It never occurred to me to learn martial arts. Breaking bricks with bare hands or walking through broken glasses was never in my list of must-have skills – though I would love to kick ass like Buffy (of the The Vampire Slayer’s fame who was played by taekwondo black belt Sarah Michelle Gellar). But some time ago I chose Women’s Self Defense (WSD) as my form of “martial art” (although, WSD is not a martial art per se, but, we’ll come back to that later).
I forgot when or where I found out about WSD, but I had wanted to learn something that would enable me to defend myself and maybe help those who couldn’t. I use public transportation to get around in Jakarta and that comes with consequences, a lot of them involving security.
One of these incidents happened when I took a mikrolet (a shared taxi) from Senen Bus Terminal with a mostly-female passengers, siting on the two benches facing each other at the back of the cab. The minibus has an entrance on the side, near which a small seat for two are placed. There was an elderly woman and her granddaughter sitting on it and I sat on the bench facing them.
When the minibus departed we were startled by a man who suddenly jumped on to the van. He was obviously drunk and up to no good. Rambling, he hung on to the door, his hands touching the side of my body. Realizing what he was doing, I shifted my body forward. But this hardly discouraged him. Apparently so drunk, he moved on to the poor grandmother, and was starting to grope her too.
The bus was on a flyover bridge and the other passengers saw what he was trying to do, but couldn't do anything about it. As I was the closest person to them, all I could do was slap his hand when he was about to touch the elderly woman. I thought about pushing him out of the moving mikrolet, but reminded myself it might not be a wise move. Luckily, he disembarked the van after a while, but that was enough for me to decide that I should learn something so I would know what to do in such situation.
Still, I assumed learning martial arts would require too much time and efforts. I might not be old, but neither was I a spring chicken. And working as a full-time journalist, memorizing karate kicks movements might be too much for my brain to accommodate, I thought.
It was only a year later that I got a chance to take my first Women’s Self Defense Class. It was a free-trial class in Blok M, South Jakarta, that my friend had asked me to join. There were only me and another female student in the session. The instructor delivered the class in a simple and easy language, especially for me who had no background martial arts at all. He taught us some physical exercises and several standard self-defense moves. The other woman kicked me hard causing me to stumble.
A month later, having done some financial calculation on my part, I decided I could afford to join the WSD class. But, this time it was different. Except for me, the students were all men, which confused me: Why would men take a women’s self defense class? I got my answer a few months later when I found out that what I was learning was not an exclusively women’s self defense class, it was actually krav maga, a close-contact combat technique originated in Israel.
Krav maga was designed for military personnel to defend themselves against attacks, but over time it has been modified for civilian purposes. It is suitable for women because the movements are practical and easy to remember.
Self-defense is not categorized as a martial art discipline, as far as I know. In self-defense, we don’t actually fight in the ring to earn medals. We learn some boxing, kicking and throwing down, but all these are to be used when our life is at stake.
I haven't been the only woman training krav maga at the center, but after three years I am the only one that stuck around. I train with the boys and my instructor never makes it easy for me. I have to do the same laps, the same number of push ups, sit ups, kicks and punches – all those movements I never thought I could do. I may not be the fastest, the quickest, or the strongest among my male friends, but I can keep up with them.
During my early days of training I kept it a secret from my family and friends, because I did not want to deal with people questioning why I took up such a seemingly harsh practice. But it was hard to conceal the bruises in my arms and my legs.
For me it’s actually not a hard training. All I did was simply show up and follow along. I am doing this for my own sake and safety, I keep reminding myself. What few bad experiences I had in the past, though not half as bad as some women’s, might have been prevented if I had known how to respond to them. I had been sexually harassed and had my bag grabbed by someone on a motorcycle who ended up dragging me along with him. Other time someone attempted to snatch my cell phone, kicking me in the process – though he failed to get my phone.
So, I made a choice. I would rather have those bruises in training rather than in real life, because a real attack isn’t probably going to spare me.
I am still an ordinary woman and I never try to pick a fight or punch men to test my ability. All I want is to get home safely at the end of the day.
About Fidelis Satrianti
Fidelis’ routine is mainly write, read, and train, but not necessarily all together in one day. She leads (sort of) a double life, a freelance journalist/writer by day and an assistant instructor for Woman Self Defense (Krav Maga Woman) by night. She is a devoted public transportation user, especially the TransJakarta bus line, but is as keen on walking for miles to avoid getting stuck in traffic in Jakarta.