Damsels in distress? Not much longer

Damsels in distress? Not much longer

Women are gearing-up to conquer their fear of the dark, much like Princess Fiona of the Shrek Forever After movie, writes Anusha Shashidhar.

Punch: Praveen Singh training women in self-defence

Come sunset and the “strong”, “independent” woman rushes home before she can turn into a damsel in distress. Unlike fairy tales, there’s no Prince Charming that can rescue you – that is assuming you have a Prince Charming, alright!

As girls, Indian women have often been taught to return home before darkness falls. It has been ingrained in us to such an extent that it has almost become an internal biological alarm clock that cuckoos the moment the sun sets!

This phenomenon isn’t any different from that of Cinderella hurrying back home at midnight lest the Fairy God-Mother’s magic be undone. Or that of Princess Fiona who was hidden in a tower because she was cursed by the Fairy God-Mother to turn into an ogress by nightfall.

While the entire nation is trying to recover from the Delhi rape incident, it is also going into a somewhat self-critical mode and with a good reason. Fairytales, while being immensely popular and “dreamy” so to speak, also express the true and not-so-pretty facets of real life.

You may have probably read a number of articles revolving around this, but it is necessary that we look into this yet again: the “protection” of women is perhaps a condescending act of patriarchy to a great extent.

But let us not forget that protecting ourselves is a basic human instinct, irrespective of our sexes. So, should we hide our ogre skins behind closed doors at nightfall and re-enter the public space by day only as damsels in a pretty world? Absolutely not!

Remember Princess Fiona in Shrek Forever After? She waited in her tower guarded by a dragon, waiting for her Prince Charming who never turned up to plant the “true love’s kiss” and transform her into the beautiful princess every fairytale demanded her to be. No.

Instead she rescued herself from the tower and led an army of ogres as a warrior princess! Now that’s what we are talking about here: we need more ogre princesses, not damsels in distress who await princes. Clearly, Nirbhaya, the recent Delhi bus rape victim, was a warrior princess who even had a Prince Charming.

Only her tale saw a brutal ending that goes on to show that neither princes nor princesses can stand a hostile patriarchal society. Then, it only becomes more prudent to subvert the patriarchal system more gradually, but nevertheless insistently.

In fact, many women are gearing themselves up for the night-time horrors by aiding themselves with pepper sprays, defense training, and even martial arts! Women, it seems, are finally bringing out the ogres in them! How, you may ask. Well, by learning to defend themselves! Clichéd? No, it’s a classic, actually. You need to train to be a warrior princess because the violent patriarchal system has a great many openings! 

“Women’s defense training is not about fighting,” says Jeeji, a defense training student. “It is more along the lines of being more aware of your surroundings and sensing danger well before you may slip into it. I have been training for more than 2 years now and I can confidently say that the defense training has made me more physically aware and even improved my immune system!”

Unlike what we women presume, defense training comes to us quite naturally. Says, Sensei Avinash Subramanyan, “Most people assume that defense training is for men; there couldn’t be anything more misconstrued!

In fact, one of the most advanced martial arts - Wing Chung, was designed by a woman.” “In the light of the recent Delhi bus rape incident, women’s defense has become the in-thing and rightly so,” he added.

According to him, women make excellent martial artists because of our inherent flexibility, sense of timing, and a greater need for self-defense.

Perhaps. But do we stand a chance against men’s brutal strength? Sensei Praveen Singh says, “Most people mistakenly believe that defense is all about mustering up strength. But that is certainly not the case! Defense is all about fluidity, sense of balance and timing, and grace; it is pretty much like a dance. So, it is only natural for women to pick it up more easily than men.”

Radhika, another defense training student, says, “It is a blend of breathing exercises, yoga, and martial arts. So, it not only helps in defending yourself physically, but also in avoiding instances where you need to defend yourself. This kind of training hightens consciousness, and creates inner energy which can then be used to defend yourself physcially, if need be.”

Says Sensei Praveen Singh, “Defense is rather about fighting inner inadequacy rather than fighting an attacker. The more you regain balance within your sense of mind and soul, the better your body defense gets.”

Here are some simple techniques, he points-out, that can help you sharpen your defensive skills:

*  Beep beep beep... Sense danger ahead. Women must be very aware of their surroundings.

* Lub-dub lub-dub... Control your adrenaline. You need a calm mind to get yourself out of a sticky situation.

* Stretching like a cat... Practise yoga. The different asanas, especially the ones with breathing techniques, are very beneficial in striking a balance between the body, mind, and soul.

* Bend it like ballet... Learn to dance. Dancing is one of the foremost ways of learning the art of body-mind-soul balance, and not to mention the flexibility and sense of timing that comes with it! 

Sharpening our defensive skills is one end of it, but what about the green-eyed monsters lurking in the dark at the other end? How do we take care of that?

Says Sensei Avinash Subramanyan, “Indeed, training for what may happen is radically different from being in the thick of the actual action. It is not like movies, where the hero lodges great punches and kicks. When in danger, the body experiences an adrenaline rush, which does not let you even remotely close to fighting like a hero!”

Here are some handy tips, he explains, that can help defend yourself when you find yourself in an unpleasant situation:

* Train with the monster... Choose male opponents while training. Women are threatened by men in the darkness. So, simply take-up defense training sessions that pair you up with male opponents. That will let you observe their moves and help you escape.

*Ghouls lurk in the alley... Walk under bright lights. Never walk close to buildings or alleys. You can be easily groped, grabbed, and taken-away in an instant. Instead, choose brightly lit main roads and stick to the middle of the road, wherever possible.

*  Bolt! Run for your life! Should you even remotely sense there is a chance of danger ahead, run in the oppsite direction.

* Flash your nails... Poke them in the eye! Put your lovely nails to use and defend yourself! Don’t be squeamish about poking the attacker(s) in the eye.

* Bad kitty... Let your body loose. You are not a cat! Don’t scratch or bite men! It doesn’t hurt them physically, it only hurts their ego. That will only trigger off their anger more, but will certainly not help you escape! Instead, be the flexible kitty and try sliding out of their grip and scoot.

As women take to defense training and martial arts across the city, it certainly does look like the Sleeping Beauties within us have begun to break the evil Fairy God-Mother’s curse. Looks like we are ogres beneath our dainty skins, after all...