Went to the dojo this morning to prepare for my upcoming exam. We had open mat, that delightful time (not sarcasm) when you can practice a technique for half an hour straight, refining and refining. While undressing I noticed a couple of odd red objects in the bottom of my bag. I bent down for a closer look and discovered that my kid had placed a handful of crayon pieces in there. Good thing it was the middle of winter and my bag hadn’t been under the car heater, or my training uniform would have been useless that day. My teachers would frown on red marks all over the mat, I’m guessing.

Earlier, getting ready to leave the kiddo with my friend’s family so I could go train, my daughter clung to me, sobbing, and said, “I come wi’ yew, Mama!” I wanted to explain that I needed to go study self-defense, that Mama was training in a warrior art, and that one day my daughter would come with me to the dojo in her own tiny gi.

If she wants to, of course. My ex and I agree that it’s not whether she takes a martial art, it’s which one.

We have a duty, you see. This is how I feel, anyway. We have a duty to learn how to defend ourselves and others. We have a duty to teach our children.

Once I was crossing a bridge in Santa Cruz, CA, on my way home from my tai chi class. I’d been off the aikido mat for a year due to the repetitive strain injury to both of my hands—the one that changed my life. Tai chi, my doctor said, was OK. So I was heading home, and realized a third of the way across the bridge that I was being followed. Not just sharing bridge space with someone, but being hunted.

Now. I’m five foot eleven, six feet in boots. I have a badass walk. By this stage I’d been a martial artist for five years. My first thought, therefore, was, “What on earth—? You nuts?” (Only later did I realize how much I’d changed, from the frightened girl of a few years earlier.)

Then I got ready. I tied my hair back. I checked behind me once more, to note distance. I took off my hoodie and tied it around my waist; I rolled up my sleeves and shook out my hands, loosening my wrists, and took a few breaths to ground myself and open a chest tightened by adrenaline.

When I looked back again, he was gone.

How’d he get off the bridge? No idea. He was nowhere in sight.

Another time I was followed by a man filming me (same year, I started taking it personally) and a dojo mate of mine caught up with me and told me what was going on. We set a trap for him and confronted him. Things turned out OK. He was probably a detective for the worker’s comp company, which I found hilarious and a bit offensive; if I was the type of person to take a company for money, I’d do it for a million, not the compensation I was receiving.

While riding the Greyhound the next year, a girl behind me got up with a disgusted exclamation and came to sit by me. She explained that some guy had been looking at her and touching himself. I offered to face him with her, and she agreed.

We waited a long time for that guy to get off the bus, but he didn’t while we were there. The point is she felt like someone gave a damn, and that we could work together.

We have a duty.

The woman who was followed fifteen years ago has had time to learn even more, and now she’s got a cub to defend, too. I’ve learned not to act like the biggest tiger in the jungle, or the smallest. I’ve learned to read people pretty well, though not perfectly. I know when I can stop a fight and when I can’t. Most of the time.

I long for everyone in my life to have this sense of confidence and humility combined. I don’t assume I can Steven Segal your butt, but if I have no other choice I’ll give it my best shot—and less pretentiously, too.

I long in particular for the women in my life to have this. Did you know you don’t have to be tall or strong to take down a 250 pound attacker? You don’t even have to succeed, though that would be the hoped-for outcome; just knowing that you tried will almost certainly help you heal faster afterwards. You don’t have to walk with your shoulders tight (it’s better if you keep them relaxed, in fact). You don’t have to be perfect, or particularly brave. You don’t have to be thin-but-not-too-thin. You can choose a martial art that suits you. You can be you, and still kick ass.

Then one day when someone’s losing it you’ll find yourself pinning them to the ground and gently but firmly advising them to stop and think. It will feel pretty good. It did for me, anyway.

If your kid is watching, it may feel even better. Because then your little princess or prince will want to learn how Mommy or Daddy did that.

Just throwing that suggestion out there. I have more thoughts on this but this’ll do for now.

What measures have you taken, or are thinking of taking, to protect yourself, to be prepared?