Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fighting For My Life

When I was a young woman I was raped. I've probably been thinking about this because there have been fourteen sexual assaults in the neighbourhood where I live in Toronto. (Police now have a suspect in custody.) In response, many of the local community groups are offering women's self defense courses. I had taken self defense before I was raped, but I hadn't really been able to use it. Years later I did some training at a martial arts and shamanic retreat on the Mohave Desert in the US. One of the things I learned was that to protect ourselves, we have to have a bone-deep sense of our own worthiness. We have to know we have a right to be. 

Sounds simple, doesn't it? But for some of us, that right to be was not established in our early years, and so we must learn to use our strength- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual- to tend and preserve our own lives. Even after this more extensive training, it was only in being tested that I learned to defeat the inner enemy of believing that it didn't matter what happened to me. Here is the story of that testing and my inner battle.

"At the end of an intensive two week course the women who had been trained were tested by being attacked three times one-on-one by men committed to helping women empower themselves to walk safely in the world. The men wore protective gear, the women did not. We were told that the attacks would be no-holes-barred and would continue until the instructor, Dawn, a petite woman who worked as a bodyguard in Los Angeles, called out, “Cut!” We had to deliver one or two blows to the man attacking us that would have incapacitated him long enough for us to get away if he had not been wearing protective gear.

As we began the women who wanted to be tested stood along the edge of a large matted area. One at a time the men wandered around within the circle watching the women and seeking to attack someone when she least expected it. Shortly after we began one of the women broke her leg struggling with a man who’d grabbed her. We all heard it snap beneath her as she went down heavily. It shook us, but most of us stayed to be tested. Many of us had been raped or beaten. We needed to know we could defend ourselves.
The first time I was attacked I made a slow but steady response, finally delivering a blow to the man’s protected eyes that would have given me time to get away if this had been a real attack. But the second time, the man who attacked me had been wandering around the circle joking. I was laughing, unprepared, my guard down. When he grabbed me and threw me I arched through the air and landed flat on my back in a way that closely resembled how I had been thrown when I was raped. The man participating in the testing didn't know this, but the women on the circle did. Earlier in the week we had re-enacted the rape scenes experienced by women in the group, looking for possible ways each woman could have protected herself if she had had the skills and knowledge she was now being given. The man attacking me heard the sharp intake of breath amongst many of the women around the circle when I hit the ground. He could see I’d had the wind knocked out of me and was badly shaken, but his instructions were to go for it until the instructor told him to stop. So he continued to come at me.
I struggled to fight, but I didn’t want to. I felt as if I had landed in a large tub of warm bath water. Suddenly I didn’t care what happened. It felt like it just didn’t matter. I heard Dawn calling to me as if from very far away. “Don’t do that Oriah,” she yelled. “You’ve been here before. Don’t check out! Fight! Fight for yourself!”
Hearing her voice I struggled to come out of my lethargy as the man landed on top of me. It was like moving through molasses, but slowly and steadily I began to fight and finally, after five minutes of constant struggle, I managed to deliver one of the blows that we had been taught to incapacitate an attacker. 

Shaken at how I’d responded to the attack I hesitated to be tested again but I put myself back at the edge of the testing area. The third time a man grabbed me I flew into action without hesitation, landing repeated take-out blows almost immediately. Dawn had to yell, “Cut!” four times before I heard her."*

I had found a willingness to fight for my own life. I had broken through the lie I'd been taught that it did not matter what happened to me. I felt in my body and  my heart, my right to be. 

Oriah (c) 2012

* This story was presented in book, The Call, by Oriah (c) 2003. Published by HarperONE, San Francisco.


  1. I feel very touched by this story Oriah. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Oriah,

    In the middle of the night I turned on my light.
    The tall walls of...disbelief and horror came crashing and smashing over me as they have done each time I have read your story. My stomach tightens and I feel grief stricken and sick.

    Twenty years ago two brutal murders of women occurred in the San Diego neighborhood my two young daughters, ages 10 and 12, went to school. A police command post was set up. I took my wife and girls to a self-defense course put on by an ex-police officer.

    He too stressed the immediate importance of getting one's attacker off by any means possible. He also make a shocking point that I have always remembered, those women that were afraid of getting hurt and did nothing either got hurt or raped. Those that fought for their life were not raped. He also said her felt that the only thing worse than rape was murder.

    Many years later a very good friend told me she had been attacked by ten men while walking down a city street. Fortunately for her a policeman happened by and intervened. She wasn't battered, but she was shattered. She vowed to be able to protect herself and became a Blackbelt in Karate. She also became an expert marksman.

    My former wife was abducted on a date. She 'knew'something was wrong when he started driving towards his home. But she did nothing! She was held hostage for three days and molested. A vicious doberman watched guard. She finally escaped on the third day. She never told anyone and she carries the emotion wounds of the trauma to this day. She cannot remember everything that happened and doesn't want to. Her sense of self worthiness was robbed from her at the moment of birth by her abusive mother. Slowly she is reclaiming her right to be.

    My friend who achieved her Blackbelt told me she believes that the secret to our success is largely a sense of self-worth. Without this we are unknowingly targets for the attacker. Thank you for bringing this point home. It has finally settled into my being.

    1. So many difficult stories- and yet, even from these we learn. And yes, knowing we are worthy of being, of safety, of not being touched or forced to comply to another's will, of love and life- the foundation for being able to act when we need to, to trust our intuitive sense of danger. May all be safe and well.

  3. I do not know what it is to be raped. Just reading your story and those of other women, something hard and cold forms inside me. I do not know what I would do although I have had a few basic instructions. However, I do know what it is to forget that I am worthy in other ways, that I have a right to express myself, disagree with what is harmful and the struggle to stand up for myself. It has taken me a lifetime. And it began in my childhood from a loving but strict family who constantly told me that I couldn't or shouldn't. May we all learn to defend ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally from attachs on our worthiness and our right to be. Brenda

  4. The story touched me. Thank you.

  5. Oriah, this is the best thing I've read about what it takes to come back and fight for your life. I never thought about the whole being worth it thing. I've always wanted to do one of those much to find that strong wild woman in myself as for self-defense training. Thank you.

    1. Gay, yes, although the actual self-defence techniques can be useful, I think the inner sense of being entitled to life and safety are probably the biggest things we need to learn if we are to fully embrace our lives and live deeply. :-)

  6. Dear Oriah.

    This story is so touching. Your stories are always touching. Just recently, a few months ago, I stumbled upon your book 'The Invitation'. I had never been moved by a book the way this book did. It basically took me on an unexpected expedition. And I shared this journey with the readers of my blog at:

    Thank you very much for the wonderful poem and the inspirational story in 'The Invitation'. I’d like to read more of your books but here in my locality, they are not so easy to get.

    1. Dredd, so glad you enjoyed the book (and the blog.) Don't know where you are but the books are all readily available on line. If you go to my website and click on a book cover it will take you to an order page. blessings, Oriah

    2. Thank you very much Oriah. I’ve just taken a tour through your website. Now I know that I don’t have to wait for the books to come to Botswana. ‘The Call’ will most definitely be the next one to read. I’ve already enjoyed the little bit I’ve read from the site. I’ll be making an order soonest!

      It’s strange how your writings find their way to my heart and soul – to many people’s hearts. I don’t know if it’s the style in which you write, or the context of your stories, or something else. But I’m moved nonetheless.

      In fact, just last night, as I was reading ‘The Invitation’ for I don’t know how many times now, the last paragraph in one of your chapters drew tears to my eyes. “In this place I sit and wait for love to find me, to come and take me home to a place where I ¬–mistakes included – will be welcomed.’

      By the time I slept, I had written a poem with every one of the six stanzas beginning with ‘In this place I sit and wait for love to find me.’

      Thanks for the blessings and inspiration.

      Dredd X