THIS IS NOT A SAFE SPACE.
IT IS THE CONFESSIONAL OF MY TRUTHS
MADE POSSIBLE BY LIES.
(WE CALL IT FICTION.)
RAW. FUNNY. WONDROUS. TERRIBLE.
HERE THERE BE BEASTIES.
YE BE WARNED.
22 years old
…I spend a good part of my Sunday morning wadded up into a ball. I do not cry. I do not shake. I also don't uncoil. I just hover there on my mattress, searing holes into the wall with my unblinking eyes. That whole tsunami wave is still roiled up the back of my spine and I can’t get it to crash.
Eventually, my body does—crash out. Only to bolt upright from a nightmare about my door being blasted in by Theo’s steel-toed boot.
…My bed still smells like him. I threw the blankets and sheets on the floor. At least my sleeping bag smells of dust and smoke from the event last weekend. Good memories. Dancing around the campfire. They put me in armor at that event. I loved it!
And now it’s confirmed: I don’t merely want to become a fighter. I absolutely need it. I need to learn how to protect myself far earlier than when I’m backed against the wall with vicious teeth leering in my face.
So I do.
Even so, it will take many, many years to undo the damage caused by those death threats and how close I came to another rape. It will take even longer for me to stop disbelieving that I’m a fighter no matter how many weapons I own, how many hours I train with them, or how many times I rebuild my armor.
…Eventually, I will learn that the purpose of my armor is to grow strong and wise beneath it, so I can find all those opportunities to take it off.
~From my old memoir blog: Fawn, Freeze, Fight, Flee
Let’s kick this party off with some FAQs
“Hey, Bella, how long have you been a fighter-chick?”
Since 1995, but I’ve wanted to be one since I first saw Jana of the Junglehurl her throwy-necklace at villains just as I was entering kindergarten.
“Why did you want to be like her?”
Because she was sweet AND badass.
In my neighborhood’s jungle (the woods), I constantly found myself prowling the underbrush to hide from my own villains, and this jungle-ness only intensified once I entered school—a quite shrub-free habitat.
Alas. Although I used a ring frisbee as my throwy-necklace during play, I had an astigmatism and abysmal aim so that wouldn’t have been an ideal weapon for me. Instead, I wanted to have a jaguar guardian like Jana did.
Okay, no. I wanted to BE the jaguar.
Seeing as how this was less likely than my ability to bean an attacker in the head with a frisbee, I settled upon a happy medium: I yearned to be Catwoman. (See, Jana was pretty. Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, and all the Charlie’s Angels were also pretty, and I was…not. But nobody knew what Catwoman looked like under her mask, so there. Plus she had claws and other weapons, and she hissed and purred which I thought was even cooler than Jana’s girlie version of the Tarzan yell.)
Then in second grade, my fighter-chick cravings became an outright obsession when I watched one of the gazillion cheesy sword-n-sandal movies that dominated Saturday afternoon television of the 70s.
But this movie was special.
It featured a gladiatrix.
Female gladiator. And she wasn’t a cartoon. She wasn’t even a live person playing a comic book character. She was an inspired-by-real-life character! Because…history.
Granted, throughout my first three decades of life, all the information I could find about gladiatrices dismissed them as nothing but side-show and comedy entertainment, not genuine combatants. But something in me refused to cave to that image.
Archeology would eventually determine that the Gladiatrix was a genuine fighter-chick.
Either way, the woman on my television screen showed me something crucial to my shrinking-violet self, forever hiding behind shrubbery, department store clothes racks, and my mommy’s double-knit pants. See, this gladiatrix didn't screech and hair-pull against another flail-smacking female. She unsheathed a sword in the arena and whupped the butt of a bigger, trained, beefy guy determined to lay her waste.
Considering my history with big, beefy men doing ugly things to me by that age, this was a very important distinction.
A small, fanged Beastie was born.
Gladiators became one of my longest-enduring passions, set into daydreams and ridiculous amounts of ink until college, when a group of fighters threw me into some medieval armor to halt me from peppering them with questions machine-gun style.
Honestly? It’s easier for me to just show you. I’m a dancer, after all, so the combination of imagery, color, movement, and music is my world.
(If vision isn’t your thing but figher-chicks are, I hope you’ll stick around for when I start painting these stories in words. In the meanwhile, here's a texty description of the vid for you, or you can just enjoy the music and the...ahem...auditory antics during the credits.)
“Whoa, that looks so fun! Where can I get into armor and whap my buddies with big sticks?”
That was the Society for Creative Anachronism.There are other groups that do lighter combat with foam boffers, and others who do heavier combat with metal weapons. Still others ram each other while on horseback. Go hunt!
“So you consider yourself a Warrior Princess? But you’re so teensy and wussy, perpetually broken. Nothing like Xena!”
Well, I got into—and stayed—in martial arts to keep doing something about that wussy thing. And that’s true, compared to a lot of the people I’ve trained with, faced off against, and legit had to defend myself from, yup. I am teensy. Then again, I’ve trained with others who are teensier yet far more badass than I could ever be.
When I lived in Minnesota (in what the SCA calls Northshield), the SCAdians actually didn’t call me Warrior Princess. One of our fighter-chicks was tall, dark-haired, and statuesque, so her nickname was Xena. But when people outside the Society heard about what I did with my weekends, grunting and sweating in armor, they called me that. I definitely got called Warrior Princess in Colorado, and in 2007 I was hired by a production company in NYC to come shoot an instructional video of that name so…I just go with it. Even on the days when I don’t feel particularly warriorish or princessy.
As for “broken…”
Well, I dunno. Who is stronger? The person who’s never been injured, seriously ill, tramped on, or traumatized strutting around at the top of the pecking order? Or the teensy, disabled splattered goo-of-a-person, picking themselves up off the ground to keep training, keep going, year after year after decade?
There are many types of strength.
And many types of weakness.
I’ll leave you to see them however you choose to.
“Blahhh, SCA combat is just running around clubbing people while protected by armor you’d never wear on the street. Have you actually trained in something you could use to defend yourself in a real-life violent situation?”
Yes. Although I eventually left the medieval reenactment group in which I had started learning to fight, this yearning to continue my Warrior Princess ways only grew in strength. After a pause to recover from being rammed by a drunk driver, I resumed training in 2005, this time in classical martial arts. Since then, I’ve never stopped.
“Whoa…does that mean you’re a black belt?”
“Whoa…have you ever had to use your martial arts to legit protect yourself?”
“Whoa…does that mean you can whupp my butt?”
Um…I would certainly hope not. I hope I’d never have any need to. But if pressed, I have no idea if I could, because I don’t know your general life background, training, skill level, and determination to do something deep, dark and nasty to me.
Hey, do you like tea? I like tea. Let’s have some lovely tea, shall we? Groovy.
“Whoa, will you teach me how to fight?”
Nope. I don’t have that kind of insurance. Neither do I want that kind of responsibility. I will, however, teach you to artistically paint with pretty-pretty martial movement if you catch me in the right atmosphere.
I will also spill all my damsel-to-dangerous beans across these pages in case my decades of being a recovering nice girl, people pleaser, and abuse victim/survivor can offer up any valuable nuggets for someone else’s journey.
As I said in my Substack introneither am I a neurologist, therapist, councilor, social worker, or any other sort of professional qualified to help people deal with serious issues. Instead, I’ll always try to provide you with 👇 links👇 to people who are. 👉
“Pfffft, I suppose your training is in worthless sport-fighting. I saw you in that foamy protective gear you’d also never wear on the street.”
Well, my training in that foamy gear served me well against two physical attacks and a boatload of mental/emotional ones, so I would never call it worthless.
I’ve also trained in below-freezing temps outside in a winter jacket and the boots I came in, or sweltering in summer heat while being chewed on by mosquitoes and coming home with chigger bites on my ass after takedowns in the grass. Why? Because Guro is a wise, realistic, cackling sadist, and we love him for it.
Some of my favorite styles have been self-defense-focused, and that has always been my favorite aspect of the training.
Well…that and the gorgeous, meditational forms.
“Fighter-chicks are hawt! So…wanna wrestle/spar/mix it up/go some rounds?” *wink-wink-nudge-nudge*
Are we in class training together? No? Then probably not. Ohhhhhhh…you mean wreeeeeeestle. *wink* Well, I dunno. Are we dating? Then game on. *nudge* Because yeah. Fighter-chicks are hawt.
Oh, we’re not dating? Then nope.
“Then howsabout we go on a date?” *wink-wink-nudge-nudge*
Lookie here, sparky, I’m demisexual so this is soooo not the way to get me interested in dating you. That would require an organic, uncontrived connection.
“Tha fuck is demisexual?”
That’s what the cyber-gods made search engines for. Or stick around. We’ll sure discuss it enough.
“So, since you’re a black belt now, does that mean nobody has been able to do you harm ever since?”
But that will take an entire post of its own.
Lyrics to this song.
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Jana of the Jungle - my first She-ro
Nerd Out: Gladiatrix: more than a myth
Whoa…I wanna fight in armor too: Society for Creative Anachronism
I'm not the person to ask for advice about all those un-fun reasons I needed to learn self-defense. These people are. Remember that online activity can be tracked, so make sure you are in a safe place to click on these links before you do:
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) -
Including the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) TTY 1-800 - 787-3224
THE STOP BULLYING SITE with many resources
Or if it’s a really, really bad time: SMS 988 - THE SUICIDE & CRISIS LIFELINE
A FEW DIY RESOURCES:
One of the best books I have ever read in my life: The Body Keeps the Score - Brain, Mind & Body in the Healing of Trauma
Don't want to read the book? Here's the basic premise of what trauma does to the body and why talking about it, even in therapy, so often doesn't solve the problems: Short Version. Or Long Version by the author himself
Another one of the best books I’ve ever read - The Gift of Fear - Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence
Why your boundaries are not welcome in an abusive relationship
Looks and sounds like you have amazing self-control and balance with grace and strength. Developing such mastery of the body is admirable. Loved this: "I will also spill all my damsel-to-dangerous beans across these pages in case my decades of being a recovering nice girl, people pleaser, and abuse victim/survivor can offer up any valuable nuggets for someone else’s journey."