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FACTS & ARGUMENTS

When push comes to shove

An unpleasant encounter has Florence McCambridge giving up on yoga and taking up Krav Maga

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I’m lying in corpse pose at the end of my vinyasa flow; eyes closed, trying to breathe calmly in and out through my nose. But my eyebrows are furrowed and my jaw is clenched. I’m not reconnecting with my breath or feeling any of the benefits of this final relaxation. Instead, I’m thinking about the girl who shoved me last night.

My yoga teacher tells us to slowly make our way out of savasana and up to sitting, but I don’t hear her.

I’m too busy replaying the events of the night before in my mind. A complete stranger walked up to me on the street and asked me for money. I ignored her – and then she shoved me.

By the time we bring our hands together in prayer position and whisper “Namaste,” I am pissed off. Not just that this stranger pushed me, but that I did nothing about it. My instinct was to not react, to just keep walking.

I didn’t sleep the night it happened.

I was afraid that I’d have the dream I’d had many times before. Someone is chasing me and when they reach out to grab me, I try to scream but nothing comes out. I wake up sweating, but I can always reassure myself: it was just a dream. And I fall back asleep knowing that if it really happened, I’d scream. I’d do something.

Only now I knew that wasn’t true. I did nothing.

I bow to my yoga teacher. This is her fault. She’s done nothing to prepare me for being attacked on the street. Yoga teaches you to be present, to focus on this moment. It teaches you not to worry about what comes next because you can’t control or change it. But if I’d done something to prepare for being assaulted, maybe I could have defended myself. Maybe I would have pushed back.

That’s how I found myself at a Krav Maga class.

Through some frantic Internet research, I’d discovered that this form of martial arts, originally developed for the Israeli armed forces but adapted for use by law enforcement and civilians, was probably my best bet for learning to defend myself.

The instructor gave me a rundown of what to expect. The focus of Krav Maga isn’t just to learn how to fight, he explained. “The techniques you learn in this class could save your life.”

He went on with his best sales pitch and I was convinced that this would become a new way of life for me.

No more noodle arms. No more yoga class. I’d keep my pastel-coloured breakfast smoothies, but I would damn well add some protein powder to them.

By the time the instructor pressed play on the angry-rock playlist, I was ready to learn how to fight.

I regretted the colour of my shirt immediately. Everyone else was in black, or at least sombre grey. My partner for the day would describe my bright purple T-shirt as “peppy.”

So now in addition to the sparring gloves and groin guard that I’d have to buy for my new, kick-ass life, I’d also need to pick up some more serious workout attire.

For the next hour, I hit with everything I had. My knuckles turned bright red and burned. My arms felt like jelly after only the first round of punches. My partner told me I was doing a great job. I thanked her while drilling my knee into the padded shield she held in place for me.

“Groin kicks!” The instructor commanded, reminding us to use our shins not our feet. I made a mental note.

I caught on faster than I thought I would. It’s easy to see how the moves would become instinctive with enough practice. I left the gym with sore knuckles, an aching back and the overwhelming desire to keep punching. I walked home going over what I’d learned: jab fingers into eyes; aim for the bridge of the nose; kick kneecaps hard.

I heard footsteps following a bit too close behind me. I crossed to the other side of the street. The man didn’t follow me. Turned out he was just in a rush.

But what if he had followed me?

It would take me years in training to increase my odds of survival in a serious attack and even then, when faced with the real thing, would I be any better off?

I had done the right thing in crossing to the other side of the street. It’s what I should have done the night that girl shoved me. If I had taken a better route home, which I normally do, and if I’d been more aware of my surroundings, which I normally am, I could have avoided the whole thing.

I should have done what yoga taught me to do. I should have been present. Then I would be coming home from yoga class feeling grateful for what my body is capable of, instead of coming home from a self-defence class feeling terrified of what it isn’t.

I didn’t go back to Krav Maga.

Instead, I’m back in corpse pose at the end of my vinyasa flow; eyes closed, breathing calmly in and out through my nose. My eyebrows and jaw are soft. I’m reconnecting with my breath.

I’m still thinking about the girl who shoved me, but with one final cleansing breath, I decide to let it go.

Florence McCambridge lives in Toronto.

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