How to be a ‘fierce female'

CHITRA NARAYANAN | Updated on: Mar 24, 2011


The invitation was intriguing. The American Centre in Delhi was calling out to Fun, Intelligent, Encouraging, Respectful, Confident and Educated young women to come and learn how to become ‘Fierce Females'. US Marine Corps martial arts instructor Ivonne Zuniga would be there to teach women the art of self-defence, the email invite promised.

“Only 50 seats, register fast,” it said, so I promptly did so.

After all, in a March that had been full of sentimental, soppy, gratuitous events to pay homage to women's day and women's month, this one looked refreshingly different. In a city notorious for its crime rates against women, it promised to be useful as well.

On a lovely Tuesday afternoon, I found a motley bunch of women already gathered at the American Centre lawns under a hurriedly put together tent that was billowing madly under the wind.

To my relief, there were women from all age groups (I had been secretly worried that only young college students would turn up), many who looked as unfit as me. There were university teachers with their students in tow, a lot of NGO volunteers, working women, expatriates in the city, housewives and college goers.

But to my shock, I found there was also a large sprinkling of men, with no trace of self-consciousness, standing around waiting to be instructed — what, in the world, were they doing here?

Their presence didn't seem to bother the organisers, who, without wasting time on speeches and introductions, got the programme started at once by getting the two instructors — apart from Ivonne, there was Christopher O'Brien, regional security officer at the US Embassy, a Black Belt in Ed Parker-developed American Kenpo — to give a demo on how to fend off attackers.

As O'Brien made a grab for Ivonne, she efficiently turned the tables on him, extricating herself from his grip and delivering a neat blow on his ribcage with her elbow.

Dividing us into pairs — one aggressor and one victim — the two demonstrated a couple of simple techniques to ward off an attack. “Use the hardest parts of your body, the elbow, the knee to deliver a blow to the weakest part of your aggressor's body — the neck, the nose, or the groin area,” said Ivonne.

Of course, we got it all wrong — Susan, my partner, held me in such a gentle grip that I could fend her off in a second. Thankfully no one seemed to get hurt in all that amateurish horsing around. There was time for just a few minutes' practice and all too soon the session had ended. I certainly did not feel any fiercer than when we had begun, though at least I knew the theory part now.

Next was the question and answer session and this showed how much of a concern safety is to Delhi's women.

“If a man on a motorcycle makes a grab for us, snatching a chain or something, how can we counter that,” asked a woman.

“If the attacker is on a mobike, it would be easy for him to lose balance, so just aim at his legs,” was Ivonne's reply.

“How can a handicapped person defend herself,” asked another woman.

“Same technique as we learnt today,” was the reply.

“Our parents want us to be feminine and refuse to let us enrol for martial arts classes, so how can we acquire these skills,” asked one young girl.

O'Brien's reply: Go on to youtube and there are enough videos on self-defence.

At the end, participants were gifted an information toolkit on self-defence and whistles — as O'Brien said, sometimes the best form of self-defence is to blow the whistle and run. “Self-preservation is about not walking down empty roads, but if you have to, then wear a whistle around your neck,” he suggested.

Over tea, Ann Seshadiri, the American Centre Director, described how the programme was inspired by a similar effort at the Consulate in Mumbai, which had a great response.

Here too, she said, with calls pouring in till late afternoon, they regretted having to turn down so many. On popular demand, she said, they might take the workshop to the Delhi University.

So, why had so many men got into the workshop at all?

The baffling reply:

“Oh, when so many of them RSVPed we didn't know how to turn them down — it was very awkward, so we let them in!”

Published on March 24, 2011
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