Sensei Don said something very interesting to me. It was in response to a question I asked if one could train instinct or if he (and karate philosophy) believe it is inborn. He replied, “About 98% of people are sheep. You put them in a situation where it’s life or death, such as the random knife attack on the bus in Canada, and most people will run away or hide. The remaining 2% have the instinct to fight.”
“So how does one know if they have the instinct to fight or not?” I asked.
“You don’t. Until it’s tested.”
I Am A Sheep
I was tested once.
The night I was assaulted, I was asleep. So he had the element of surprise on his side, not to mention an extra 60 pounds and nine inches. But I really think that it was the sleep that got me. The prosecutor would later make an assertion that I had been drugged but whether it was a chemically induced stupor or just shock, I woke up slowly. Too slowly. In my groggy state, it took me even longer to realize what was going on.
Despite the fact that he had a weapon – if you can call a razor blade a weapon – it didn’t feel particularly violent. Although later when I was cleaning up I would marvel at my torn clothing and the blood. But it wasn’t my blood; it was his. You see, the blade was meant to get me to comply but not by killing me. By threatening to kill himself. Looking back I’m sure he didn’t mean it, that it was just one of many ways he manipulated me that night. But at the time I was sure he did mean it and as I’ve already explained, I was also sure that one of us was going to die at his hand.
At the time, it felt like it took forever but in reality I think it was over fairly quickly. I remember that I tried screaming but gave that up when I realized that no one could hear me and it only antagonized him. So I cried instead. Just a quiet steady river that ran into my hair and down my neck. The great gulping sobs, along with the uncontrollable shaking, wouldn’t come until hours later when I was safe. And alone. When the physical-ness of it was over, the real drama began. He raved and whispered, cursed me and caressed me, threatened and pleaded. I watched from inside myself. And then I drove him home.
Not once did I fight him.
Aside from resisting as he removed my clothing, I was consumed by a sort of helpless passivity. Inevitability. Instinct, if you will. Others have since told me that I did what my mind thought was safest at the time and that I shouldn’t judge myself for (not) doing what I did. But it haunts me, that thing I didn’t do. I didn’t even try to fight him. He would not have killed me.
Learning To Hit
When I finally discovered kickboxing, it seemed the perfect antitode to the vulnerability that plagued me. I have convinced myself over the years, and even wrote as much in an essay, that were I to ever find myself in a similar situation, this time I would fight back. I would not again willingly become a victim.
But what if that is not true? What if I lack that instinct of self-preservation? Not only have I proved myself a sheep once but thanks to the horrors of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that consumed me during the court case, I have demonstrated over and over again that what I do is duck and cringe. And scream.
It is difficult for me to do this Karate Experiment without facing the spectre that introduced me to the desire to punch and kick in the first place. I do not take well to being handled by other people. I react strongly to innocent touch and overreact to aggressive touch. I tried once, years ago, to take a self-defense class but I made the mistake of doing a mixed-gender class and I ended it early in tears, feeling molested.
So now I must ask: Is it possible to change from a sheep to a fox? Are these patterns ingrained or can they be retrained? Can I be a fighter if I have the will but lack the instinct? The other day Gym Buddy V gave me his kickboxing gloves and let me go to town punching him (the dude is built like a brick wall). I have to tell you, it felt good. Really good.
What about you – have any of you been tested? Are you a sheep or a fox?
Disclaimer: I received a sad e-mail from a male reader of this site who said – in a very nice way – that he takes offense at my posts on this subject, reading them as a diatribe against his gender. This was in no way written as an affront to all men or to seek apologies for male-perpetrated crime in general. I think all of you commenters generally do an excellent job of not male bashing. I married an excellent man – the best I’ve ever met – and am the mother to three pre-men; I have every reason to celebrate mankind. I only write this because it seems vital to tell this story to stay to true my fitness experience.