I started kickboxing at age 14, long before I was raped. It was the culmination of years of desperate wanting, of needing to make my body into something good. When I was a child, I had strange idols. Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris. Jean-Claude Van Damme. Which is to say, I had strange idols for a little girl. Or at least, that’s what I often heard. I didn’t have crushes on these men, though that might have been easier for people to understand. I wanted to be them. These men-made-weapons owed their bodies to no one but themselves. They knew precisely how to make them do and be what they wanted. And what they could do was amazing.
The cologne in my first gym was tangy sweat and bleach. The decor, Muhammad Ali. The floor was concrete; we had no mats. I was neither fit nor coordinated when I joined. I didn’t have the stamina for a full kickboxing class. Or the muscles for a single push-up. Or the flexibility for a kick high enough to reach anything but a garden gnome. I was terrible. And I was in love.
I loved everything about it. I loved the swish sound of my silk pants when I kicked, the quick repetition of dun-dun-duh-dun-duh-duh as my fists hit the speed bag, the hiss of my exhales. I loved that we bowed before we entered or exited the floor. I loved that our instructor, who had once been in B-rated action movies, called me “killer” — as a joke at first and then with respect. I loved the way my sash thwacked my leg as I whipped around for a spinning side kick. And, yes, I loved it when men came in cocky and left less so when they realized a teenage girl could do things they could not. I loved it when they humbly asked me how.
For years, I went to class six days a week and trained for many hours more. Inevitably, I got better. My body did what I wanted it to, moved in the precise ways that I’d always imagined. Through repetition and practice, I created knowledge within my body, I fathomed skill where there was none. I used to have fantasies of saving strangers from the nonexistent criminals in my sleepy suburb. I used to have fantasies of saving myself.