How To Molest-Proof Your Precious Self

January 24, 2017

I was about to be raped.

I knew that was going to be the next step. I lived on campus at the university during my college studies. Although there were separate male and female dorms, most of them were next to each other. During the weekends, many students got drunk. One evening one drunk young man came into the hallway and tried to get into my room. I climbed on my bed and could see him through the door slats. He could not see me. He tried and tried to unlock my door using a knife. The only thing separating us was the door. I could smell his breath.
In that flash of a second I could understand why parents worry so much about children who are away from home. My grandparents were Indian. But I was born in a little rugged town in Fiji. Women have no say in what goes on in life was the mindset I grew up with because of my dad’s traditional views and actions. I am the eldest of four children, two boys and two girls. I do not remember my views acknowledged or taken into consideration when decisions were made at home. In my senior years at high school one of my friend’s brother introduced martial arts in our little town. These classes had women and men attending. My brothers joined too. But my dad would not allow me to join. He was very strict and despite so many social problems including the abuse, exploitation, and safety of young women he would not even consider it. 

Things changed when…

... I went away to university in our capital city on the main island. I lived on campus where there was so much going on. I could go where I wanted and do things that I enjoyed but there were risks. As in most cities around the world it was not a safe place. Daily newspapers were inundated with news on physical assaults, burglaries, violent robberies, molestation, rapes, and murders. To protect myself I started attending martial arts lessons offered at the university. It did not take much more to convince my dad. It was one of the best decisions I made. In addition to the change, physically, where I felt fit and healthy with the regular training and exercise, there was a vast change in my self-esteem and confidence.

I was just a skinny person…

... still, I can clearly recall my excitement and apprehension on the first day going to the lesson in a wooden building which was going to be our training hall Classes were held twice a week on campus. It was a program run by the then Fiji Tae Kwan Do Association which was one of the two martial arts bodies in Fiji then. They hired the university hall to provide self-defence lessons to the students. It was open to all university students. We paid about twenty dollars for a semester which was quite affordable. At that time, it was not part of a university course. However, there was a syllabus and it was very structured. We were required to wear uniforms, loose white tops and pants, for flexibility). Everyone looked the same and that made a powerful statement.


Boys and girls trained together...

Taekwondo batch
My Taekwondo Teammates - our mixed batch of marital arts enthusiasts

...and that zapped me. What gobsmacked me was both genders learning the techniques and moves together in the same class. At first, it was mutually uncomfortable. But that changed very quickly when all of us realised that the instructor’s main objective was to pass on the same self-defence techniques. And of course, I did not want to be beat up by my male class members during training and sparring. I swallowed my inhibitions and got along with the task of learning to protect and defend myself. Each one stopped being self-conscious, and it made the environment very conducive to learning. After introductions we were guided through an easy warm up and stretch exercises and then taught how to carry out the basic kicks, punch strikes, and blocks. It was new and very exciting. It was tough but founded us in discipline, good health and strength. I began to be obsessed about being fit; so in addition, I did regular training and working at my own pace. The principles of courtesy, respect, integrity, perseverance, and self-control throughout were appealing and reinvigorated by zest for life. It made me a better person.

Not bones, but we practised breaking boards and tiles...

Following in my footsteps - my son Stefan preparing to break tiles

...all very gradually. The instructor showed us how to execute powerful kicks, hand and foot combined movements and take amazing leaps, all carried out in a controlled way. We practiced self-defence skills with a partner. There was no rule where males trained only with males or vice versa. Males and females paired up and trained. This allowed for a mimic of real-life situations e.g. a female being attacked by a male person who could be stronger than her. I do not recall breaking anyone’s bones but we did practice breaking boards and tiles. This was about technique, aligning the kick with the board, the correct height and strength of your kick. Lots of small ‘accidents’ did happen with cuts and bruises and sprained ankles as a result of free sparring. We were taught that our stance is our connection with the earth –that is our solid grounding. Everything moved up from that stable base. Our training was all about the powerful way a human being can use hand and foot. Hand strikes were very important. Kicks were great too but they required the right distance. However, if our attacker is at close range we needed to use our hands. “Blocks” are moves designed to stop attacks like punches or kicks from hitting our body or head. They have to be fast, strong and well timed. Using both arms to block makes the block stronger. A twist at the end of the block makes it more powerful. Similarly, a strong, fast, powerful and accurate punch is a great weapon in self-defence. The “practice makes perfect” mantra was hammered into us. We had to stretch and build strong hip and core muscles. Our technique had to be correct. Our kicks had to be high, strong and fast.

The course took me 3 years because...

...I wanted to feel fully equipped. Do it, then do it all, or not at all. The basics of self-defence can be learnt in a short period however after I began my training there was a thirst to advance as much as I could. Each person could decide how far to advance with the training. In martial arts grading is an important component as it measures the student’s proficiency in the art and allows further learning to take place. It is also the tool used to determine belt advancement. It is literally a testing process assessing one’s technical ability, knowledge, determination, and physical conditioning. The more complex the task the higher the rank. Tasks involved patterns, fundamental movements (blocking, kicking, striking, stances), sparring, breaking techniques, terminology and theory, self-defense and any additional requirements the judges saw fit. Attendance and active participation at training were also considered for grading.

We all had the same uniform, however the different coloured belts indicated the students current level of achievement and seniority within the class. Everyone started with the white belt. The belt colours were white, then yellow, then green, then blue, then red, then black. Each of these started with a tip then the belt. As we gained more belts and stripes, the time we had to train between each grading increased. So, the journey could be short or long depending on personal goals. I advanced to the blue tip belt. We were awarded certificates and belts which were the main awards. There was an unwritten rule when we were doing these trainings that no one needed to know you are in martial arts. It is being learnt for self-defense therefore there was no need to advertise yourself. It was a tool you learnt to protect yourself when attacked. I still see this happening. My son has a 4th Dan/Degree black belt in martial arts and people outside his close circle of friends do not know. I understand it. Others not knowing is a weapon.

I became less sexy to some guys…

Taekwondo has strengthened me physically, mentally and emotionally

…and sexier to others and I actually scored some proposals. There will always be these two schools of thought or should I say ‘thrills’. It did not trouble me. Sex was far from my mind, which was completely preoccupied with molest-proofing myself. I decided to disregard society’s response to the idea of women perfecting these kind of skills, but this much I can say is that 'Dangal' is very accurate. I would have accepted if the small town in Fiji would have looked down on me, but I was surprised that the people from the city where I did University, were more intolerant. I say this purely based on the attitude of the other students, family and friends that were from the city. Here I was, from another island, from a small town, a young woman, training with the men! I did not go about telling others that I was doing martial arts. There was no need to. My motive was to learn to protect myself. There was mutual respect from my male instructor and classmates at training. We had no issues. At that time, there were students and family that were not taking part in martial arts that initially reacted negatively towards women intruding in what they considered “male territory.” Women onlookers made snide comments.

Now, about the rape...

...let us return to where we started out. The drunk outside my dorm door, trying to rifle his way in with a pen-knife in the keyhole. Yes, to your unspoken question – I was way into my martial arts training when it happened. Let me frankly tell you that no matter how trained you are, when a beast comes your way, your first feeling will be one of terrible fear. I tried to scream – for a few minutes no sound came, but then my voice boomed out like a siren, non-stop. At the sound of my continuous screaming, doors began to open and shut along the hallway, and the young drunk man stumbled and ran for his life. He was caught eventually. I will never know for sure, but I can say (because of future experiences) that even if the others had not come to save me, I would have been able to save myself.

Some years later, after I was married, I was driving to work in the morning and a child just ran in front of my car. It was on a busy road. I bumped into the child as I had not seen him. I stopped the car immediately. I could see other drivers and men walking on the footpath screaming and coming aggressively towards me. I knew I was going to be attacked/mobbed. In a split second, I got out of the car, picked up the child, put him in the car, and drove off to the hospital. I got the child checked. He was not injured, but was in shock. After he was thoroughly checked, I took him back to his home and told his parents what had happened.

The point I am making is that even before you use your molest-proof skills, use the one’s nature has provided you with – the ability to SCREAM and the QUICK INSTINCT that comes from a woman’s gut.

In another incident in Fiji, one of my expatriate colleagues tried to molest me in our office at work after he had a few drinks at a staff social event at school. He was taller and stronger than me. I slapped and kicked him, broke free and ran. I did not report it as I felt I would not be listened to. He was a good friend of the boss. We still worked together and I was his supervisor but he made it very difficult for me. The skills I learnt have helped me in my career in IT where I worked (mostly as the head) and still do, in a male dominated field.

In Korea, where most homes are high-rise buildings, we lived on the fourteenth floor. Accessibility to our apartment was by using the lift. We had stairs but that was mostly used in emergencies. I had gone for a walk in the afternoon and on my return as I entered the lift a man got in too. He was a delivery man. He looked as though he was in his thirties. As is the norm, we greeted each other. And as I turned around to punch in my number of the level for the lift I felt something was not right. I told myself to keep calm and quickly punched in the number of another level to get off. As I turned around to stand and wait for the lift to reach my level this man was right in front of me instead of on the other side. He put his hand on my breast. I punched him. It was a quick reflex action. The lift was moving and I quickly moved to one side and used both my hands to block him from reaching me again with his hands. The lift stopped, I jumped out, took the stairs and got to my apartment. Locked the door and called the police.

Your self-esteem skyrockets...

... beyond your greatest imagination! There is an inner strength I acquired through the process of learning how to defend and protect myself. It added to the fiber of my being and gave me remarkable power to feel safer and confident. I was brought up in a home that was a broken one and my siblings and I were in constant fear of our dad who was an authoritarian. I could never question his decisions let alone discuss anything that mattered. It seemed like I could do nothing right. I was reprimanded for not doing things the way my dad and his partner wanted it. My self-esteem was near non-existent. More than anything this training brought back a sense of being valued. My instructor and training partners unknowingly and without a doubt made me feel I was good at this, I was respected and important to the team. My small build and my gender was of no concern to them. My self-esteem skyrocketed. There was no turning back from this point. It was a very turbulent time in my life with our family breaking apart and my faith in God being tested. I needed this. My faith strengthened. I knew God had His hand over me. I felt calm and confident in everything I did. I was equipped to face any challenges or attacks coming my way.

Hey ladies, do not misunderstand what I am saying...

mass molestation bangalore
The recent mass molestation at Bengaluru city, January 2017

... for I am not talking feminism or equal rights here. Acquiring these skills of escape, compliance, defusing, correct posture and fighting, did not mean that I started going out at odd hours nor did I wear outlandish revealing clothes that asked for trouble. The change was within me. It was not a superficial one. I was more confident and I knew what to do if faced with an attacker. I made smarter choices. Going out was mostly in groups or with another person. Letting others know when I went out. Always ensuring I had something e.g. a pen, car keys, etc. when walking alone. I go for great styles but I ensure I dress sensibly and appropriately. It is unsafe to go out at night for the times are evil. Why get into trouble just to prove a point to society or the other sex. It has been said before and I will say it again – it is better to be safe than sorry, cuddled and cosy at home rather than crying rape and molestation at a police station or giving ‘angry, bechari’ stories to the press.

by Sharon Singh

Sharon Singh is the head of eLearning & IT at St Johns Anglican College, Brisbane, Australia. Born in Fiji, she completed her university studies in Computer Science, Information Systems, Science & Mathematics Education at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji. Sharon is a gold medalist of USP. Sharon is also an international faculty for Haggai Institute since 2005. Her interests include cooking, music, photography, reading, sport and traveling.

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