Toronto
4 min

Take this, hot shot

My punches wouldn't scare my sister

HYUH. Show me that move again. Credit: DEAN TOMLINSON

He called me fag boy, so I kicked his ass. I took out his friend, too, just for being there. After spitting on their lifeless faces, I called the cops on a payphone and told them they had two heaps of trash to pick up at Carlton and Jarvis. Then I hung up and walked away, leaving my harassers uninjured but out of commission.



None of this is true, but you never know. I’ve taken my first lesson in self defence, and I’m feeling cocky. I nearly changed my mind about signing up for the course offered at the 519 Community Centre. The name was a turn off. Gay Men’s Self Defence. As if defending yourself as a homosexual is any different from defending yourself as a heterosexual. I imagined I’d be thrust into a room full of queens learning how not to hit like sissies. If anything, at least to learn the power of staring our attacker in the eyes and getting tough: “You’re calling me a fag? Look at your haircut. It’s all wrong for your face. And those pants! What were you thinking?” The would-be attackers would then flee in disgrace.



A day before the first session, I get a voicemail from The 519 telling me there are spots left, so bring a friend. But none of them want to go. I can’t blame them. The classes run for three hours each, four Saturdays in a row.



“Self defence for gay men? Uh, no,” one friends says. “It’s the difference between learning English to get you through life, and learning English to get you through the aisles of a grocery store. You’re taught just enough to ask where the onions are, but nothing else.” I had committed myself to the Berlitz of martial arts.



At the first lesson, there are 15 participants – 14 more than I expected – and three instructors. We start by assembling in a group therapy-type circle, sharing personal experiences followed by a discussion of the four basic tenets of self defence: awareness, avoidance, assertiveness and escape. Or if you prefer, AAAE, a handy acronym that, when pronounced as one distinct sound, is what guys like me scream at the top of our lungs as we bolt from perceived danger.



Nothing serious has happened to me yet, but in seventh grade a guy challenged me to a fight I knew I couldn’t win. My strategy was to explain that fighting was against my religion and thus I wouldn’t be meeting anyone on the tarmac. When the bell rang, I was the first to duck out of class, but when my 11-year-old assailant caught up with me with a shove from behind, I was trapped. Within seconds, a crowd of backpack-wearing kids surrounded us. What could I do?



I started to cry. It was calculated blubbering, designed to get me home in time for Facts Of Life with the unfortunate side effect of effectively ending my social life for the rest of junior high. But it worked, and I was let go with a punch to the arm.



It was nothing near gaybashing, but I’m not taking any chances. At the self-defence course, we talk first about awareness. We’re told that if you’re on the sidewalk alone and there are footsteps closing in behind you, it’s your right to turn around and look. And turn back if you’re disturbed by an oncoming throng of skinheads with white shoe laces. The instructor used skinheads as an example only, but I couldn’t help thinking of an aunt of mine, who can’t pass a black man on the sidewalk without making a mental note of the contents of her wallet and her next of kin. It’s a fine line between being aware of your surroundings and walking the streets like a sketched-out paranoia case.



Next, we were told what to do when a stranger comes aggressively close to our personal space. Use our big strong voices, of course. We were given time to practice telling a partner to “Stop!” or “Back off!” But I couldn’t do it without cracking up, sounding not so much assertive than like a computerized car alarm voice.



After an hour of talk, we get to the action. The three instructors show us how to punch. I try to imitate the masters, but my punches are terrible. No surprise. I’ve never been able to throw a punch in my life without some sort of mocking retort: “Was that supposed to hurt?”



But we’re told to accompany our punches with Kiai (pronounced key-eye) which is the art of making loud grunting noises with each plunge of the fist, supposedly to create more force to our blows and scare aggressors off – but in our case make them crumple to the ground into fits of laughter. I don’t blame the instructors; they were good, demonstrating their Kiai with a succession of swift punches: “Hyuh. Hyuh! Hyuh!” Then it’s our turn: “Hee. Hah. Hey!” Fifteen men trying to sound menacing but sounding more like the family reunion scene in 101 Dalmatians. Or maybe it was just me.



We also learned how to defend ourselves from incoming punches, by thrusting our arm outward, then swooping our fist inwards and flicking our wrist up. All I needed to feel complete was the magic lasso and golden bracelet. One instructor suggests we practice this move in the shower, warding off the flow of water to simulate the real thing. I tried it last night, never feeling more butch, stopping only to shampoo, condition and rinse.



I’ve got three more classes left, but I’m not sure they’ll do any good. One instructor is putting me at a distinct disadvantage because I can’t stop picturing him naked. Hardly an incentive to do my best, since getting extra help in self defence requires that the instructor offer at least a minimal degree of body contact.



“Am I doing this right? You mean this way? Show me again.”



But I’ll give it another go. In the meantime, I’ll keep practising my punches. Nobody messes with this fag boy.



* For more info about the gay men’s self-defence course at the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St), call (416) 392-6874. Course cost is $15 (sliding scale available).