One of my favorite old-school Chicago Bears players is Tom Waddle. Though short for a receiver, he became known for his toughness and courage on the field. (He is also a hilarious sports radio guy now.) When it comes to martial arts, I want to be like Tom Waddle.

Never flashy, never the best, Tom Waddle was and is loved for his guts and his effort. He was smart and scrappy, and earned a starting spot on the roster after years of hard work. I want to be like that. I’m not the best, and I’m not flashy. All I’ve got most days is guts – especially in the advanced class, drilling with the guys. I’m almost always the smallest, almost always getting hammered because of it. No one wants to crush me; it just happens. The guys help me up and pat me on the back and we keep going. I’m their little sister.

I like to show toughness, at least so that I learn how to be brave. That’s all I’ve got in martial arts, is courage. But courage hurts. Here’s a list of major injuries I’ve sustained and played through in Krav Maga:

  • Broken toe
  • Broken finger
  • Two separated shoulders (the right, then the left)
  • Sprained ankle

I’ve got callused knuckles from all the drills we do hitting pads. My shins and forearms have been bruised more times than I can count. I’ve been punched in the face and kicked in the abdomen, even elbowed in the face. Unpadded. (If you count padded strikes, I’ve been punched in the head dozens of times because I’m so short and my head is easy punching-height for most men.) Oh, and I was kicked in the face – once. I’m surprised I haven’t bled or lost teeth.

Recently, I was body-slammed and then nailed in the face with an arm. By accident. One of the guys rammed into me during a crowd drill – the rest of the class presses against you with kick shields and you have to get out – and he knocked me backwards and struck me in the face after misgauging my position. I should’ve moved, honestly, but by that point in the drill I had become sick of being the tiny weak link in the crowd, and had focused my entire energy on not budging. I paid for it: I didn’t move (yay!) until I got railroaded (ouch). So, maybe I need to re-think standing my ground. Anyway, after the drill I worked my jaw, which was sore. One of the other guys asked how I was doing. “You okay?” he asked. “You’re not bleeding.” I grinned: “I’m not bleeding, so I’m fine.”

He nodded. I got major points for that.

I frequently get picked up and moved, dragged out of the way, and otherwise bench-pressed into irrelevance. I’m small and light. Oftentimes, the easiest way to neutralize me is to simply lift me into the air like a child. But that’s okay: it’s just how it is, and I’ve got to learn how to deal with that reality instead of being taught to move as if I were a 200-pound guy. That’s part of what makes Krav Maga great. They actually address your real situation.

Besides, it feels good to be patted on the back by tough guys after taking a rough hit.

My favorite story is when I got launched into the air by an epic side kick. One of our best students is a man who studied karate for years. He’s a big guy, and his kicks are vicious. He’s got mass and power. Even though he softened his kick when he struck me and the kick shield I was holding, he didn’t soften it enough. I popped off my feet and flew backward, collapsing onto the matt after a brief and exhilarating journey through the air. It was awesome. I couldn’t breathe for a second, but I didn’t care. They helped me up and I caught my breath.

“You okay?”

I smiled, “Yeah.”

He patted me on the back.