How a fitness challenge turned into a lifestyle change

Have you ever gotten into a new hobby and for a while it was all you could talk about?

*raises hand*

“No, seriously, you guys, it’s awesome!”
“You have to try it!”
“It’ll change your life!”
“It’s sooooo worth it!”

Yeah, I’ve been saying that stuff a lot lately. Because why? Because Krav Maga.

If you haven’t heard of Krav, it’s basically a form of self-defense developed by the Israeli Army to teach the quickest, most effective ways to end fights.

Growing up with Jewish uncles who wrestled (competitively, with each other, and with us kids), I knew about Krav, and I knew it was intense. When I moved back home and bought a Groupon to a local gym, I found out they taught it. They even offered a free trial class! I was so tempted to try it, but I was too nervous to go it alone.

Instead, I just kept going to the crazy dance classes and being totally intimidated by the Krav and CrossFit students I crossed paths with.

Turns out, that was so dumb. Feeling intimidated is dumb. (You can quote me on that, if you want.)

I’ve been doing Krav for about three months now. What finally got me to try it? The gym launched a 6-week Krav Fit Challenge — for women only — catered to newbies like me who’d always wanted to try it but weren’t sure about it for whatever reason.

It was genius. Yes, the first week was hell, which they warned us about. More importantly, they promised us it’d get great. And they were right, but not for the reasons I expected.

shelaughsYes, it was a fitness challenge. And yes, I got a bit more fit (even without fully committing to the dietary aspect). But the best part by far — the part that made me want to keep challenging myself even after the six weeks were up — was the community they built: A community that made it safe for me to admit my vulnerabilities and weaknesses, yet supported me in my efforts to overcome them.

And as I pushed myself physically and mentally, something interesting happened: this new feeling of empowerment and awareness made me realize just how much I’d been living in fear.

It was strange. I didn’t think of myself as a nervous or scared person. Sure, I’m a bit cautious, especially compared to others in my family: It takes me an hour and half to jump off a train trestle into a river; I have no desire to go dirt biking and risk wiping out or slamming into a tree; I don’t relish the “rush” of climbing rocks to put myself in precarious positions while attached to a single rope. Still, I don’t generally back down when I or my loved ones are bullied, and I don’t usually get worried about where I am or who’s around me.

On the other hand, I’m a rape victim. And when my Krav instructor started to show us how certain moves can be applied to real-world situations, including rape or attack by a larger, stronger man, my mind gasped.

I found myself wishing I’d have known these moves, wishing I’d practiced defending myself, wishing that when it came to my “fight or flight” response, fighting — hard — had been second nature.

Practicing Krav also forced me to analyze the way I’ve been living since I was attacked. The truth is, even after time, therapy, and coming to feel mostly healed, it’s obvious that being a rape victim is still affecting the decisions I make.

For instance, I don’t date guys who are more than an inch or two taller than me (I actually tend to date my height or shorter, even though it’s not my preference). Anytime I’m walking to my car alone, I carry my keys between my fingers, like it’ll do any good (I’d probably just drop them if something scared me). And even though I love to dance, I pretty much only do it as a workout anymore, because I hate the way guys think they can “approach” me in a club (but I don’t know what to do about it when they do).

dd1a2a68b3ff23f5650ad8f0b0e575cbI realized that I had totally changed my preferences and lifestyle after I was attacked. I told myself it was in my best interest, but I was actually just sacrificing more of myself than I already had.

Changing who I am won’t keep me safe; I wasn’t attacked because of who I am. I was attacked because I was vulnerable, and unable to defend myself.

Learning to protect myself, to stay alert to my surroundings, and to read others’ body language is what will keep me safe. As long as I can do those things, I can more confidently do what I love, date who I want, and go anywhere I please, which every woman human deserves.

When it comes to a lifestyle change, I’ll gladly take Krav Maga over living in fear and uncertainty. And I know I’ve got a safe, uplifting community to help me along the way… so I’ll probably keep talking about it for a while.

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