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Have you ever been so afraid that your body literally shut down? I have. And I’m pretty sure that memory had a whole lot to do with me training in martial arts and creating a career out of teaching self-defense.
It was a beautiful, sunny Tuesday morning in New York City. I was 23 years old and heading to work on the subway. When I stepped out at the Wall Street station, I entered a chaotic scene that felt like it was taken straight from a movie. People were screaming and running; I followed their fingers pointing to the black smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center. In a daze, I continued to the building where I worked as a marketing assistant for a special events venue, three blocks south of the towers.
When I saw the doorman, he told me I couldn’t go up to the loft where I worked but could use the phone in the lobby, if I wanted. Minutes later, the first tower fell and people started swarming into the lobby for safety. I was pushed into a utility closet with dozens of strangers and that’s when it hit me.
Tears streamed from my eyes while my whole body felt paralyzed.
To make a long story short, a woman shook me out of my state of shock. We were kicked out of the building by a policeman and had to head into the street, where ash rained down on us. Hours later, we made it over to the martial arts studio that I trained at.
The martial arts studio was my safe haven. For the next six months, it became a metaphor for my life. It was the place where I spent as much time as I could because the martial arts training was helping me become stronger than I ever thought possible. Physically, my body was getting stronger; emotionally, I became more confident and less afraid. As I learned life-saving self-defense techniques, I felt more capable of protecting myself from danger.
It was in that following year that I decided I wanted to make my career about helping others feel those same benefits; strong, safe and more confident, both emotionally and physically. I had a lot of training to do before I could start teaching martial arts (hapkido specifically) for a living, so I first became certified as a personal trainer.
Over the course of 10 years, I trained as often as I could while building a personal training and health coaching practice. I became a certified health coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and later on went back to school part-time to attain my master’s degree in nutrition. Throughout that entire decade, I trained in hapkido as much as I could; I taught classes and trained private clients. Towards the end of the 10 years, with some help of my martial arts master, I began teaching self-defense for women who didn’t want to train in martial arts. I named the workshop Stilettos & Self Defense after a night that I was grabbed on the street years earlier. I was able to scare off my attacker and chase him down the street wearing my stilettos.
After 10 years, I tested and passed with my 3rd degree black belt in hapkido and moved to Los Angeles, where I continue to teach self-defense at colleges, corporations and conferences around the country.
Doing this work has strengthened my commitment to teaching this important subject because I have met thousands of women along the way. Sure enough, after any presentation I give, women of all ages will share their stories with me of how they have survived sexual assault.
Currently, 1 in 3 women globally will be victims of sexual violence and that is NOT OK. It’s a shameful statistic and I think we can all help reduce it. There are three ways that I have identified that everyone can do to participate in this journey of taking a stand for women’s safety:
- Empower ourselves to learn self-defense and protect ourselves against predatory behavior
- Continue the conversations and make it safe for survivors to share their stories. This gives survivors room to heal
- Become better bystanders and speak up and call out predatory behavior and sexual harassment and assault