For most of my life, I’ve been on the wrong end of the punch. When I was younger, I got beat up daily, and even in my early adult years, I was attacked several times. My reaction was always the same. I would freeze. That’s how it appeared from the outside. From the inside, much more was going on. I would go far away. I could watch what was happening to me from a safe distance. I could hear what people were saying, but often I couldn’t feel any pain, physical or otherwise. All of my anger and pain was turned inward. Occasionally, it would build to overload and, much to the surprise of anyone who knew me, it would explode outward. Since I wasn’t much of a talker, I preferred to kick and punch things on these occasions. Usually these things were very hard solid objects and often I would injure myself.
Considering my past experiences, some of my reasons for training may seem obvious; but there are reasons that I train now that could never have occurred to me when I was younger. I train for self-defense reasons. I’m still not sure whether I could fight off an attacker, but I at least feel like I have a chance of not freezing, and possibly even reacting.
Fortunately, the only time I’ve had the opportunity to test this since I’ve been training was not a very threatening situation. Four teenaged boys were standing in the doorway of a corner store that I was about to enter. As I walked by, the smallest one stepped out of the doorway and punched me right in the face, hard enough to sting, but more scary than damaging. I didn’t freeze. My first instinct was to beat the crap out of him. But part of Cuong Nhu training is learning to assess the situation and react in the best possible way. In a split second, I decided that I wasn’t going to beat up a little boy. Another thing to consider was that his three friends were much bigger and may have had concealed weapons. Instead, I turned around and screamed at him. This paper is not the place to write the exact words I used, but they were strong and loud, and I could tell they had an effect on the boy. As I walked away, one of his friends made a threatening remark to me. I pretended not to hear him and kept walking. No one followed.
On my way home, part of me wished that I’d gone into the store and had the store owner call the police. Another part of me couldn’t really feel good about calling the cops on a kid who’s already having a pretty bad life, by the looks of him (his face was all beat up), and who probably wouldn’t be treated very well by the police because of his race and general appearance. When I got home, my neighbor drove me back to the store. The kids were gone, but I told the store owner what had happened so that he could make sure no one else got punched right outside his door. Looking back, I feel proud that I had the presence of mind to assess the situation and not freeze or react too violently. In my younger days, I would have frozen, been labeled as an easy target, and beaten up.
Now, training is much more to me than just self-defense. Training at Tuyet Tan has taught me that I can learn. It has made me want to become a part of the cycle of teaching and learning. The reason I want to be a brown belt is so that I can keep learning and eventually, pass on what I’ve learned to other students. I know that there’s a long road between now and then, but it’s nice to have the dream. It’s a dream I couldn’t have had not so long ago. I am incredibly lucky to have come upon the group of people that, together, are Tuyet Tan Dojo. My Senseis and classmates have given me enormous amounts of support and kindness over the past 5 1/2 years. I wouldn’t be writing this paper if it weren’t for them. I wouldn’t have such a nice dream either.