As a self-defense teacher, I talk a lot about boundaries. Mostly about setting boundaries with other people. While some of those people may mean harm, most just have different ideas of boundaries and could use some guidance as to where theirs and yours more happily connect.

Today I’m looking at a specific set of boundaries you set with yourself. Many of us — I’m certainly in this group — want to experience a lot. I want to travel to Provence and to Tuscany. I want to learn some French and Italian. I want to learn to play guitar better, as well as bass and drums and piano. I already cook well, but I want to be able to de-bone a turkey in 10 minutes. (Why? I don’t know, I don’t even like turkey!)  I want to learn to draw.  I want better photography skills.  I want to write a book.  I want to create an online class. I want, I want, I want.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of my wants.

I’m going to tell you something that you probably already know. I certainly have known this for many years, and yet I still need reminding. Of all these wants, the ones you get will be those you MAKE the time for.

For many years I had wanted to understand the social dynamics around domestic violence and to more effectively work with survivors. Because DV is our greatest single risk to personal safety, and as a self-defense teacher that’s an important topic. And yes there are trainings available in my area. But it’s not just a half-day one-and-done workshop. I’d have to carve out a significant chunk of time. Fifty hours of training, then at least a year of volunteer work. I’d been telling myself I wanted to do this for years, yet I never made that time. Until I did. Until I acknowledged that yes, this was a 50 hour training over several months, I may have to put aside another activity or two and re-arrange my schedule, be inconvenienced, drive more, and after the training commit to that volunteering, and was it really worthwhile?

I did it, eight years ago. I said to myself if I don’t ACTIVELY MAKE the time it was not just going to happen. Piss or get off the pot, so to speak. Yes it was inconvenient and time-consuming and some days frustrating. I did forego some income those three months. Afterwards I volunteered each week at the center working with women in different stages of abusive relationships, which isn’t easy to hear (let alone experience). And yes it was worth it. A lot of what I leaned got incorporated into my classes, partly as recognizing “red flags” and partly as how to help or support family or friends who were in unhealthy or abusive relationships.

I often ask my students how they found the class. A lot say they’ve meant to take a self-defense class for a long time, and just happened to be looking through a Seattle Central or Bellevue College catalog, or an online class listing, saw the class, saw it fit into their schedule, and signed up. That’s convenient, and how most of us live most of our lives. Not everything we want will drop into place that easily.

Right now I am looking at my list of wants. What is most essential for my professional development, for personal development, for relationships, and for self-care? What will I actively make time for this year? How about you?

Your voice is your most important safety tool.  But sometimes your voice, a solo voice, alone, is not enough.

Several years ago I read about this strategy used by women staffers at the White House.  Although then-President Obama did have numerous women on staff, they often felt unheard in a still mostly male environment.  They chose to “amplify” each other.  When one make a point, others would repeat it and give credit to the originator.  It was simple, and effective.

A friend of mine was dealing with a verbally abusive supervisor.  He wasn’t abusive just to her, but to anyone in his environment.  Over the years individuals in the department would approach HR and senior management.  But nothing happened, and eventually staff stopped going to HR.  One day this supervisor had a particularly abrasive day, which impacted multiple staff as well as customers.  A majority of staff from that department converged on HR and management.  This time the supervisor was let go.  Because a group acting together can accomplish what individuals cannot.

But sometimes even that isn’t enough. Sometimes it takes a lot of people.  Thousands.  Tens of thousands,  Hundreds of thousands.  Thousands of thousands.  You can’t fit into HR’s office.  You’re in the streets.

In our self-defense classes we talk strategically about using our voices.  When to set boundaries in a conversational tone, or when to get LOUD.  You want to get LOUD when you need to attract attention.

Now is a good time to be LOUD.Black Lives Matter

You probably want to balance your own safety with your need to speak up.  Take a look at this Protest Safety Guide from Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County.  To paraphrase Audre Lorde, caring for yourself does not have to mean indulgence — it is self-preservation, an act of political warfare against those who’d rather you just went away, shut up, or die.  Preserving yourself in a world hostile to your community is truly self-care.  So that you’re ready to again face the outside world.

using your voiceYour voice is your most effective safety tool.  Yet it’s the tool most folk, especially women and girls, are reluctant to use.  “Do I have to say anything?” is a too-common question in class.  The answer is no, you don’t HAVE to do or say anything you don’t want to, and there are some cases where saying nothing may be your best choice.  That being said, there are reasons why using your voice is an essential tool.

  1. BREATHING.  Show of hands, who thinks breathing isn’t that important?  Yeah, that’s what I figured.  If you are using your voice you are breathing.  Breathing is critical to life, and critical to managing your reactions in challenging situations.  Which brings me to the next reason . . .
  2. FREEZING.  Inability to respond.  Using your voice can break that freeze.  The assailant is, in fact, often hoping you will freeze.  Which brings us to . . .
  3. STARTLING the assailant.  Assailants, like any predator, are looking for easier prey.  Targets who will be afraid, unsure, easily intimidated.  Using your voice, especially LOUDLY, by itself has a good chance of chasing off the assailant as that’s not what they expected.  Which can . . .
  4. ATTRACT ATTENTION.  Maybe any people around will look.  Perhaps some will whip out their phones to capture video.  If you’re super lucky, someone might try to intervene.  Most assailants don’t want to risk attention.  But maybe nobody is around . . . you may want to . . .
  5. INCREASE YOUR ADRENALINE.  Adrenaline, at the right level, can increase your physical effectiveness should you need to actually fight your assailant.  It can increase your speed and strength.  It can make time feel like its going slooooowwww.   (Note:  too much adrenaline, on the other hand, can begin shutting down your responses and effectiveness.)  And, finally, using your voice can . . .
  6. ENGAGE YOUR CORE.  Which brings in more muscle groups, connects parts of your body to work together like a power drive train, and increases your physical effectiveness.

There is a world of difference between an intellectual knowledge of your voice’s importance, and actually using it.  As in your ability to not only recognize but to state your needs, your preferences, and your boundaries. That’s why we practice using our voices in our self-defense classes.

Do you sometimes find yourself in situations (social, work, family) where you kinda go along because it’s just not a big deal?  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — a crucial life skill is navigating and prioritizing choices.  But also recognize that we are often socialized to feel uncomfortable standing up for ourselves.  If you default that that, do you find yourself constantly left unsatisfied?  Do you feel more like a spectator rather than player in your own life?

OK, not exactly “fishing.”

Teach anyone any skill set, and she can use it for her own benefit.  However, she is also likely to use her skills to benefit her family and community.

Teach a woman self-defense skills, and she can not only defend herself (and those she cares about) she will probably teach others around her those skills.  Before you know it, she will be demanding self-determination.  She will demand to be an active participant in her life and in society.

So not only will she be safer, her community will be safer.