A Meditator's Take on Self-Defense

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My first defense-class was a little bit shocking—a lot to take in and process.

My friend Julie proposed the idea one day during a coffee break. We were talking about interesting classes that we could attend together, and she mentioned self-defense. “I found a great deal on Groupon,” she announced, giggling. Being a yoga and meditation practitioner, I was a little bit skeptical, but I decided to give it a try.

I had no expectations when I entered the gym. Sweaty men were wrestling on one side of the mat, and on the other, there was our teacher waiting. Julie and I changed quickly and joined the rest of the group. I imagined there would be a little chat and preparation, but to my surprise, we were immediately thrown into the wrestling phase. The teacher demonstrated the move, and we tried our best to replicate it. I found myself on the floor trying to block Julie’s “attack” with my knees. Then it was time to learn self-defense techniques standing up and so on.

Julie and I weren’t wrestling—we were playing. Things changed when the guys of the group played the part of the aggressor and held our arms. I didn’t have time to think, and I tried my best to put the lessons of the night into practice—but something had changed. When Julie and I were playing, I kept on laughing and losing focus—when the guy was attacking me, my mind got empty, and I was immersed in the moment.

Wait, this feeling is familiar.

When we sat down with the teacher and discussed what we had practiced, he talked about self-awareness and the importance of it in self-defense, and how self-awareness can help us mitigate and control negative emotions that can cause fights. Instincts are part of our human nature, but they can also be dangerous. Aggressors have no self-awareness, otherwise, they would be able to stop themselves before committing a crime. It’s up to use to tease their brain and engage in conversation before choosing a physical response. “Ask questions,” the teacher said. “What are you looking for? What do you want? Try to make the attacker aware of his/her actions in the moment.”

While the teacher was speaking, my mind connected the concept of self-awareness with the practice of meditation. “Did you notice that everything else disappears when you are wrestling?” the teacher asked. I never thought that self-defense and mediation could have something in common, but the conversation made me feel unexpectedly at ease with the place and practice of self-defense. In my mind, I had judged it and categorized just a response to violence—there is so much more to it.

The initial uneasy feeling left space to a calm mind. Self-defense is not in conflict with yoga and meditation—they all start from the concept of self-awareness, but self-defense helps you in the second phase when someone refuses to listen to his/her true self.