He punched me hard directly in the nose and all I could see were red, stars, and my own blood. When you get hit like that with no warning, especially as a beginner like I was, you will freeze up. By the time I regained control over my rational thought I realized that I’d sustained several punches to my face and torso and had robotically defended against them. (Go me?) I was cut, bleeding, and at one point slammed into a mirror with broken edges and elbowed directly in the torso until I fell over in a smear of my own blood. I remember thinking to myself “Gee, they really should have fixed that mirror last month. I’ll have to make a note later and remind the owner.”
I did a poor job at defense because none of this was supposed to happen. I was supposed to be in a safe, controlled space. I was facing off against an assistant instructor whom I not only trusted, but was the first guy I ever had feelings for. This was a true violation of epic proportion.
The rules of this match stated “no head contact”, so I wasn’t even wearing all of my gear. I found this incredibly hilarious as he grabbed my head and laid another several punches directly to my face. I’ve always had a sense of humor, guys. This was like the time that I decided that it was a good idea to pretend I was the Hamburglar at my High School’s Homecoming dance. The experience wasn’t exactly as described.
Anyhow, I knew why this was happening because he was telling me while slowly ripping as much of my body apart as he could in front of an audience. I’d just gotten my orange belt faster than anyone ever had before in my nearly all-male MMA/Police Training school. I needed to slow down and, to use his words, “know my place”.
My sparring partner was frozen in shock, as were the rest of the guys there.
Not a single person helped me.
I eventually was able to get enough distance between me and him to recover enough to return fire. I moved at a 45 degree angle and slammed his chest with an elbow, which is one of my standard “get the fuck out” moves to this day. It stunned him enough that I was able to grapple and deliver a series of way-too-hard-for-a-training-environment elbows and punches directly to his face and neck. Then I bent him over and uppercut the shit out of him for an amount of time that I can’t truly recall. I just kept doing uppercuts to his chest until I couldn’t anymore. He eventually backed off. I went into the locker room and vomited. I cleaned myself up, went home, and got medical attention. I was not going to let anyone see that.
I learned some important lessons that day. The first is that women are sometimes punished for succeeding where they aren’t supposed to. The second is that I was incredibly mistaken in having feelings for this guy. The third is that I would become the first female black belt at this school. The fourth is that I make a sexy Hamburglar.
His hatred gave me such a desire to outclass him even further – which I did. He was fired for this after people reported it to the owner of my school the next day. I feel like someone had to clean the blood up so it couldn’t be kept a secret.
3 months later I had his job. 6 months later I had so few fucks to give that I began on my quest to create accessible self defense training for women and taught 3 classes. 7 months later I taught my first self-defense class specifically for strippers and sex workers.
Bad shit happens, but how you respond to that shit is the most important thing. I nearly gave up that night. I didn’t because the owner of the school backed me and I am a tenacious son of a bitch. It’s important to walk away from toxic situations, but even more important to tease out the positive aspects of every situation so that you can use them as puzzle pieces to make things better.
That’s all we can do, isn’t it? So do that. Every day. You are not what happened to you. You are your response to it. I have always preferred my responses to be ones that piss people off because I’m living well. Anything less is cheap. I cost more than that. You cost more than that and anyone who tells you differently is full of shit.
This is an excerpt from Oni’s upcoming book, Failing Upward. Subscribe to this blog and sign up to her mailing list to learn more and get notifications when new content is released.
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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