“If you’re not comfortable with choking…”

The website of my wing chun school purports to teach “self-defense,” just like every other martial arts school in existence, which is why I ignored the claim, thinking it was one of those rhetorical appeals to practically-minded people who would come to appreciate, in time, the deeper aspects of the art. So I did not expect that, in the second week, we would be learning some self-defense exercises, which would involve, I’d soon find out, things like learning how to deal with a grab or a choke.

Actually, the first of these exercises was how to get out of a bear hug. Your arms would be pinned from behind, and the escape act was to raise one’s arms at the same time you dropped the rest of your body, lowering the knees a bit. Having opened up a space, you could strike the opponent with the backs of your elbows. That’s when I discovered that the starting position of the form, with the arms tucked under shoulders, was in fact a strike.

My partner grabbed me from behind, and I needed a bit more instruction to perform the move correctly. She tightened her grip around my body and remarked: you’re so thin! I laughed, and we continued on with the exercise. We switched, and, well, I was a bit uncomfortable with bear-hugging her from behind. After all, I’m not normally one for hugs. I did it anyway, wrapped my arms around her tentatively, and she easily got out, ribbing me in the process. Obviously she’d done this one before.

On another occasion, we had to choke our partners. It was my luck that I was paired up with another girl — no, worse, a pretty schoolgirl, with glasses and a few teenage spots and a smile that revealed her braces. “If you’re not comfortable with choking,” said the sifu, “ you can place your hand on the neck, or make a fist.” I wasn’t comfortable at all, so I placed my hand on her neck, which wasn’t of much help, since my partner easily swiped away this would-be attacker’s hand. In fact, my hand was liable to slipping off into dangerous territory, so I decided it was better that I actually simulate a choke, or at least put more pressure around her neck. She didn’t mind at all, and quite nonchalantly brushed me aside with the technique — a sort of cutting down motion — until I tightened my grip more. Now she was having a bit of trouble: she couldn’t move my arm enough to get it off, although she tried a few times.

The instructor came around and cradled her arm, telling her to relax her shoulders and to feel the weight in her elbow. Then he told her to try again. (“Don’t try to chop his arm; just place your arm down, aiming towards his center.”) I grabbed her neck again, and after one or two tries she struck my arm in the right way, making me buckle over as well.

Now it was time for me to be choked.

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