Practical Skills from Aikido

I read on social media of another friend injured (though fortunately not badly) in a fall, and once again I want to teach everyone I know how to fall. Of course, even if you know how to fall, you can still injure yourself, but the odds are you will minimize the damage.

Everyone falls. Look at toddlers learning how to walk. They fall all the time. We get better at walking, but we still trip on things.

Doctors tell old people not to fall, but of course that’s useless advice. What people need to know — and to learn with their bodies — is how to fall safely so that we don’t hit the back of our heads or reach out to catch our whole body weight on a wrist.

The first thing you learn in Aikido training is how to fall. Judo players learn this as well, and I assume most jujitsu teaches it. It’s a vital skill for fighting arts, but more than that it’s a vital skill for human beings.

You have to learn it with your body, because in the instant moment of a fall, you don’t have time to think; you just fall. Years of experience helps, but even a small amount of solid training will make a difference. Bodies remember.

I understand that physical therapists teach falling in The Netherlands. They should teach it here. Even better, though, teach it in schools. But since so many old people didn’t learn it in school, teach it at senior centers.

One thing I remember in watching a kids’ aikido class was the children teaching each other to fall by protecting their partner throughout a throw. That’s a useful thing to learn, too, with applications far beyond the physical. Continue reading “Practical Skills from Aikido”

Strangers Aren’t the Danger

Back in the Sixties, there was a quote going around that always resonated with me:

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.

I just came up with a corollary to that theory:

If they can make you afraid of the wrong things, they don’t have to do anything about the real dangers.

That could apply to many things, but for today I’m going to focus on the fear-mongering directed at women.

There’s a bit going around Facebook these days that lists all the things women should do to protect themselves. This one reads:

it’s about to get dark earlier.. make sure you fill up your gas tank prior to nightfall.. keep an extra charger with you at all times.. sign up for AAA….. Check your tires and oil… No ATM runs in the evening. Park in well lit areas. Only unlock your doors if you are immediately getting out. Pay attention to your surroundings.. HEADS UP PHONES DOWN… Stay safe Queens.

This one is focused on people who drive, but something similar goes around social media regularly listing all the things women need to do to keep themselves safe when they’re out in public.

Those lists are always followed by multiple comments about how awful men are and how unfair it is that women have to do these things to stay safe when instead men should change.

I’ve got three problems with this list.

First, this is once again advice on how women should limit their lives to stay safe. As the commenters observe, we’re all getting really tired of this.

Secondly, that advice is really about protecting yourself from robbers and carjackers, so the useful parts (such as keep your car in good running condition) apply to everyone, not just women. In fact, men are more often the victims of this kind of street crime than women, perhaps because some men assume being male means you don’t have to pay attention.

But most importantly, when women are told how to keep themselves safe, the implication is that they need protection from sexual assault, rape, and murder. And that brings me to my most important objection: this advice, though often well-meaning, makes women think the real danger they face is from strangers.

And it’s not.  Continue reading “Strangers Aren’t the Danger”

Changing the Rules

When I was young and trying to break into places that were marked “no girls allowed” (like practicing law and training in martial arts), I used to say, “Women don’t want to change things in [insert male-dominated space here]; we just want to be allowed to play.”

That was a lie. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was. First of all, bringing women into those spaces inevitably changes things. Secondly, as demonstrated by the recent decisions by people like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate on other people’s terms, it leads to changes in the underlying rules.

Playing hurt isn’t a good idea, even at the Olympics. Putting up with abuse should never be necessary.

Add in the women refusing to compete in uncomfortable clothing — a proxy for all the stupid dress codes that dictate to women just how they’re supposed to cover or uncover their bodies — and you’ve got women changing the rules of the game.

What a wonderful thing. Continue reading “Changing the Rules”