BJJ: Empowerment, Boundaries and Assault

10:18 AM Moo 0 Comments

A Meme often circulated in BJJ networks from a  Kristina Barlaan self defense seminar.
A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend about the benefits of BJJ and she remarked "and I bet it's nice to feel so comfortable defending yourself." She may not have thought much of the comment but it really resonated with me. Absolutely. Although not the only reason, this was a huge reason why myself and many women I know, started Jiu Jitsu to begin with. Having been assaulted in the past, I wanted to feel empowered and in control of myself. When it comes down to it, assault is usually not characterized by a need for sexual contact, but rather an abuse of power or desire to feel omnipotent. 

 Just this morning I received a message from a girl who was just beginning Jiu Jitsu, she is a rape survivor and was quite nervous about her training triggering any negative emotions about the assault. This is a very valid and understandable reaction. Everyone copes and deals differently. Many people have found  Jiu Jitsu to be very healing. BJJ is all about body awareness and is defined as a "combat sport, martial art and self defense system." In this way, it goes hand in hand with the idea of Somatic Therapy for traumas. Somatic therapy is  "an interdisciplinary field involving the study of the body, somatic experience, and the embodied self, including therapeutic and holistic approaches to body." When we have had a painful experience or a trauma we will carry not only the memory and feelings from that experience, but we will recall it physically as well. It is the bodies memory of the event. With somatic therapy, a person becomes aware of these sensations and uses their body to work through them, instead of burying them. It combats powerlessness through awareness, empowerment and self love. Somatic educator and Martial Artist, Paul Linden shares his experiences helping survivors of assault in his article Being in Movement :

Since 1987, most of the clients who have come to me for body education sessions have been adult survivors of child abuse. As a somatic educator and martial artist, I focus on a very body-oriented and practical view of the core problem in abuse. In my work, I have seen over and over again how issues of powerlessness and lack of safety play out in the bodies of people who have been abused, and I have seen how healing it is to help people create effective boundaries and on that basis live more fully in their bodies. "

I believe Jiu Jitsu does just this.Claiming ownership of your body is a feeling many people take for granted. For survivors of assault, it is imperative. I use the word survivor, instead of victim because I believe survivor makes us more than just a sound bite or a statistic. A survivor is a person who may have gone through hell but came back through on the other side. By nature and definition it is empowering. Jiu Jitsu challenges the notion of "weakness" by it's very essence. It is after all "the gentle art" that promotes the concept that size is of no obstacle. A smaller, weaker person can successfully defend themselves against a bigger assailant simply through the use of technique and body mechanics. It not only teaches these techniques, but trains the mind to know that you are always worth defending.

I often hear people say "I should not have to teach my daughter how not to get raped, you should teach your son not to rape." This is a sentiment I agree whole hardheartedly with. In a perfect world this would be the case. Assault is never the fault of the person who is attacked. I realize while I cannot control the actions of others around me, I can control my body and how I use it. That knowledge and skill makes me a confident woman, but it also makes me self sufficient and highly motivated to prevent harm from ever being done to me. One of my favorite stories is that of the US Navy Sailor who wrestled a rapist to the ground, locked him in her guard and subdued him.

Does this mean it will work 100% of the time? No. But when faced with an attack, it means I will fight 100% of the time. Regularly training has allowed me to put myself in positions where I am not always comfortable. It has made me focus, breathe, work through the discomfort and come out on the other side, ultimately stronger and empowered and for me that is invaluable. Jiu jitsu has done more for me than I could even imagine. I gave gained back a part of myself I never thought I could. I have learned that I am stronger than I appear and I am confident in saying Jiu Jitsu has saved my life.