Humans Can Say No

A few years ago I started taking Krav Maga, which is an Israeli form of self-defense. I started training because I wanted – no, needed – to be able to physically defend myself from an attack, and give myself some awareness and peace of mind.

At the time I had a physically demanding job building trails (more on that later) and was usually very tired at the end of the day, so I only went to class an average of about twice a week. I prided myself on being in extremely good shape, and being the “badass girl” at work who also did martial arts.

I convinced myself there was nothing I couldn’t handle.

That week in particular I had pushed myself at work, and had already gone to Krav more often than I usually did. There were other things on my mind as well – outside factors that had me somewhat stressed, but I decided more high-intensity training would bring me some release.

At this point I had been going to classes for almost a year and had tested into the advanced level, and that night I walked in to see an instructor I had never met before. I remember immediately feeling uneasy when I walked in the door, but I didn’t know why. He started yelling right away and sent us into combative drills, and I thought, “Okay, this is going to be an intense class, but I can handle it.”

We continued the grueling drills, and there were several times he walked past me and glared (not joking, actually glared) at me for several long seconds before moving on. The music was loud, I was exhausted, we were in the middle of a drill where you leap to your feet as fast as possible after a defensive kick, and he came up to me and literally yelled eight inches from my face, “GET YOUR ASS OFF THE GROUND!”

At that moment I felt attacked to my very core. I had already spent almost all my energy getting there, and I was paying to have this training, but I was sure as hell not paying them to scream directly in my face. That was clearly his tactic, but it did not work for me.

I was filled with tearful rage and disgust and somehow managed to hold it together for the last ten minutes of class before fleeing to my car. I felt that that instructor – a burly, broad-shouldered man who towered above me – did not acknowledge or understand the fact that I had worked very hard to get to where I was that day, and that I was there to learn to protect myself.

Upon reaching my car I burst into tears and had a full-on panic attack. I called my brother because I was in such bad shape, and when he answered I could not breathe. I gasped out to him just to talk to me, and when he heard me gasping and hiccuping he started to speak about anything; his life, the news, the weather, and I just listened. I put him on speakerphone and put my head between my legs because I literally could not suck in a deep breath, and could not stop my body from convulsing in short, panicky bursts. This went on for what seemed like hours, but finally I was able to calm my body down and explain what had happened.

As soon as I had the panic attack I knew I shouldn’t have pushed myself so far. I cared too much about being able to say that I went to Krav again last night and was able to “push through”, and cared too little that I had already spent all my energy. I knew I was fraying around the edges and yet refused to say no to myself.

I had refused to acknowledge my tipping point.

Yes, that guy was definitely too harsh on me, but I was also foolish for 1) going to class when I knew I was already on edge with the world, and 2) not speaking up about it afterwards that it truly bothered me.

The moral of my story is that it is okay to say no – even when you’re saying no to yourself. I had to learn to listen to myself and refuse some things, even though it meant admitting I wasn’t as invincible as I wanted to be.

But knowing your limits is not weakness – it’s human. And humans can say no.

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