Local martial artist teaches dressy girls to fight back.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Imagine dainty femmes, clicking down the street one minute and busting Jackie Chan moves on would-be attackers the next.
It’s a role reversal that adds a sexy-violent twist to Hollywood plot lines. But in the real world, self-defense training prepares us for the gritty scenario of physical assault – an encounter every woman hopes never to face.
Maggie McKenna, a feisty martial artist in her mid-20s, refuses to fear that moment. “I enjoy being alive and being a woman,” she says. “I shouldn’t have to dress like a man to avoid being pursued by creatures in the night.”
Growing up in Oakland, McKenna was a physical kid who boxed and wrestled her friends. At 16, she says, she was attacked at a party – stoking a thirst for the power to fight back. Three years later she took up Seibukan jujutsu at Seibukan Dojo in Monterey. After years of intensive daily training, she earned a sixth-degree black belt in jujutsu and a second-degree black belt in a Japanese sword art. By 2005 she was teaching her own classes.
But classical self-defense techniques didn’t tackle a common handicap: the mini-stilts women wobble around on to look fly. So McKenna developed a set of techniques specific to babes in pumps, dubbing it The Stiletto Defense – a private class she offers outside the dojo.
“There is nothing wrong with traditional self defense; I justbecame aware of the dangers women face when they go out in the city,” McKenna says. “I like wearing heels sometimes. They only add a weapon to my collection.”
~ ~ ~McKenna greets us in a curve-hugging brown dress over light pants, her broken toe slippered in pointy crocodile stilettos. She’s cleared the gallery floor at Seaside’s Alternative Cafe, where she works as a barista.
The first half of the 90-minute workshop focuses on how not to get attacked: knowing the nearest police station, avoiding eye contact with strangers, designating a “sober sister” to bulldog anyone pawing the drunken sisters.
Confidence and alertness are paramount. “Attackers are looking for a victim,” McKenna says, “someone who’s not gonna put up a fight.”
If a man becomes aggressive, she says, we can try to manipulate his reptilian brain with motherly verbal commands – soothing and firm if he hesitates, ferocious if he advances. “Mommies are the most dangerous animals on the planet,” she reminds us. “We all have that innate ability as women to access that channel.”
But if the attacker is foolish enough to persist, it’s “go time.”
On cue, a burly man in a black ski mask appears. “He’s friendly,” McKenna says, “but he represents the darkest shadow that can happen to us.”
Assault targets who defend themselves usually get away, McKenna says, while those who run – particularly in crippling heels – often don’t. “If you stay to fight, whatever the outcome, you reaffirm a relationship with yourself: that you are worth fighting for. It can turn into a really empowering moment for you, instead of a traumatic event.”
McKenna reviews moves including wolverine-style slashing at the throat and eyes, flat-handed palming under the chin, and a magic trick that re-routes the attacker’s punching fist into thin air.
She proceeds to gently beat up her assistant by jamming his face, stuffing his punch, socking his throat. Once she’s got him pinned, she quips with cinematic timing: “Poor guy, right? Well, he shouldn’t have attacked me.”
The five of us take turns pulling away from the masked man’s wrist grip, dropping our centers of gravity and breaking toward his thumb. “Use his strength against him,” McKenna coaches. “You’re not gonna out-muscle him, but you can out-think him.”
Of course, we’re all packing a secret weapon. McKenna busts out a foot x-ray and shows us where to bring our stilettos down, inches above the juncture of the attacker’s big toe – “one of the most painful pressure points on the body.”
Throwing is next. McKenna demonstrates the technique in case of a rear attack, dropping to a knee and bowing. The attacker tumbles over her shoulder and thuds on a pad; then it’s a flurry of knees, elbows and stilettos to his face.
In the weapons segment, she models how to stay calm in the face of an armed assault. The attacker holds a knife to her throat, and in a sequence of slow-motion movements she’s clear of danger. A gun to her chest likewise backfires on the attacker, leaving him on the ground with a shoulder on the brink of dislocation.
“Give your crazy eyes!” McKenna says, her blue orbs bugging out.
Finally she walks us through a rape-defense scenario, showing us how to protect our heads during a fall, kick out from under an attacker, squeeze him with our knees, twist his arm, then kick him until he runs away.
Only three of us practice the motions before class time is up. The two who don’t look a little disappointed at not getting to beat up the bad man. But like any good sensei, McKenna quells our bloodlust with a gentle reminder: This training is, ultimately, about peace.