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In the shadows of society, often concealed behind closed doors, a brutal battle unfolds. This battle can be found in the least expected places; the places you thought were safe. The places you would have never imagined things like this were going on.
It’s a battle waged not only with words, intimidation, and control, but often with physical violence that leaves both visible and invisible scars. This is the harrowing reality of domestic violence, an insidious form of abuse that shatters lives and leaves survivors grappling with profound trauma.
For those trapped in the relentless cycle of physical and emotional abuse, finding the courage to break free can seem like an insurmountable task.
The pain runs deep for survivors – it’s a pain that extends beyond what you may see, permeating the very core of their being, eroding their self-esteem, self-confidence, and the ability to trust others, and that’s only the beginning. Escaping an abusive relationship demands not only courage but also the strength to embark on a journey of healing.
Amidst the darkness, a glimmer of hope emerges, unexpected yet powerful. Martial arts, traditionally known for their self-defense techniques, can become a beacon of light on this treacherous path. In the face of despair, it can offer survivors a means to rebuild their lives, regain confidence, and recover from the physical and emotional turmoil they’ve endured.
Through self-discovery and the inherent personal growth that comes with learning martial arts, survivors of domestic violence can find the tools not just to survive but to thrive once more. We’re going to explore the profound connection between martial arts and healing, shedding light on how it helps survivors rediscover their strength, embrace their resilience, and rewrite the narrative of their lives.
The Unfortunate Reality
- On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
- 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g., beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.
- 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.
These statistics are just a piece of a much bigger, much more disturbing picture of a cycle of violence and are actually considered just an “average” number over a period of several years.
Even more harrowing, the United Nations published a report in 2021 titled “Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women During COVID-19.” It said that since the pandemic, violence against women has increased to unprecedented levels across the world. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine stated that domestic violence cases increased by 25 to 33 percent globally (Mineo, 2022). Reasons elucidated for this ranged from financial pressures to unintended consequences of global lockdowns (“cabin fever”, isolation, limitations of resources, etc.)
Regardless of environmental causes or unintended consequences, there appears to be a common theme: a strong case for a consistent mental health program. According to High Country Behavioral Health (2023), women that have an existing depressive, anxiety, PTSD, or any other diagnosed mental health disorder can be up to seven times more likely to become a victim of a domestic violence situation. Abusers are far less likely to take advantage of a partner that has a strong mind and will tend to fight back, both verbally and physically, if required.
For women that are mentally and emotionally vulnerable, escaping a violent situation can be even more difficult and cyclical and ultimately, will be more detrimental. A victim of domestic violence will experience long lasting trauma, and that trauma can often produce other acute and lasting changes in physiology, emotion, cognition, and memory. These changes wouldn’t necessarily result in a psychological diagnosis but can negatively affect mental health even more (High Country Behavioral Health, 2023).
Victims may also experience a loss of agency, meaning they no longer feel in control of their life or what happens to them. This can create feelings of hopelessness or cause them to “shut down” (High Country Behavioral Health, 2023).
When they reach this point, escape may seem impossible, and the abuser often recognizes this loss of self-control. It is imperative to seek help as soon as possible to begin to repair the damage that has been done to the victim’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.
A strong mental and emotional state is vital to try to avoid this rapid downward spiral, and martial arts holds the comprehensive key.
Healing within Martial Arts
Martial arts training is a potent catalyst for transformation, although it operates differently from what the general public typically assumes. Instead of promoting violence as a primary solution, it advocates it as a last resort.
If martial arts is not solely about instructing individuals on how to fight back, what makes it effective?
Survivors of domestic violence and rape often grapple with feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. The trauma they’ve endured can leave them feeling like they’ve lost control over their lives.
This is where martial arts steps in as a powerful agent of change. Through the process of skill acquisition, survivors can regain a sense of control and empowerment over their own bodies and abilities.
Martial arts provide a structured and systematic framework for learning and growth. Students start with the basics and gradually work their way up to more complex techniques and forms. Our system is clear and laid out in a way that is easy to understand so students can work forward with achievable milestones and see where they have already been.
For abuse survivors, this structured learning is immensely valuable – they experience a tangible sense of progress and achievement. Each new skill learned is a testament to their ability to overcome challenges and master something new. This is incredibly valuable to their self-confidence and self-esteem.
In our program, our instructors play a pivotal role in students’ development. They provide constructive feedback, encouragement, and guidance.
Survivors often carry negative self-perceptions from their traumatic experiences, but our instructors can help reshape these beliefs with a positive partnership and 24/7 availability. Because of our program’s flexibility, students can ask questions or receive guidance any time.
Positive feedback and encouragement from instructors are more powerful tools for rebuilding self-confidence and self-esteem. Survivors learn that they are capable of learning, improving, and excelling. This newfound confidence extends beyond the training mat and into other areas of their lives.
Of course, martial arts training is not without its challenges. All students will encounter difficulties of some kind along their journey. They may struggle with mastering a particular technique, face physical limitations, or experience moments of self-doubt.
However, it’s through these challenges that they can learn some of the most valuable lessons. This is when they’ll discover that setbacks are a natural part of growth, and that perseverance pays off. Overcoming obstacles in martial arts becomes a pattern for overcoming obstacles in life. They will begin to see themselves as a resilient individual who can face adversity head-on.
As they continue their martial arts journey, they will start to take ownership of their progress. They’ll realize that their achievements are the result of their dedication, hard work, and commitment. This sense of ownership extends to their own healing process.
By persevering through their martial arts techniques and progressing through the ranks, students learn that they can shape their own destinies. This newfound sense of control can be incredibly empowering, counteracting the loss of control they experienced during their trauma.
Survivors gradually learn to adopt this strengthening sense of thought for themselves, changing the way they speak to and about themselves. They shift from self-criticism to self-encouragement, which is a fundamental step in rebuilding self-esteem and self-worth.
The positive feedback and encouragement inherent in martial arts training provide survivors with a transformative experience. They are no longer defined by their past trauma but instead by their growth, effort, and potential. This change in perspective can be a profound step toward healing and rebuilding a positive sense of self.
Mineo, L. (2022). The Harvard Gazette. Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2022/06/shadow-pandemic-of-domestic-violence/
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2023). Statistics. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS