I’ve beaten down a few women in my time. I’m not writing metaphorically here. I’m talking about punching a girl in the face, doubling her over by kicking her in the stomach, then putting her down on the ground with a right cross to the side of the head. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it – an adrenaline rush doesn’t know gender.
Now, before my inbox overflows with outraged accusations of criminal Neanderthalian misogyny, I should probably point out that this all took place in the brutal full-contact martial-arts dojo that was my home away from home for almost six years. I still remember my first day there, seeing all the fighters in their black robes and the savage gleam in their eyes as they warily circled each other before exploding in a paroxysm of violence. It was truly a place apart – a broken ankle was a cause for mockery and uproarious laughter, and if one was so unfortunate as to get knocked out during a sparring session … well, to that ignominy was added the expense of buying the victor’s drinks that evening.
Of every 10 newcomers, one remained a month later. Few – very few – ever reached the highest level, as the punishing belt tests were not so much sought as fearfully avoided at all costs. They were tests of skill and discipline, but more than anything, they tested one’s willingness to get back on one’s feet after being knocked down, again and again.
There weren’t many women in our midst, understandably enough. But I was close to one in particular, we called her “Penthouse” because of her long, flowing mane of hair and her not-quite-ready-for-Playboy prettiness. She was a single mother who’d been pushed around by her ex-husband one too many times and she was determined to learn how to defend herself. After three years, she was called on the carpet to test for her green, and I was one of those selected for her sparring test, which consisted of six consecutive two-minute rounds against three high-level fighters, none of whom had just been through a grueling three-hour demonstration of every strike, kick and kata in our repertoir.
By the fifth round, she was exhausted and bruised, barely able to keep her hands up to her chin, much less defend herself. She was nearly helpless, but she must have sensed my desire to take it easy on her, because she snarled at me not to dis her like that, that she’d earned the right to be treated as a fighter and a Dragon. And she had, so it was with genuine affection and admiration that I dropped her twice in the next two exchanges, leaving her with a black eye and a bloody nose. It was a wonderful performance on her part, as she never hesitated to pick herself up, unaided, from the concrete floor. A few months later, the entire dojo cheered her on as she mercilessly destroyed the competition and won her first tournament – never having fought a woman before, she said afterward that she couldn’t believe how weak and slow her opponents were, how easy it had been when compared with her training.
But if my time in the martial arts taught me to respect the inherent toughness and mental resolve of women, it has also taught me that combat of any sort is no place for them. It may be easy for a woman who hasn’t taken a straight-line headshot from a 200-pound man to spin airy myths of martial equality, but no woman like “Penthouse” would ever believe them, and only a man who hasn’t felt for himself how easy it is to smash a woman to the ground would take them seriously for a second.
Modern combat may be less strenuous than it was in the age of the heavily-armored Greek hoplite, but it is still physically punishing. The fluid nature of America’s new uberblitz tactics means that the attacking forces must carry more of their own supplies on their backs, and indicates that the supply lines will often be operating behind enemy lines.
The capture of Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson and the fact that a significant percentage of our casualties came from a maintenance company does not support the foolish myth of the American Amazon. Instead, it proves that women should be excluded from far more elements of the U.S. military than they are today.