My feet are shoulder-width apart, my knees soft and springy. I put my arms up near my face, like I'm about to shadow box. Before I lunge forward to strike, the instructor asks me to reach back and slip off my high heel. It will be my weapon of self-defense.
I'm in a class for the Soteria Method, a fitness class (some may say it's a movement) that has fans such as Amanda Seyfried and Keri Russell. All I know about the exercise style going in was that I have to bring heels, and that I would be in for some serious toning moves. As anyone who's worn heels all night knows, those suckers really work your butt and calves. Bring it on, I thought, imagining a group of gals doing squats and bicep curls in leggings and stilettos. (Try these 6 Easy Moves for Gorgeous Gams.)
The Soteria Method is a bit more than toning, which I would have known more quickly were I better versed in Greek mythology: Soteria is the goddess of safety and delivery from harm. And so the Method is a class that teaches you self-defense moves, then repeats them until they become instinctual (and until they start to tone your arms, core, and legs).
In the class, there are echoes of kickboxing, with jabs and uppercuts, but you're not just bopping around to peppy music while you throw punches. (Even though kickboxing can give you a knockout body.) Instead, you're visualizing how you'd take down an attacker. The Method's founder, Avital Zeisler, is a trained dancer who also studied Krav Maga, and who worked with trained security specialists to pull these moves together. She's also admitted she used this process to deal with the trauma of her own sexual assault.
Zeisler teaches us how to aim downward and strike with the side of our fist, not with the knuckles. This style happens to be exactly the way I punched my younger brother in the arms and legs when we were fighting circa fifth grade, so I'm glad to see it's actually useful in my adult life. Zeisler also explains how to twist and punch someone behind us. We're reminded of the cardinal rules for women's self-defense, namely, hitting the guy in the nose and/or crotch whenever possible. The heels are worn not just for extra toning, but to get accustomed to how we'd slide them off in a dangerous situation—then the shoes can be tossed aside when you need to run, or used as weapons when you're stuck.
Next, we lie down on the floor. And this is when I get emotional. Zeisler reminds us that when women are attacked, it's highly likely that we will wind up on our backs. The word 'rape' is never spoken, but her meaning is clear. She teaches us how to use our core muscles to sit up, and our heels to bash the attacker in the face. As soon as we get an opportunity (say, when his eyes are recovering), we're meant to get up and run away. (Brush up on these 3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Sexual Assault.)
I am grateful to say I have never been sexually assaulted. Still, waves of anxiety hit me as I lay on the floor, visualizing a rapist on top of me, visualizing bringing my heel into his face. I don't want to learn this. I don't want to have to learn this. I kept thinking that if I could break my attacker's nose with the side of my fist, then he could do the same to me...but he'd probably be better at it.
Yes, the Soteria Method was incredibly useful. These lessons will stick with me, and I'm so glad I did it. And yes, I was sore the next day. My thighs felt those squats! When it comes to strength-training, though, when I need to tighten up my core and thighs and arms, I'll probably stick with barre. It just feels a little bit safer.