Self-defense, self-confidence: A new start

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
As an Airman of the public affairs career field, I'm often exposed to the negative perspectives of the Air Force by people outside the norms of military life - and sometimes within those norms. Unfortunately, it's become part of today's society for media outlets to focus on the negative more than the positive.

It is easy to define my purpose in the Air Force. My role is important; what I do helps establish the reputation of my base and the Air Force in general and can also help in promoting the morale of the Airmen I work alongside.

The bottom line of my job is simple: Focus on the positive and believe in my products.

Unfortunately, there was a time in my life when my career - this bottom line - seemed impossible because I got involuntarily tangled into a negative part of the Air Force. I was sexually targeted by one of my male wingmen. Although I was very aware of the availability of resources, I didn't pursue the justice of this Airman for reasons I felt only I could understand. However, it was only one moment - one single moment - that derailed my confidence and self-esteem.

From that moment on, I struggled with my ability to stay positive on a negative topic - a topic that is brought up commonly among the population of the Air Force: sexual assault prevention and response. I focused on the importance of my job to continue a facade of positivity, but it wasn't until recently that I gained the ability to really understand the products I publish about SAPR.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Gracie Academy Women Empowered Seminar on base, which focused on Jiu-Jitsu techniques for self-defense. What started as a replacement for my ill coworker ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. Just as the title acknowledges, I was empowered by the seminar - in more ways than one.

The instructors and participants used the combat of sexual assaults in the Air Force as a motivator to pursue the seminar with all of their hearts. And there were those of us who used past experiences as motivators, but either way, all of us were eager to learn.

Obviously, as a self-defense seminar, I learned many different techniques to defend myself if a situation were to ever happen. I also gained an unheard-of amount of self-confidence; confidence that I honestly didn't know I had the ability to feel anymore. However, I didn't know about the confidence the class instilled in me until after it was over.

It was dark out and I stopped at a gas station to pick up something to drink. I walked into the gas station and saw a man much bigger than me and someone I would describe as "shady." It wasn't the way he looked, it wasn't the way he acted; it was the way he made me feel just by being in the same place as me. Prior to the class I would've stayed as far away from him as possible; but now, instead of avoiding him, I got my drinks without giving him a second glance. I found myself thinking "I know what to do if anything were to happen."

The best part about those thoughts was the fact that they were true. If he grabbed one of my hands, both of my hands, my waist or even my neck, I had the skills and knowledge to get out of it. After leaving the gas station, I felt amazing. Nothing physical happened, but mentally, my confidence almost doubled.

Another part of my new-found confidence came in during the class. The instructors were very organized when it came to teaching the techniques. Before even demonstrating the technique, they would give us a scenario to show how the target would end up in certain positions - positions where the attacker would seemingly have the advantage. They showed all of us that even on the bottom - under the weight of our attackers - we could succeed. We now had an advantage: self-defense.

There were times during the class when I found my mind wandering to that one moment - that moment of submission; but instead of feeling guilty or ashamed for being in that situation, I felt relieved and accepted what had happened to me. The class helped me realize that there was nothing I could've done differently to change what had happened - my attacker chose me, and for not one reason in particular. In other words, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was also allowed the ability to talk about what happened. I was able to sit down with Eve Torres, one of the Jiu-Jitsu instructors, and tell her my story. It was the first time I opened up to someone other than my husband, and by getting that weight off of my chest, I'm not sure I'll ever have to again. As a woman, she understood, and that's all I needed - to be understood.

I received a probationary certification to teach the self-defense class to others across any Air Force base, and as an extremely motivated woman, I plan to take that as far as I can. I'm now currently working on receiving my full certification to teach. Then, I hope to teach as many women the same things I learned and instill in them the same amount of confidence I received from the class.

Anyone who feels they have been sexually harassed or assaulted can contact the sexual assault response coordinator at 731-4225.