This is my badass face

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Scary, right?

So, let’s be honest for a second: it’s hard to be intimidating when you’re the size of a large child. I’m actually not making fun of myself when I say this. It is a legitimately proven fact since I regularly purchase maxi dresses from the children’s section. 

But, despite my small stature, I was raised to believe that I could kick some major ass if I was ever in a situation where I was getting mugged or chased [or insert terrible thing to happen to me here]… thanks to the gospel of my 6’4″ father who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn. My dad doesn’t f*ck around. So, while his genetics are not abundantly clear when I try to reach the top shelf, I’d like to think I’d resemble him in a fight.

But, I’ve never actually been in a fight… except for that one time I jumped on my little sister’s back in anger and she proceeded to stand up and spin me around until I asked her to stop because she too is taller than I am. FAIL. So, I decided to put myself to the test and try out a real martial arts class at the Portland Academy of Martial Arts.

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The Portland Academy of Martial Arts is located in deep SW in a tiny strip-mall with mirrored windows and neon signage. You have to call (503-449-6419) to arrange for your first appointment, but it’s free, so I went for it. What I found out upon doing so is that the free class they offer, is actually a personal one-on-one Hapkido lesson and mine lasted upwards of 90 minutes!

Looks can indeed be deceiving especially when it comes to small fitness studios. The space at the Portland Academy of Martial Arts is by no means fancy, but what they teach is. I wandered into the studio right as a Capoeira class was finishing up (another class that is on my wish list) and was greeted by the owner, David. He was the one that led me through the class… and he was a lot bigger than me. Like maybe 3 times bigger. So, I almost shat my pants when he said he was going to teach me floor-work in addition to punching and kicking properly.

While I practiced punching and kicking, David explained the differences of Hapkido versus other forms of martial arts. My non-martial-arts-brain picked up that Hapkido is much more free form and scalable to the situation that you’re in as opposed to routine based. We  practiced the basics of Hapkido and how I could apply the movements to real-life situations and discussed how I might modify things based on the size of my attacker or opponent which brought up the whole size situation. I think I repeated “I’m pretty small” maybe eight times before David let out a chuckle and explained to me that his master was only 5’2″ and could take him down no problem. What the what.

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As I processed that perhaps my “small but mighty” schtick might actually not just be a cliched saying, I looked around the studio and took solace in all of the quotes on their walls that backed David’s point of view that size didn’t matter. And then we went into floor-work and my newfound outlook on my abilities to defend myself went to shit… because it’s intimidating to think about grappling with someone who can not only reach the top shelf but probably also break it in two.

Thankfully, David grounded me as he taught me how I could get out of holds being on my back if I focused on some core principles: if I could find positive space, like say behind my back which was pinned to the ground by lifting my hips which weren’t pinned, I could get out. It took way more mental thought over physical strength than I had expected. By the end of the class I was exhausted and shocked to see that 90 minutes had flown by.

Hapkido, as I’m sure with most martial arts, requires practice and training. I think the lesson I took gave me a nice crash course in the basics, but I am well aware that I barely scratched the surface. With that said, I appreciate what those 90 minutes did do for my brain. Even though I may need to use a step stool and a pillow when I drive, my size doesn’t put me at a disadvantage in a fight. So, go get your martial arts on and try some Hapkido–it’s a tough workout, but a major confidence booster.

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