Oh, it’s such joy to be able to say this with the full force of your lungs while doing your forms on the mat or delivering a good roundhouse kick. It is wickedly satisfying to blast out a full-throated “Hayaaaa!” while sparring — especially after smiling or waving at my partner, as if to say “Hello,” and quickly closing in to unleash a volley of kicks, hooks or uppercuts.
The startled looks my sparring partners give after those full-throated blasts are precious.
I love martial arts. I should have done this earlier. I should have been doing this all my life. I should have been a well-trained martial artist in Quito, Ecuador, when, while hailing a taxi, I saw a woman across the street, hunched over, crying loudly to the man in front of her about being in pain.
“Que paso?” What happened? I asked. It’s amazing how a man can shift the menace against his companion and direct it at you just because you uttered two words. It’s also scary – dark night, strange city scary.
I could hear my heart thumping as loudly as the woman was crying. Boom, boom, boom. Luckily, the taxi driver waited for me. Ven aqui. Vamonos! Come here, let’s go! I hollered at the woman.
At that, the man strode over toward me. Seeing that the woman was not going to escape her tormentor, I told the cab driver to screech out of the street. Then I shut the car door, just in time to avoid being grabbed by the man. Boom, boom, boom. I was scared.
Maybe I would not have been as scared had I been trained in martial arts at that time. I would not have fought that man, if I could help it. But had he cornered me as he almost did, I would not have been as scared. I would have had options. And that is power.
I am not a fight freak. I did not go into martial arts because I love to fight. You can get hurt in a fight. I do not fancy the idea of getting hurt, and I am not into hurting people. Oh, you can get hurt even when not in a fight, but that is another story.
I like the idea that, if all talk and negotiations fail and should I be threatened and forced into a corner, I have options; I will not go down without fighting. And with my training, I am pretty confident that I will not go down at all.
I still think that one of the best assets that a martial artist can develop is a good pair of feet, a good pair of running feet. Before you train, run. Before you fight, run. It is a good martial artist who can outrun his or her opponent. When you can run well, you can walk even better.
Walking away from a fight is a better option, despite the way courage and dignity have often been portrayed in Hollywood movies. Running away from a fight may not necessarily be a cool option, but it generally is still the wiser one. Run away from a fight, and your ego might take a hit. Run to a fight, and you will have to take a hit. Or more.
People get hit hard even during supposedly supervised trainings. A friend broke his fingers while doing a jujitsu move, a wrong one for him, apparently. I had partners who gave me a fat lip and a hyper-extended ACL on two separate occasions. Both hurt, naturally.
I went to see a doctor to make sure that I had no issues other than a hyper-extended ACL. Finding that nothing else was wrong with me, he said, “You’re a woman. Why do you study martial arts?”
Unbelievable. The usual answers I give — that I love everything about it, that I enjoy every minute of it — did not come out. I was looking at him, too stunned to tell him any of these. My split-second response shot out before I could bite it in: “Why are you not studying martial arts? You’re Chinese.”Isabel de la Torre of Parkland, an environmentalist and trained but non-practicing lawyer and journalist, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.