Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Girly Conundrum

In Krav Maga there is a lot of hitting. Well, not just hitting, also kicking, elbowing, kneeing and (at G level and up) headbutting. Krav is brutal, direct and efficient. To hell with “honour your aggressor”, the message of Krav is “if you can’t escape an opponent, hurt them until you can”.

I like Krav because, for skinny, non-fighters like me it’s a breath of fresh air after all those ponsey martial arts that promise to teach you how to do a complicated move that will gain you a belt for being able to demonstrate it but has as much use in real life as a condom in a nunnery.

But I digress.

Last week I received an email with an application form for the UK Channel 4 programme “SAS: WHO DARES WINS”. This is a show where about 40 guys are put through a condensed version of special forces training until only a handful remain. Series 3 had two guys win it and it looks to be a right sod from the start. I found out that I’m nearly 3 years over the maximum age limit so can’t apply (44 years 364 days by 25th September 2018, if you’d like to know). 

Once my disappointment abated I re-read the email and saw the following line:
“All roles in the military are now opening up to women. So for the FIRST TIME, SAS: Who Dares Wins will now be accepting applications from EVERYONE who meets the selection criteria”.

This was interesting because it is an ongoing debate that I have with people that women would need to have different roles in Special Forces than guys, mainly due to size and strength and stamina issues but also due to the training needing to deal with overriding the protective instinct that most men have towards women.

To elaborate.

When I was growing up, one of the few things that would make my father lose his shit was if I hit a girl. He was born 4 years prior to World War 2 and was “old school” in his view on who could hit who. Me and my brother both got severely told off and threatened with a smack on the ONE occasion that either of us ever hit a girl without provocation. He was also pragmatic though and pointed out that if a girl started the fight, then hitting back would be meaningless as most people would believe a girl over a boy. 

Years later when I attended university in the north of England in the early 90s, I remember the amount of times we would see a man and a woman we didn’t know arguing, and stand and watch them in case he hit her. On some occasions the woman would be slapping, punching and/ or kicking the guy and we would watch in case he hit her BACK. My mate was a cop and one time in a nightclub his missus went off on one and began slapping him repeatedly in the face in front of everyone. He didn’t retaliate but the bouncers came over, saw what was happening and then walked off again without intervening.

Another time I was waiting for a bus with a friend in Manchester and a couple began having a tiff. She slapped him repeatedly but all he did was restrain her by holding her wrists each time. A group of drunk, opinionated students then rounded the corner and took it upon themselves to assume that she was a victim of abuse. Me and my pal walked over to fill in the blanks and one woman had her arm around the (by now crying) female’s shoulders saying “Come over here with me love, you don’t have to let a man treat you like that”. At no point did the lady claim her boyf/ husband had hit her, she was too busy crying, but they took it as gospel that it had to have happened and ignored all attempts me and my mate made to convince them otherwise.

When I began Krav Maga in Rome in 2010 I was crap at fighting and the hang ups of youth still haunted me. During sparring I’d see guys tap female opponents on the top of the head with their gloves, as if the face was an area forbidden to anyone who wished to call himself a real man. I made a conscious decision to override my previous programming and not patronise a female opponent. I hit equally as hard to women as I did to guys (and remember I’m skinny so the effect wasn’t like The Viper vs. The Mountain from Game of Thrones). This still bugged me as potentially wrong and I could see my father over my shoulder saying “If you ever hit a girl I will hit you SO hard!” My fears were put to rest though, just before I left the club when one of the ladies in the class said to me “I like sparring with you because you don’t hold back, most guys do”.

All fine and dandy.

Then I got to the UK and my confidence increased and while I still had psychological hang ups about fighting I would try to give as good as I got within certain common sense parameters (e.g. you wouldn’t whale on a 17 year old P1). The whole point of sparring was to fight safely and at gradings Jon Bullock (head of KMG UK) would say “You fight to the level of your partner. If I see ANYONE hitting too hard I will fail them on the spot”. 

That lurking voice of my Dad slowly got fainter and fainter and then one day in sparring I was with a woman who had a reputation as a badass. I didn’t go harder on her than the guys in the class (after all, sparring’s not my forte) but I didn’t hold back either. Even though we were fully kitted up in helmets, chest plates, forearm & shin pads (and the requisite groin protection), she eventually dropped her guard, stood with her hands by her sides and said “Fucker! Stop it!” Confused, I spoke to the instructor briefly after who said it was possibly ego due to getting hit and I later saw her talking to him as well. The incident was never brought up again but I found out on the grapevine that she was none too impressed with how hard I’d hit her and a male friend of hers took it as an example of me being an arsehole. Someone who didn’t like fighting but would hit a woman.

And there lies the conundrum. By holding back (which I’ve seen a LOT of people do) a man is patronising a woman. By going EQUALLY as hard as he would on a guy of the same ability, he is potentially perceived as a dick.

I know women in the G levels of Krav who could kick my ass without a second thought. However I know others who I still feel uncomfortable fighting simply because they are women.

In SAS: Who Dares Wins series 3 they had the contestants fight each other. It was boxing only, with 16oz gloves, gum shields and head protection and the instructions “You will not guard, you will not retreat. You hit only to the head. You don’t stop until we tell you to”. Whoever volunteered first got to choose a partner and everyone tried to pick a bloke of the same-ish height and weight, or as close to it as possible. It will be interesting to see series 4 and if they retain this aspect of the show. Seeing men and women knocking 7 bells out of each other would be one indication that we are now accepting of an equality based on your willingness to do something, not on pre-conceived ideas about how people should behave.

In Rome there are gangs of gypsy girls that travel around the underground train network, stealing from tourists. The reason they are all little girls between the ages of about 10 and 13 is simple. Most people don’t like aggression. Most men don’t like hitting women and hardly ANYONE would ever consider hitting a child. The one time I saw them I told them to fuck off (in Italian) and the reaction was shock. They are employed by shrewd and cold people who know that 95% of the time no one will dare stand up to them, let alone touch them due to their status as both children and girls. A guy who caught one of them stealing his wallet, simply lifted her up by her collar and pulled the handle on the train. The cop who attended said “You can’t touch her and you can’t pull the handle for THAT!” Turned out the cop was lying as you CAN detain anyone you catch like this BUT it’s a nightmare of paperwork so the cops won’t usually touch it with a bargepole.

One thing that I have always found funny is when guys go too easy on a female opponent (and I don’t mean “fighting to the ability of your partner” but being a condescending shite) and then get their asses handed to them on a plate. Conversely, a friend of mine is ex army, a dad to two girls aged 16 and 8, and during his P3 grading was partnered with a woman who carried on punching him in the face after the examiners had called a halt. She was sitting on his chest at the time and, after the third time she punched him, he headbutted her in the face and busted her nose. He wasn’t judged for this as he was responding reasonably to excess and unjustified use of force but, when he told me this story, there was still that little voice in the back of my head going “He hit a girly. He’s horrid!”

During a pressure drill a few years back I had my eyes closed, felt the tap on my shoulder and when I opened my eyes saw a 15 year old female practitioner coming at me with a plastic knife. I swatted her hand away, moved off line in the appropriate body defence and then went to kick her in the groin…only to see she wasn’t wearing any protection. I managed to ease off the force of the kick but still made contact. After a very short pause I went “Are you OK?” She nodded. “Seriously, wear a sodding box. I need therapy now!” Being a man (and also a teacher, to kids her age) it was beyond traumatising for me to boot a teenage girl in the vagina. I would have felt guilty but LESS guilty had it been a 15 year old boy.  

So the Girly Conundrum is something that I find still exists in many aspects. Usually it’s the guy’s perceptions of what he thinks he should do that cause this. However, you can and do see women being aggressive as hell in YouTube videos and then acting like a frail, vulnerable female when a guy retaliates. My favourite example of this was Nicola Fischer who at riots in London a few years ago, assaulted a police officer by throwing liquid in his face (after being told twice to back off by said officer who she was screaming and yelling obscenities at). He hit her ONCE with his baton  on the leg after she assaulted him and she got £10,000 of Max Clifford for her ‘story’ where she was, in quiet, subdued tones, showing the cameras the nasty bruise on her leg where the nasty policeman had hit her. The icing on the cake was when she said “That policeman could have asked me politely to move, or even picked me up and moved me”. The cop was charged with assault but acquitted at trial. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that nobody would have cared if the person was called Nicholas Fischer.

As we move into an age where gender (or even transgender) integration is more and more the norm I’d like to feel comfortable when sparring with ANYBODY. And let’s not forget that embarrassment that arises when the warm up includes the “try and pinch the T-shirt” drill. I usually say “I’ll tap your shoulder” and do that unless given permission to go for the front. During GIC 2 in Melbourne, I was partnered with the one and only female candidate and had to hold her in a grip that required putting my hands over her chest. I adjusted my grip to avoid this and the examiner  saw this, came over and said “She needs to learn as well as you, hold her properly please”. After he’d gone again the woman assured me “You’re not holding my breasts, you’re above them, it’s OK”.

Nobody had ever told me to behave like this, and the higher you go in Krav the less of this type of reluctant, embarrassed faffing about you will witness. G level and E level Krav fighters know they have to play on an even field. However…there is a whole load of societal programming that leads me to feel uncomfortable in situations like this. The little voices telling me that hitting girlies is wrong or that a technique involving contact with breasts is best avoided. And let’s not forget the utter horror of the first time we kick a woman between the legs (even if she has a box on).

The Girly Conundrum. I intend to conquer this before my next grading. And I hope my partner is a woman.

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