Why We Fight, Redux

I made a decision recently to write more often about my combat fighting practice. I’ve tended to make this blog more a space for academic and spiritual writing, and less a personal journal. I figured, who cares about the fumblings of a beginner SCA fighter?

Women do, as it turns out. In my first six months as a heavy armored combat fighter, I’ve had several experiences of women coming forward to tell me that they find something to inspire in my fighting path. This surprised me. For the most part, SCA culture is very supportive of women fighters, and while women remain very underrepresented in heavy combat (I’d estimate about 5-10%; less in the ranks of knights), we don’t lack for strong, kickass female fighters, at least on the West coast. Why would these women be particularly interested in my beginner experiences?

These are the kind of comments that I’ve been hearing from women:

“I just wanted to tell you I admire your bravery for jumping in to this tournament. I’ve done some fighting on the war field, but I’ve been too intimidated to enter into a tournament and face off against all those men who are bigger, stronger, and more experienced. I know you’re a new fighter, and I know you’re taking a lot of hits because you fight without a shield, and I’m sure it must be scary, but you’re just going forward anyway and I find it really inspiring.”

“I am so proud to come here tonight and see that there’s at least one woman fighting in this tournament. I haven’t been to an event in years, but you make me want to come back and get in armor.”

I think what I’m figuring out is that women are finding inspiration in this because I’m a beginner. Perhaps they find it easier to see themselves in my boots because I’m not an accomplished fighter, because I’m new and awkward and I lose most of my fights. Because I’m smaller, lighter, and far less skilled than almost everyone I go up against. Because I take beating after beating but I just keep at it, knowing that is how I’ll learn and become strong. Perhaps in some way this makes fighting seem more possible for them too. I hope so. I long to see more women in armor, more women shining on the field.

And then something else happened. A few days ago, I learned that a dear friend of mine was sexually assaulted recently. As she shared her story with me, my first thoughts were about making sure she had care, was supported, protected, the perpetrator prevented from doing further harm. My own emotions didn’t surface until I left her company.

Then I felt something closing in on me. I thought, That’s one more woman on the list of women I know who have been sexually assaulted. And then I found myself thinking, Wait, how many women do I know now who haven’t been raped, molested or sexually assaulted? And the rage started to crash over me in waves.

I don’t want to count my friends by how many unraped women I know.

I don’t want to watch that countdown diminishing. I don’t want to watch that countdown close in on my sister, my daughter, the rest of the women I love. I’ve been lucky so far; how long have I got? This is not the world I want to leave to our sons and daughters.

None of this is new to me, but for whatever reason, it hit a threshold for me. Maybe because I’m a fighter now. Maybe it was that realization that I was counting down to a terribly small number. Whatever the reason, it triggered a rise in me in a new way.

What do we do? There are many ways, I suppose, to work against rape culture. There has been an upswing in dialogue lately about rape culture, and that is good. Messages about men taking responsibility for changing rape culture, for choosing not to rape, for recognizing the bodily sovereignty of women – these messages are starting to be heard, and that is good. I support all of that.

For my part, I feel it is my work to encourage women to 598869_4702114103272_1985475771_nfight. I want to see more women carrying themselves with the strength of warriors on our streets. I want to know that those women on my diminishing list of unraped friends and family, have learned how to use their weight to break out of a choke hold. Or turn a gun to disarm an armed attacker. Or use a lightweight broom as a knockout weapon. I want to do anything I can to inspire even a few more women to make themselves formidable. To become a force of strength that can intimidate if need be, instead of walking the world in fear of being alone with a male.  I want to see more warrior women walking our streets, embodying with their very presence the overwhelming truth that our bodies are not the sexual birthright of any male, but are our own sovereign territory which we can and will protect.

What does SCA combat have to do with any of that? It is just one fighting form among many. I chose it because I like the community and because getting in armor and beating the hell out of your friends is addictively fun. But I don’t care what you choose – Krav Maga, or Jiu-Jitsu, or Aikido, or HEMA, or kickboxing, or Irish stickfighting, or whatever. It matters less what specific techniques you study – it’s the practice of integrating a fighting skill into your being that matters. They all teach us some moves we can use if we ever need to defend ourselves. And more importantly, they all change how we carry ourselves and how we move in the world. They all change our ability to think and respond without panic under pressure. They all make us warrior women. That’s what the world needs.

Please don’t be the next woman on my list. I love you. Let us fight and grow strong. I am doing this, and you can too.

12 replies
  1. Selina
    Selina says:

    Your experiences in warriorship match my own. I started training in Kempo in 1995 after getting out of an abusive relationship. Nor was the the first abuse I had suffered. I’m physically coordinated, so learning the movements was easy. Getting hit was HARD. I was reactive. I cried and couldn’t breathe, but I kept going. I had to educate my training partners to keep trying to hit me even if tears were running down my face. This is a great school and I had allies. And I was often the only woman in the class, one of two in the school. At my last brown belt test (before my black belt), I got got so reactive that I could barely breathe and my blocks and punches were little more than flailing about. But I didn’t give up and something changed after that. At my black belt test, my nose got broken and I had no emotional reaction at all.

    Knowing how to defend myself has changed absolutely everything in my life. Before I started training, I was afraid all the time. Now, I’m just aware and know when to be more alert. I don’t flinch in the presence of big men because I know how to make them fall down. Its been almost twenty years since I started this journey and I now have belts in two arts and, at 49, will be testing for my 4th dan in Kempo in a few months.

    Thank you for writing this!

    Reply
    • Morpheus
      Morpheus says:

      Selina, great to hear your story. It resonates with so much of what I sense and have experienced about fighting and warriorship. Part of what inspired me to write this was noticing recently how much my attitude in the presence of strangers, especially strange men, has shifted. When I’m walking about the city, even when I come across someone who I read as potentially risky, I’m much less reactive and much more cool-headed. And I’ve also noticed I’m registering a lot fewer people as threatening. Which gives me this wonderful freedom to actually engage with a wider variety of people in the world. Thanks for sharing here!
      Morpheus

      Reply
  2. Meg
    Meg says:

    I’ve never been a fighter. I have what I jokingly refer to as scholar hands – soft and painfully sensitive to heat and pressure. Recently I started attending rapier practice with SCA fighters and it’s been so very fun. I don’t have the fighting instincts of my friends who practice martial arts, but I have been building muscle for the last couple years, fueled in part by the aftermath of an abusive relationship and my resolve to never feel weak in such a way again. (I don’t think those who suffer abuse are weak, just the opposite – but I did *feel* weak.) Everyone has been very welcoming, friendly, and funny. I was introduced to you briefly over this past weekend (short-haired, shy newb in an oversized green tunic – I doubt if you remember, haha) and was pretty awe-struck, since your site and writing are so inspiring. I look forward to getting more involved with the SCA!

    Reply
    • Morpheus
      Morpheus says:

      Of course I remember you, Meg. Cinara introduced us. :)
      Thanks for your comments. I empathize with that sense of feeling weak and wanting to build yourself up – this was part of why I started fighting too. And honestly, I didn’t come into it feeling like I had any fighting instincts either. Before about a year and a half ago, I’d never done any combat or martial arts of any kind. Keep at it, and those instincts will come. Great meeting you and I look forward to seeing you fight!

      Reply
  3. Christopher Bartlett
    Christopher Bartlett says:

    Yes! And any part I can play in providing a safe space for women to learn any skills I possess I dedicate to the spirit of this post. Well said!

    Reply
  4. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Morpheus:
    A wonderful and powerful message you write here. Yes you inspire women to be strong and that translates to being safer on the streets or in dating situations. I know after I was raped I vowed nothing like that would ever happen to me again. I would fight tooth and nail with anything I had in my possession to keep myself from being a victim to a man again and I did find myself in a position like that in the military-god forbid not uncommon there-but the fellow officer got a knee in the groin. Keep writing about your journey as a fighter…your Dad is so proud of what you are doing. He shows everyone your warrior picture-makes me smile for you!

    Reply
  5. Soli
    Soli says:

    I wish I could think of something to add here aside from a deep yes.

    AS a side note, I watched American Mystic a few weeks ago and it was very moving. Thank you for participating in it.

    Reply

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