As a martial arts instructor and coach, it has always been disturbing and disheartening to hear of first hand accounts of women feeling unsafe, which is what has previously led them to contact me. Over the past week, I have seen many articles regarding the case of Sarah Everard where many women have since come out with their own experiences of feeling unsafe, which need to be taken seriously and should not be ignored, especially by us.
I will firmly state that anyone who feels that this is not a problem is a huge part of the problem.
The statement ‘protect your daughter, educate your son’ with the former crossed out is very powerful; it is not an attack by women, but rather a plea for something to be done. Of course, this should not be misconstrued to say that we should not protect our children at all, but rather the fact that we should hold the abuser accountable as opposed to placing blame on the victim. The shaming of victims has been nothing short of abhorrent; such shaming seemingly aims at justifying the crime, which is absolutely unacceptable. Our children don’t just learn from what we teach them; they learn from what we are and how we lead by example. It is therefore paramount that an environment is created in which women are not afraid of any man anywhere.
So what can we do?
Long term, the three main principles that I would ever advise to teach our young and for us to follow ourselves are from the Life Leadership Paragon by Dr Douglas Kelley:
Accept yourself unconditionally
Take responsibility for everything you do, past, present and future
Respect the free will of others
Figure 1: Life Leadership Paragon - Kelley, D. (ICMH, 2010)
The above are underpinned by the guiding principle of kindness and doing no harm. These principles can be expanded and applied to every situation that concerns ourselves and others. Accepting ourselves unconditionally means not being in an adversarial and oppositional relationship with ourselves. It also refers to the understanding that we are works in progress, striving to improve, knowing ourselves and our boundaries, whilst working towards a healthy self esteem. Violence and any kind of non-consensual acts will never be acceptable, which is why we must take responsibility for our actions, understand their consequences and not just be sorry when caught. Respecting the free will of others is something many people struggle with, which is essential because nobody ever has the right to impose themselves onto others. This refers to respecting the choices of others as well as their boundaries much like how we would want others to respect our own. Our boundaries also refer to the subject of consent, no simply means no.
Mastery of the three principles creates a synergistic effect known as self-completeness, which is a freedom and serenity that we are all deserving of as we lead successful and happy lives without toxicity, co-dependency or unnecessary conflicts/incursions. This is something that I feel should be taught to all at a young age and practiced throughout our lives. I would very much like to encourage any readers to practice and preach this as everyone can benefit.
In terms of what is happening and what can be done now, most women already take so many precautions to stay safe, the list is endless. I therefore do not regard this to be an attack on men to similarly take precautions to facilitate keeping women safe. It is essential that we are open to listening without bias; our egos have no place in how we interact with women; asserting this kind of dominance is unwarranted, unsolicited and will more than likely jeopardise and ruin relationships.
I strongly feel that the ‘not all men’ counter argument trivialises and even dismisses something that should not have happened. Whilst it is true that not all men commit these acts, we all play a part in terms of our relationships with one another and how we may react to each other’s choice of language and any misogynistic behaviours, which have no place in our world; men are the main component to solving this problem. Simply put, if we have the capability to act, then we have the responsibility to act; we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable, so that we do not turn a blind eye or ignore wrongdoings.
There also needs to be self awareness involved, such as how closely we may be walking behind a woman, what we are wearing at the time as well as body language. This was a lesson I had to learn; as I weigh in at 110kg, have a shaved head and walk a certain way, I am acutely aware of my appearance. I recall a time where an elderly lady in front of me was clearly struggling with her shopping, to which I rushed over to offer a hand. It was clear that English was not her first language. She was so terrified, she ended up offering me her bags as she thought I was trying to rob her, which of course, was not the case at all. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have rushed in and should have given her more space before making my intentions known. How we come across is something that can either put a woman’s mind at ease or intimidate her; being aware of this offers us options of how best to alleviate her concerns.
Whilst we can hope for such harmful occurrences to be completely eliminated where women live in a world where they can feel free and safe with us, we are probably still far off from reaching this goal. I feel that the recent events, attention and awareness on this topic is certainly the right direction. However, this is an ongoing process and cannot be treated as the flavour of the month. We must act on any infringements to women and also exhibit empathy to prevent undesirable behaviours and actions that cause such hostilities and wrongdoings.
In the meantime, I am keen to do my part and will continue to offer on-demand free self defence lessons. To any women reading this that would like to train with me, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Jon Xue Zhang
*Edit*: I have teamed up with Sifu Della O'Sullivan as her co-instructor to teach women's self defence as part of the Fight Like A Girl UK movement and workshops she founded. If you are interested in women's self defence, please check this out and get in touch!
Figure 2: My original post on social media
*Edit*: I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and shared this. I want to continue to work with you all to help us move forwards. If you have suggestions on how I may be able to help even more, do please contact me; I would be very keen to hear from you.
Of course from this post, I have expectedly received some backlash, privately and not publicly, I might add. I'm happy with genuine comments and questions, just not ignorant and biased ones, which are the ones I would like to address here:
1. "This whole thing is anti-male" - It really isn't. Read it again, but this time without the bias that's clouding your judgment and know that this is coming from a place of care and experience.
2. "I'm not comfortable with you saying that the 'not all men' is an invalid counter argument" - Women know it's not all men and do not need to be constantly reminded of it. As I said in the article above, this derails, trivialises and dismisses the experiences women have. I am referring to those who would use that as a defence mechanism without openly listening to a woman's account.
3. "Why are you taking sides on this?" - I'm not taking sides at all; this is a logical fallacy. An absurd one at that. As a martial arts instructor, so many women have come to me because of these reasons. As a coach and counsellor, women have also come to me because of traumas they have experienced. As a friend and family member, I have heard these accounts happen to those I care about. As a human being, I have seen this happen first hand and have had to intervene (whether I was working as a doorman or as a bystander) and I have since read about so many more occurrences. Shedding light more now on an issue that has been happening for who knows how long, is a good thing. The human gender ratio between men and women is close enough to 1:1 and yet the statistics regarding women's safety are unbelievably high and that doesn't take into account the much higher dark figure that is not reported. You would be ignorant if you didn't listen; the issue is real, it is serious and very present. Statistics aside, I would like to add that it doesn't matter if it's one woman or a million; as soon as one person's sense of safety is infringed upon, it damages us all. I choose not to ignore this and I choose to be pro-active in placing the spotlight on this and doing as much as I can to facilitate a safer environment.
4. "Men are afraid too, you know" - Yes. Usually of other men.
5. "Should we not protect our children and should we not educate them all" - ...That's really not what was said at all. I invite you to read this again.
'Criticisms' of my post as well as this article are precisely the reason why this message needs to be said.