DO IT WITH YOUR HIPS!
Find out why self
defense is a womanly art.
DR. RUTHLESS COLUMN
- Self Defense For Women Magazine
These hips are big hips.
They need space to move around in …
These hips are free hips,
They don’t like to be held back …
These hips are mighty hips.
These hips are magic hips.
I have known them to put a spell on a
man and spin Him like a top.
These lines from Lucille Clifton’s delightful poem Homage
to My Hips have always put a smile on my face. No, you haven’t
turned to the wrong column. I’m still Dr. Ruthless, but I
too have important reasons why you should love—not loathe—your
More than womanly curves, or shelter for the unborn, a woman’s
hips are her hub of power. And they make a dandy weapon. For example,
if bear hugged from behind, a woman can thrust her rear into her
attacker’s groin. (By thrust, I mean with a flat back and
a vengeance, as if spearing him with your tailbone.) If effective,
this hip-smacking strike could buy you an escape, or at least create
an opening that allows you to follow up with additional moves.
In Praise of Our Lower Selves
It’s a fact: A woman’s lower half—her hips and
legs— is the strongest, most powerful part of her body. Because
women are typically smaller than men, we need to capitalize on our
strengths to be effective in self-defense. Rule No. 1: Regardless
of technique— whether you’re firing off a knee, elbow,
palm strike or kick—get your hips into the act to deliver
power. (Or as I prefer to say: “Hit with the big parts!”)
The difference in power is literally stunning. When movement originates
in the hips—via a snappy rotation or dip, or a driving or
thrusting motion—the body becomes unified and works as a whole.
It transfers power from your center-of-mass directly into your target.
By striking with your body, and not just your body part (e.g., your
hand or foot), you can deliver power that, according to my padded
co-trainer, “feels like a low-velocity car wreck.” So
too, the secret to hard-hitting throws, and thus sending a man head
over heels, resides in our hips.
To get a feeling for your powers, try this experiment: When practicing
knee strikes, instead of contracting your stomach muscles, freely
sling your hips into your strike and allow your lower body to follow
through like a wrecking ball. The result? WHAM! This motion allows
you to get in deep and drive through your target. (“Good to
the last drop,” I tell my students.)
Even in tight quarters, such as upright pins where movement is
restricted, think of your hips as the motor in a Cuisinart blender.
Once it’s switched on, your arms and legs can wield like slice-n-dice
attachments. Adrenaline will provide the energy, but without those
hips there’s no whip, chop or frappé!
Get Down, Girl!
To effectively liberate this power, you need to shift your center
of gravity downward. This is no small feat! Lowering your center
of gravity goes against the grain of Western culture and female
conditioning, which exalts a high center of gravity (epitomized
by the soldier’s “chest up, belly in” ideal and
ballet’s heliumlike rise). Let’s face it: Popular culture
rewards women for being lightweights, not heavyweights. We’re
expected to acquire an unrealistic anti-gravity body, and to uphold
our higher selves. Tragically, all this upholding and pinching off
at the waist can cut women off from their base of power—from
their lower, more formidable selves.
Once you get past this conditioning and learn to “get down,” oh
what a relief it is! Lowering your center of gravity feels like
a homecoming! It plunks you into an epicenter of power curiously
located near the site of the womb—the hara, as it’s
called in Japanese.
Although translated as “belly,” hara denotes a physical
and spiritual seat of power; it is the source of, and connection
to, primordial life force. In other words, it houses our ultimate
potential—and all this power lives in your hips!
A Bundle of Benefits
Beyond explosive striking power, hunkering down in your hips and
legs offers many practical self-defense benefits: It provides balance
and stability, making you less of a pushover and allows you to pivot
or push off and run in any direction. Possessing a sturdy pyramidlike
stance also helps you remain grounded in the face of fear, counteracting
the wave of panic that can make you rise up and out of your center
(an action which can make you an easier target). By relaxing the
belly and lowering your center, you also breathe deeper. This allows
you to access a more powerful tone of voice, which is critical for
setting boundaries with would-be assailants and personal-space invaders.
These low-down capacities also hold true in sexual assault positions,
where coiling up into your belly can provide a momentary respite—a
place to quietly gather your forces like the calm before the storm.
Because hara is the seat of willpower, tapping this vital center
can help you bring your innermost strengths to bear.
Hip Hip Hooray!
Thankfully, our relationships with our bodies and ourselves have
changed radically over the decades. We are stronger and far more
self-reliant and self-possessed than the June Cleavers of yesteryear.
But old habits and self-perceptions, particularly in relation to
our bodies, die hard.
To counter any negatives that you may secretly harbor about your
hip region—such as “too wide,” “too scrawny,” “too
this” or “too that”—and validate the splendors
of that Grand Hub below, let’s turn our attention to Japanese
culture where Sumo reigns supreme and exemplifies the power of all
things, well, hip. For example, Black Belt magazine columnist Dave
Lowry reminds us that a koshinuke in Japanese is a person “without
hips”—which denotes a coward! The term koshi ga takai,
meaning “things with high hips,” is considered an insult.
It means, says Lowry, “that you are executing a technique,
or maybe just sitting or standing with your body unbalanced and
top-heavy.” (Now there’s a striking contrast to a culture
that shuns women who are bottom heavy. Can we imagine Sumo Barbie?)
The phrase hara ga tatsu, meaning “a person whose belly rises,” is
also an insult. It refers to one who rises out of his or her seat
of power, as opposed to residing snugly in the hips.
In a world where women’s bodies are the targets of both scrutiny
and attack, inhabiting our lower selves may not only be lifesaving—and
liberating—but it connects us to capacities far beyond the
physical. Leave it to the ancients to convey this simple lesson:
A woman who lives in her hips is a woman of power.
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