made me somewhat skeptical; I thought it was a nice way to advertise the course, but a statement hard for me to process. I didn’t believe in such overnight ‘miracles’. Needless to say, when Margaret then proceeded to ‘showing off’ what I thought were her martial arts skills, fighting on a matt with a male instructor dressed in a heavily padded armor, I started looking for the nearest door. And she wasn’t only fighting, she was also yelling loudly, a pronounced ‘NO’ echoing in the gym. What had I gotten myself into?

Over the next two days, we learned several basic yet very effective self-defense moves, such as hitting the assailant with the heel of one’s palm, holding up hands defensively, dropping to the floor with legs in the best position to strike the attacker, and, yes, lots of yelling. First, we practiced the techniques on a mat, and then, each woman actually participated in fights with padded muggers (male instructors). I was apprehensive at first. I was able to repeat the moves as they were not difficult, but felt intimidated when I had to fight with the mugger and be very vocal. However, the atmosphere created during the course helped tremendously. Not only were the instructors very understanding and supportive, but so were the other women.

I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into this journey. At some point, I forgot I was in a gym participating in simulated attacks where nothing bad was going to happen to me. The scenarios were very real, and so were the emotions that overcame me. First, it was shyness and intimidation. Then, fear, which eventually transformed into anger. Anger, that the 11 of us, women, found ourselves on the mat learning how to fight off attackers who want to harm us. The very sad reality of it hit me really hard. I also remembered times when in the past I had been put in uncomfortable situations, be it unkind words from a bully at school, a seemingly harmless yet stinging comment from a jealous coworker, and other everyday situations which made me feel uncomfortable. I never knew what to say or how to react in those moments. I felt helpless because I didn’t want to seem oversensitive or dramatic, so I just brushed it off. But suddenly, somewhere between Saturday and Sunday at IMPACT, an unknown strength emerged from within me. There, on the mat, I started fighting for myself like I had never before in my life. Through IMPACT, I realized I had every right to stand up for myself, and that being treated without respect should never be a norm for me, or anybody else. My voice was no longer a whisper; it was full of power I didn’t know I had.

After an amazing weekend of IMPACT training, I now know how to protect myself if attacked. I hope to never have to use the techniques I learned, but if I ever find myself in a dangerous situation, I will know what to do. The moves are acquired in a highly adrenalized state and stay in the muscle memory. I would like to think they are like lyrics to a song – sometimes we remember them only when the music comes on. From now on, it will be more natural for me to be more assertive in everyday interactions, and saying ‘NO’ shall always be one of my options. IMPACT challenges many beliefs about women so meticulously ingrained in our minds by the society. The image of women as physically weak, quiet, accommodating… After completing IMPACT, I know that all it takes is recognizing the strength we already have in ourselves, and finally seeing that we, women, have the power, both mental and physical, to always fight for ourselves.

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