Today, I’m going to revisit (with some light edits) a topic that I talked about on Blasting Beauty many years ago because, as it turns out in conversation with Healthy Buffalo and others, it’s still something that comes up in our training today. It’s an anxiety that many of us have when it comes to training self-defense skills, especially because that world has such a reputation of being very masculine and emotionless, certainly not the place to break down in tears of frustration, sadness, or fear, or to cry because of triumph, happiness, or delight. We fear being “that girl” who can’t hold it together and who makes everyone uncomfortable.
Turns out, it can be totally okay to let the waterworks flow. While there are certainly outliers, the spaces I and many of my friends have trained, are both where we do tough-people fighty things and where we can be emotionally vulnerable, both with the support of those around us. This post I wrote almost five years ago was about learning how to become a better shooter, but everything that was true then on the range is still true, and true now when it comes to being in the classroom or on the mats learning any other self-defense or personal growth topic.
There is no crying on the range, on the mats, in the classroom. We’ve all heard that take-off from the line in A League of Their Own. It’s the tough girls’ (and guys’) battle cry to “harden the f up,” “suck it up, buttercup,” show no weakness. Whining is not welcome, and crying certainly is not appropriate. You’re there to drive through the challenges and work.
But I don’t think that’s quite right. Tears show up on in training for good, even necessary, reasons, and we shouldn’t deny or try to stop them all the time.
The work of learning the skills and knowledge that go into defending yourself can be incredibly hard, both physically and mentally. Blisters, bruises, sore muscles, and more can turn up. Laughing off a gnarly brass burn on the range is one thing when you’ve lost count of how many scars you’ve accumulated over the years, and certainly, every new shooter should be learning how to grit their teeth and carry on – safely, please! Gritting your teeth through a painful grab or a difficult fight is part of the process of becoming competent with hand-to-hand skills because if you are getting a useful amount of pressure and resistance from your partner, you will always risk some difficulty. But at the end of the day? I can’t judge how bad you hurt or were shocked or scared.
As for the mental aspects, holistic self-defense is an incredibly complex skill set. It’s not just situational awareness or just pepper spray or even just a gun. There’s a lot to keep track of and do well. That’s exhausting all on its own, and frustrating when things don’t click as you’re hoping and expecting. Or even worse, when you think you’ve finally gotten it, but realize you actually had it all wrong. For years maybe. Tears of exhaustion, frustration, even betrayal. It happens. And sometimes a good cry is what gets you past it to move forward.
If you haven’t tried and failed utterly when practicing some self-defense skill, I submit you may not be pushing yourself hard, and that you may need to push harder in order to prepare yourself for what might be the fight to save your life against a strong, skilled, determined attacker. More likely, because most of us don’t grow up doing the things we need to physically do to protect ourselves, we’ll stumble even at the most beginner stages because our bodies just aren’t moving the way it’s supposed to so that we can execute the skill. It’s perfectly normal to not be an instant master. When that failure happens, and it has or it will, again and again, sometimes it’s easy to shake it off and try again. Sometimes, not so much. Leaking a few tears is okay. It’s walking away and not coming back, or holding in that emotion and letting it screw you up more, that’s more problematic.
Beyond that, becoming invested in the skills and tools of self-defense requires us to learn to value ourselves and find ourselves worthy of the struggle of learning the skills and the struggle of exercising them against someone who wants to hurt us. We may have to overcome fears about hurting others – the parent, child, sibling, partner attacking, or the innocent person caught up in the middle or who could become a friendly fire victim, or even the straight fears about being able to manage the responsibility and power, physical and otherwise, of a gun or other self-defense tool. None of those are easy for everyone, and the process of arriving there can be immensely emotional.
Imagine if you were so terrified of shooting a gun or using pepper spray in defense that you need to fight against tears or fight to pull the trigger or press the button. Cry, cry if you must. Cry now, so that you can fight the bad guy later. Imagine if nobody had ever told you that your life meant something, that your life was valuable. Imagine the floodgates of emotion that come with that becoming, then try to tell me those tears have no place on the range when they result in someone who now believes in their worthiness to fight for themselves.
Tears aren’t weak. They aren’t the end of the story. Sometimes, they’re the beginning.