Krav Maga Helps A Student Fight Back and Win

Originally, I began taking Krav Maga classes for two purposes: Preventing victimization by Trans fats, and by strange men in the University of Houston parking lot. But when I graduated college with a psychology degree, and took a position as a psychiatric technician, classes became less of a hobby, and more of a necessity.

That being said, my work was not nearly as violent as one might think. Most of the time, it was like being a guard on Orange is the New Black. More babysitting, and damage control, than outright violence. Plus, most of the men had a boundary in place against hitting women—at least those in scrubs—and most of the women preferred verbal abuse to physical. All-in-all, my encounters with violence rarely amounted to anything significant.

That all changed on my last day of work, when someone figured that it would be a great idea to re-enact the pre-lobotomy scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with me as Nurse Ratched, and themselves as McMurphy. Thankfully, the incident did not progress as far as that iconic choke-out.

Due to HIPAA constraints, I can’t go into great detail about what led to said incident. Let’s just say that psychiatric technicians are charged with preventing a patient from becoming a danger to themselves, or others. I was trying to stop someone from becoming a danger to themselves, and that person decided to become a danger to me, by putting their hands around my throat.

The sensation was like that first dip into the ocean, after a summer spent away from the beach: Cold, shocking, suspended awareness. Some part of me acknowledged that I was being choked. I almost didn’t realize it, initially. My attacker choked me with the same fluid, casual motions someone might use when shaking a person’s hand, rather than placing their own on the throat of another. I almost recognized it as a familiar feeling, the sort that I sign myself up for monthly, at the Krav center. Hell, I nearly told my attacker to choke harder. Or, I might have, if I could speak…and I wasn’t entirely aware that this was the real thing, and not something that would be stopped by the scream of, “TIME!”

Procedural memory took over, and I plucked their hands right off my neck. I remember thinking about how perfect it felt. It was just like the first time I’d gotten the motions right, after six months into the program. Efficient, fluid, flawless.

This is where we step into the quagmire of patients’ rights, vs. healthcare worker rights. On the one hand, there are rules and methodologies surrounding the circumstances under which a healthcare worker may place their hands on a patient. On the other, assaulting a healthcare worker acting in the scope of their practice is certainly frowned upon, under the eye of the law. Even psychiatric patients can be tried for crimes, once they’re deemed stable.

But as rushed, as heated, and as ugly as the moment was, clarity remained. I could rein in my stress, and I could even rein in my aggression. Hours upon hours of stress-conditioning at the Krav center had taught me to control myself, to channel my anger into force if I wanted to, not because I had to. And even though I had every reason to hurt them, to go beyond reasonable force in getting them off of me, I didn’t. I wasn’t going to hurt someone who was honest-to-God sick, if I could help it. I didn’t want that on my conscience, and I didn’t want to walk out of the hospital that day without a job. Or worse, in handcuffs.

I was going to be the one in control of an impossible situation.

Instead of aiming a kick to their groin, I drove my foot into the floor, and stomped harshly against the tile. The punch was thrown over their shoulder, instead of at their face. In any other situation, I would have hated that training scar. This time, I’d never been so grateful. The last thing to come was the clearing of their hands, and my own voice. Stern, hard as a padlock, and in control. I told them to never do that again, and they backed off.

A few scattered thoughts crossed my mind, once they stepped away. I remember wondering where the applause was. There was always applause in class. Or music. There was always music in these sort of things, in the movies.

Nothing but silence. I think that’s when the weight of what had happened started to hit me.

My throat went tight. My hands started shaking. And my eyes were starting to flood. I told myself that I couldn’t cry. Not while I was working. Not while there were patients in the hall. Not while I had colleagues with worlds more experience being choked, harassed, spit on, hit, and all the other wonderful occupational hazards that accompany acute psychiatric care.

I told myself that this was normal. That I’d felt this way before. And I had, back when I’d taken my K-1 test. I was so full of adrenaline during that last hour, I’d nearly broken into tears, and screamed at one of the instructors when they started bellowing about hitting the pad. I could deal with this, I told myself, because I’d dealt with it before. It was just a stress reaction.

But my period for reflection soon ended, as my attacker walked out of the room. I placed myself between them and the nurse’s station, and was rewarded with a shove. Followed by another. And finally, a bite.

Initially, I had thrown up my arms and blocked, like I might have in a shoulder drill, or a 360 defense. That option died the moment they grabbed my arm, and sank in their teeth beneath my elbow. It was a shallow bite. I remember thinking that it was no worse than anything my godbrother’s toddler might have given me, during a tantrum.

But in that moment, I was furious. And I don’t mean the stuck-in-traffic sort of furious. I was *pissed*. I wanted to bury my forearm in their throat and smash them into the ground. Right then, I didn’t care that they were sick, and that I had to follow certain rules in a workplace violent encounter. I just wanted to hit them until all their bones broke beneath my fists.

But I didn’t give in to the impulse. I didn’t even scream. I just called for one of the other techs. Urgently, like I was trying to balance a heavy crate on a stairwell, rather than fend off a walking piranha. I remember thinking that I couldn’t lose control. And that I didn’t want to show weakness in front of anyone at the hospital, coworker or patient. The last thing I wanted was to lose order on the unit. I would have control of myself, and the situation.

Luckily, the bite was shallow. And thanks to the adrenaline—as well as the callused nerve endings that accompany three years of excellent martial arts training—it hardly even hurt. A few alcohol swabs, and I was ready to get back to the job. Even with my nerves rattled, I was able to finish out the last five hours of my shift, and wait until I was in the comfort of my own home to break down in tears.

I can’t begin to imagine how that situation might have turned out, without Krav. Anyone that could have helped was on the other end of the hall, and I wasn’t in any position to call out. I could have frozen up, still as a statue, when their hands went around my neck. I could have been seriously hurt, maybe even killed—especially if my attacker had gotten me on the ground (There’s no more padded walls in the asylum, guys). I could have lost it, and seriously hurt, maybe even killed, my attacker. I didn’t want to be in prison, out of a job, or living with the guilt of hurting someone I was charged to care for.

Instead, I got to leave safely. The worst of my injuries included a small scratch on my neck—unnoticed until someone pointed it out—and a tiny scar on my arm. The latter of which I enjoy looking at before a hard-and-fast drill, for the sake of inspiration.

No new-hire orientation taught me to handle my feelings, and my reactions, during an altercation. Working with the talented instructors and dedicated students at Houston’s KMW branch allowed me to stay safe, and to act in accordance to my scope of practice. I was alright, my charge was unhurt, the unit was peaceful afterward, and I was able to finish out the last five hours of my shift. I simply could not have done that without those three years at the center.

Needless to say, I stepped into my kitchen that evening, and baked cookies for my instructors. And I owe a lot more batches in the future.

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  1. Nick

    The fact that I am a student at the University of Houston and at Krav Maga Houston made this extra inspiring. Great article!