|Rene Nuñez - Front Kick - circa 1972|
My papi used to tell me, "Pull your toes back. Point your foot, now pull your toes back," while demonstrating how to make that happen. I tried and I tried, I practiced and I practiced, and I can remember when I got it, when my body listened to my mind and I could pull my toes back while extending my foot. The proper form of the foot during a front kick, putting the ball of the foot in front as the furthest point from the body.
On July 22nd I had the pleasure of assisting master Marcellus Walker in the facilitation of a self-defense workshop. Marcellus is openly compassionate, notably calm, yet direct and unflinching in addressing the uncomfortable reality of self-defense. I appreciate his openness to help others develop their martial arts abilities, to face the ugly reality of personal combat and physically defending oneself, while simultaneously emphasizing the beauty and creativity of the art.
The most important aspect of self-defense is psychological; the mental willpower to physically control a situation, and if need be inflict physical harm on another human, in order to preserve one's life. As Marcellus puts it, "We have a right and responsibility to return home each day to the people who love us, who expect to see us and talk to us later that day."
One of the first steps in self-defense is the ki'hap (or kiai in Japanese pronunciation) - to yell with great energy or "ki". The ki'hap has both mental and physical implications. Physically the ki'hap is a forceful breath, invigorating the body and mind during a time of potential stress and rigidity. Mentally the ki'hap can help the practitioner gather courage and express their intention to engage in a psychical confrontation, whether in practice, competition, or a real life self-defense situation. Our voice is our first defense, our first expression of self-preservation.
My father was a practiced martial artist. He studied Tang Soo Do earning a red belt, one below black, before, as he described it, he attempted a jumping side kick over a chair and blew out his knee on a botched landing. My father also studied and practiced the art of self-preservation, the preservation of our cultural identity as Chicanos, as descendants of the first people in the Americas, as humans who have a right to determine our own identities.
Papi embodied self-preservation, and he wasn't quiet about it. He modeled it day in and day out, in all aspects of his life. He made the determination and preservation of our culture, language, identity, and right to quality education and free speech his life's work.
At the workshop, a little over a week ago, the connection of the physical and the psychological, the martial arts of self-defense and the mental willpower of self-preservation crystallized for me. It is imperative that we empower the voices, the willpower, of communities whose identities are marginalized within the mainstream, that we empower their voices of self-determination and self-preservation. It is the first step in each community's ability to control their own identity and cast off limitations and barriers. Voicing our willpower to live, to define ourselves, is the first step in self-defense.