I am a martial artist. I almost feel as phony saying that as I did for years when I told people I was a writer. My love for martial arts would surprise anyone I went to high school with, because PE was the only reason I graduated with a GPA less than 4.0. But it turns out that martial arts have helped me be a better writer (after all, mysteries and thrillers often contain an element of violence), as well as a stronger and more prepared person.
We often deal with threats, even physical ones, with social behaviors. We ignore the people who make them or try to appease them. We deprecate ourselves. We try to ally ourselves with the person who made the threat by telling them that we are really on their side.
But you know what? These skills won’t work on most predators. They won’t work on the person who sees your purse or phone as something they must have – and sees you as about as valuable as the packaging they originally came in. They especially won’t work on a predator who only wants to take you to someplace private so they can hurt, rape or kill you.
For me, a kickboxing class was the gateway drug to martial arts. As part of the class, we wore boxing gloves and hit bags. I had never hit anything, not even a bag, as hard as I could. It made me feel strong and it was a great workout.
Over the past three years, I have seriously trained in kajukenbo and kung fu, as well as taken a little bit of Muay Thai. I have an orange belt in kajukenbo (and was close to taking the test for purple belt when our sifu left). As for kung fu, I’ll soon have my orange belt.
Will I ever make it to black belt? Probably not. I’m not a natural, I’m not particularly coordinated, I’m older and I’m often afraid – but I still love it.
I particularly love sparring. At my school, I’m often the only woman sparring. I have spit blood afterward when I forgot to wear a mouthguard. I’ve told my doctor not to worry about the bruises on my arms from blocking blows.
Even though there are many times when I get to the door and have to resist the voice that tells me to turn around because there are new guys in class and they all seem to be about six foot four, or that there’s a new sifu filling in for our regular teacher, or simply that I’m really tired, I’m always glad at the end of the sparring class. Afterward, I walk to my car grinning like a fool.
First of all, sparring has taught me what it feels like to get hurt or simply experience the surprise of having someone attack you. Getting hit in the face or even having your hair pulled is shocking. In our culture, even close friends don’t touch our faces. Once you’re no longer a little child, no one even pats you on the head. Knowing a little something about surprise, pain and fighting back helps me write about them.
I can write authoritatively about fear, about how things blur, about the way people move and hold their bodies and eyes and mouths. I can tell when someone is about to hit me and where. The eyes focus, the breath catches and the shoulder drops or the hand goes back.
I know how to hurt people – and that means my characters might be able to do it too. Kajukenbo focused a lot on what are known as “grab arts” – how to get free if someone grabs your wrist, tries to strangle you or wraps you in a bear hug.
In my school’s kung fu, we also learn to grapple – ie, to wrestle on the floor. These scenarios make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to have someone on top of me, even if by day they are a mild-mannered computer programmer or corporate lawyer. Nevertheless, this type of situation is one I might face some day. Now I know what to do if it happens (and so do my characters).
Martial arts benefit me – and my writing.
April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com
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