In Praise of Setting Boundaries

I have seen the next stage of the revolution, and it’s going to be led by awesome, empowered women.

That’s how I felt at the end of ESD Camp 2018. I came to camp after spending more than half my life training in martial arts, already a strong believer in the idea that women can become powerful in the world using physical training as a base. Training made a major difference in my life and now that I’m getting old — I was the oldest woman at camp — it’s important to me that other women know how they can use their bodies not just to keep themselves safe, but also to push their ways into the halls of power.

The young women at camp — not to mention the middle-aged women — did not let me down. The last time I found myself surrounded by so many powerful women ready to jump into the next thing was at a special training for Aikido women black belts held in honor of International Women’s Day — forty-five women, each with many years of training behind them. And that was just one day, not a whole week!

While our camp included many experienced martial artists, including champions in sport forms and more than a few others who’d been training for many years, there were also a number of women without such experience. But you wouldn’t have known that by watching them dive into training, whether we were learning some rudiments of judo or stick fighting, or working on basic physical techniques of self defense. They jumped in, they tried things, and they didn’t get discouraged when they didn’t get something the first time.

As someone who has taught a lot of Aikido, but never taught physical self defense, the focus on how to teach a few practical fighting skills — palm heel, knee to the groin, elbow strikes, ways to break a hold — helped me figure out how I’d put a class together without getting carried away teaching things that take a long time to learn. But in truth, despite the fact that I’ve spent a lot of years thinking about non-fighting skills — many of which come as a byproduct of training — the classes on boundary setting affected me the most.

In a world in which women are expected to give in so many directions — take care of others, put up with others, be the go-to person for solving the problems of others — boundary setting is a crucial skill. While learning some physical skills that serve as a back up in the event of conflict is an important underpinning for boundary setting, learning how to say no without apology or explanation is something that needs to be addressed directly. After years of training, I am very good at saying no in a situation where I feel physically threatened, but I’m not nearly as good at refusing to do a favor for a friend even when it’s an imposition on me.

Including exercises in boundary setting is a significant part of what makes Empowerment Self Defense empowering. It will be a key element in the classes I’m planning.

I can’t wait to start.

Here’s a zen-tao poem I wrote at the close of camp:

"I have found my tribe:

Powerful women ready

to go change the world."

Nancy Jane Moore stumbled into a YMCA karate class a month before her 30th birthday, fell in love, and has trained in martial arts ever since. She holds a fourth degree black belt in Aikido. Her most recent book is the science fiction novel The Weave, published by Aqueduct Press in Seattle. A native Texan, she lived in Washington, DC, for many years and now resides in Oakland, California, with her sweetheart.

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