I am kind of new to martial arts, and have only been involved for about a year. One time when my teacher was away from class for personal reasons, a boxing ranked student of his allowed me (an 18 year old girl who had never sparred or even boxed before) to fight an experienced male boxer about the same age in a sparring match. I made it through three rounds of my brain bashing around inside my skull and could barely stand. At the last round, I almost passed out from a panic attack and horrible concussion. It was a very fast and brutal fight. Shortly after this experience, a man where I work started sexually harassing me on top of a ton of verbal abuse from my supervisors. Often times he would corner me, get touchy, cat call, etc., which lasted for about 3 weeks before management fired me illegally for constantly complaining about the horrible treatment and having to resort to calling the cops (they talked themselves out of getting in trouble).

After this, I changed to a better school and all was well for about two weeks. Still looking for a job, but trying to keep fit, I went for a jog with my Mom in the local park when a young man pulled a knife on us and tried to mug us. Instead of fighting back, I froze. Since then, I just keep freezing. I made it out of the situation unscathed and I did finally get my purse back after my Mom talked him out of doing the worst for a good fifteen minutes. I stood there like an idiot in a daze. Before all of this, as a child I used to live on the Navajo reservation where all sorts of crime came upon my family; anywhere from death threats to guns being held at our heads. My Mom has been through the worst and the horrors go on but so do the miracles and blessings and good people that now surround my life.

Right now, when I practice martial arts, I hesitate, I flinch, and I freeze. My teachers have noticed it too. They tell me all the time to relax, but it's easier said than done. I'm just really jumpy and skittish now. In the martial arts I take, I face similar scenarios and being the only girl at my schools doubles the challenge.

The martial arts I take are:

  • Esgrima Criolla
  • Irish Stick
  • CACC wrestling
  • Viking Glima
  • Native American warrior arts
  • Boxing
  • Jeet Kun Do
  • Wing Chun
  • Pencak Silat
  • Eskrima Kali Arnis
  • Balintawak Arnis
  • Five Animal Kung Fu

Yes, I know it's a lot. I take my training very seriously and, despite the insanely long list, I never mix up my martial arts moves and I practice accordingly.

Is there any way I can stop being skittish and just learn the techniques?

How do I better prepare myself for another confrontation? What do you do in such scenarios when you're scared out of your wits? Why do I keep freezing and tensing up? How do I break through the fragile shy girl mold and show these guys what I've got?

  • 5
    Are all those styles being taught at a single school? It seems... like a lot to be doing if you're new to this with only a year of getting into it.
    – Bankuei
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:23
  • 10
    I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. -- Bruce Lee. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 10:33
  • 1
    The only thing that will help reduce being skittish is by practicing and practicing and practicing until it becomes automatic. Stick to 1 martial art and master it, so you will have the self esteem and the self confidence to handle yourself. Also, in your first school, the "boxing ranked student" should never have let you spare so soon. He should have been let go from the school. And he's a dick. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 18:33

7 Answers 7


First off, consider therapy. I know that it's not exactly martial arts advice, but it sounds like you've undergone a great deal of trauma and frankly, us just giving you training advice would be like giving cadence tips to a runner with a broken leg. You have been damaged and you need a qualified medical professional to help you with that damage.

Past that, you have two primary issues. First of all, it does sound like you're spreading yourself incredibly thin. Either you're training pretty much every hour of every day, or you're only training some of these styles once ever two weeks. I'd advise narrowing your focus down a bit. Choose a few styles and put your effort into refining your technique with them. Secondly, learning how to handle a crisis is training much like any other. The key is to put yourself into controlled scenarios, starting with slow drills and ramping up the intensity over time. Again, I have to emphasize that you are essentially an injured person, so treat it like training with recently broken arm. Always be aware of where you stand in terms of pain and discomfort and never be afraid to step back when you realize that you're reinjuring yourself.

In terms of training for crises regarding martial arts, I'd say that you're going to work along two axes. First, I'd recommend practicing conflict resolution. With the trauma you've been in, your first reaction to a dangerous situation is likely to tend toward panic attacks and PTSD. Roleplaying can be a surprisingly effective solution. If possible, again, get professional help for this (medical insurance will often cover it these days), but other than that, start with a simple scenario involving asserting yourself with someone obstreperous, say a grocery cashier deciding to hassle you over your choice of groceries. I know it sounds silly, but it's an important first step, feeling comfortable asserting yourself against someone who's just being unpleasant rather than threatening. After that, you can ease into slightly more hostile territory, someone who specifically starts bringing up things like race or gender and starts insulting you. Don't bring threats into it yet, but have the person you're roleplaying with act like they really don't like you. From there, you can move into more threatening situations such as someone bullying you. In all of these scenarios, do it with someone you trust (and be careful about amateur method actors) and establish safe words so that you can immediately break things off if you feel yourself start to panic. There are professional classes for things like this up to and including roleplaying mugging encounters. I would not advise going that far with amateurs.

Then, of course, there's the physical training. Frankly, this is drills. I'm not going to list individual self-defense techniques, but your best bet is to pick one or two effective strategies for several common scenarios, chokes and holds and the like, and practicing them over and over again with a partner you trust. At the beginning, you're going to be working with little to no resistance, just training yourself to do the movements, and to react immediately when the situation happens. Your goal is to teach yourself to react to an attack with an immediate defense without having to stop to think. When the movements become automatic, your partner will start resisting you a bit more, forcing you to do the technique properly to break their hold. From there, any good martial arts place will be able to move you into free-sparring in a controlled manner, which will help you to get comfortable past the initial reaction.

Lastly, while this is getting perilously close to psychiatric advice, part of your problem might not so much be fear as bottled-up anger. It's pretty common after trauma for people to feel hopeless and the hapless rage it can inspire can leave you feeling as weak as any trauma. Punching bags, whether it's a traditional sort, a pillow, or a sparring partner in protective gear, can be amazingly therapeutic. When my wife was going through therapy in her teen years, her therapist had her do everything from popping balloons to throwing glass bottles against the wall to punching inflatable clown balloons. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes it really can help.


Competence and confidence go hand in hand. It's very difficult to gain one while the other is constantly being battered.

  1. Cut it down to one martial art, and probably none that are on your current list. More is not better.

  2. Find a female only school, at least for a while. Many if not most schools will run female only classes.

  3. Focus on a martial art which allows you to practice against real people in a competitive manner where you're not constantly being dominated by physical size and strength differences. i.e. a combat sport rather than a traditional martial art. Again, at least for a while. You can move on to arts which deal more seriously with less controlled conflict as you get comfortable throwing people around... and I'm talking about after a year of several times per week practice.

Personally I'd recommend something which deals with stand up grappling like judo to begin with. The idea being to build confidence and competence in an upward spiral rather than a downward one.


Training should be progressive for ALL students. A basic outline for training, with each step starting slow and progressively increasing speed:

  1. solo air training to learn movements
  2. dummy training, for example with striking bags
  3. prearranged partner exercises to develop reactions
  4. sparring

Skipping straight to sparring is an invitation to trouble. And if someone is really getting pummeled, it's the instructors job to intervene for safety. Your experience so far indicates a poor school.

Freezing is a common reaction, even among those without traumatic experiences. If you have problems freezing while doing the solo exercises, it is important to address this in the solo exercises before worrying about partner exercises. In prearranged partner exercises, you know what will be coming, and your partner should initially attack slowly, so that you learn to react instead of freezing. Again this can start slow, which is necessary before trying to go fast.

To be a successful fighter, it is more important to excel at a few techniques than to learn lots of techniques. With this in mind, I recommend training one or two arts until you feel you have reached some proficiency before learning others. You may initially feel that you are learning more by studying more arts, but you will miss the in-depth study required to excel, which will hurt you in the long term.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing is to find a good school/instructor. This school should have a progressive training program that continuously nudges your comfort zone and has your well being in mind.

I have not addressed the trauma issues. This is partly because I am not really qualified to do so, but also because the normal development program I would expect does not seem to be present.


Disclaimer: I am a male and wasn't in the same situation but I want you to give some advice.

I did 5 different martial arts myself and found it quite hard not to confuse arts of the same type (e.g striking arts). I also had problems working on Wing Chun foot work, which is quite different from Kickboxing footwork. And for this I have several years of experience and did it one after another. So I believe your case is even worse.

I would say you should choose a maximum of 3 different arts. For instance, one weapon art such as Eskrima, one striking art and a wrestling or ground art. For choosing which school you stay at, you should think about how you like your supervisors and training partners at that school. That's more important than the style.

You can invest the saved time and money in private lessons and general fitness. That should help you more than other martial arts, while you train for only one year.

Do you have problems hitting your partners? If yes, this comes first. For this, it is most important that you find someone you punch without fear that they will get angry or laugh at you. Speak with your partners and ask how strong you should punch them in training and do as they say. But only train with people who don't get mad easy or can't take a hit. If you can't choose and often come up with 'bad' partners, leave the school and train somewhere else.

After this you can slowly start sparring. But start with short rounds, just single round and/or half-contact first. You need to be confident, to handle that sort of light sparring first. Then increase intensity to full sparring.

It is important that you do small steps, which you can win and regain confidence.


First of all I think I should stress that your Mother handled the situation with the knife wielding mugger perfectly. Even for the most skilled martial artist an attack involving a knife is a life threatening situation. Talking, reasoning with the attacker (drugged or seriously mentally ill attackers aside), giving them your money, running... All good options compared with fighting.

Second freezing in place is a natural reaction to dangerous encounters. People often call this an 'Adrenaline Dump'. As I understand it your body releases the hormone adrenaline to prepare you for a dangerous situation. However too much will freeze the body in place and leave you bewildered psychologically. Training to overcome this is one of the main points of both martial arts and military training.

Third martial arts are great, but if you live in a state in america where weapons are legal the applications of unarmed styles are limited. I advise getting a handgun if this is legal in the area where you live and training to use it a lot. I'm no expert on firearms as I live in the UK where they are restricted to those with a licence (and handguns are illegal) however I understand that firing 100 rounds or more every day is advised for proficiency. Better still carry a knife as well if the neighborhood is rough as guns are less effective than knives at very close quarters. The knife will also need training to use so perhaps concentrate on a martial art style that focuses on this?

Fourth Learning multiple martial arts styles with no or little overlap is probably not a good idea. It's important for the moves to become second nature and if you are worrying about what style you are using this is unlikely to happen.

Finally I echo what Sean says about therapy. I know this is expensive in America but if you think you are damaged psychologically then this is important, and not just for martial arts but for your own well being.

  • Did I not say that they were better options than fighting? I'm not sure what you are arguing against here. I was once lectured by a policeman and I quote "It's better to be tried by a jury of twelve than carried in a coffin by 6". Yes it's important to learn the legal implications but when your life is on the line it's important to preserve it. Good point about not escalating.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 11:09
  • I don't disagree with or contradict anything in that article Sardathrion.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 11:45
  • 1
    Let me clarify: In the knife mugging the correct reaction is to give over money. Run, try to reason. If he actually tries to attack you with said knife back off draw gun. Shoot.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 11:49

From my experience I know of some methods that helped some of my friends, I hope they can be of some value for you too:

  1. Understanding what is happening before, during and and after a fight/ danger: The biggest Enemy that is holding you back is actually your best friend, but you are misinterpreting him - his name is Adrenaline. Adrenaline is the bodies preparation for a dangerous situation. There are different circumstances where the amount of Adrenaline varies from small butterflies in your stomach before a fight/sparring in the ring to a shaking and nervousness after a dangerous encounter.
  2. Focus on your strength: I would suggest slimming down the amount of different styles and focus on one or two, but practicing them - certain moves and make them perfect. The problem is that when Adrenaline rushes in, you are confused and you actually don´t know what to do out of your repertoire - if you are practicing one or two moves/punches to the extreme that they feel natural like you are brushing your teeth and could do them without even thinking about it, would be optimal.
  3. Take action: Use a "trigger" word to make the first move and break out of the freeze. Choose a word, that you say in your mind whenever a difficult situation occurs, where you just start doing a first move. The word should be something short and sharp - like GO or NOW etc. if you have done the first move or done the first punch, the rest comes from alone ...
  4. DO it more often: Do what you fear more often, I know it sounds a bit strange, but this is one of the things that work for sure and is using a natural behavior. We get used things we do very often, we adopt to certain situations like fighting, being in stressful situations etc. At some point it will feel natural to get into sparring or fighting, of course you will always feel the Adrenaline but you will know the feeling and what happens and it will be natural for you. Some examples are professional fighters, soldiers etc.
  5. Let your heart grow:This is the last point I want to mention, and one of the things I heard when I was boxing as a kid. I wanted to have sparring with one of some guys in an country sponsored camp, and the trainer denied and choose another fighter for me, with the words "Not this guy, we let his heart grow for his next fight in some weeks". I did not understand what he meant at that time, but after watching the guy for approx a year he ended like thinking of himself being unbeatable. He was so confident in himself, it looked like a miracle to me - so what the trainer/s did was simple, they choose the sparring partners wisely so that he could train his techniques, moves properly and built his confidence in his capabilities over time. As the different sparring partners with different skills came and the difficulty increased, his confidence did too also his skills.

Good luck with your journey!


I have a friend, a female who was also raised on a reservation, and she experienced terrible trauma, including from her own family. Unlike you, she has reacted differently when faced with physical threats. For example, once she became so angry at someone who was abusing her that she 'blacked out' and the next thing she knew she was choking the guy, and would've killed him if she had not 'awakened.'

Second, that was a really low class operation where you sparred with some guy; both the 'school' and the guy should've known better, and basically you have to learn things like that are not your fault. Easy to say, etc. But as the replies above have advised, you have to find people who have first-hand knowledge of 'wisdom in life.'

For example, you mention your mom. She was certainly cool-headed in that encounter in the park. Maybe she can help you find others who can guide you.

Another thing that I've noticed: I volunteer at a program where we prepare lunches for the poor. I happen to be a chef, and others are either assistants, or they serve, or clean up, etc. But the point is that I'm surrounded by wonderful people (and sometimes the friend mentioned above comes and helps too, and that helps her). It may be a cliché, but it's true. The more you give, the more you receive.

Also, it's interesting that sometimes there are some people we serve who become belligerent (not often), and I've had to step in, or others have. So that's great practice. If a person is 'skittish' as you describe yourself, it would be a help for you to observe these dynamics and that things can 1/ quickly be de-escalated or 2/ calmness also quiets down even the most belligerent. In the latter, some guys knew that I would be through being Mr Nice Guy and that I would have no problem with them. And they quieted down just like that. I didn't have to shout or act the bouncer. Especially if you live in a big city, the 'clientele' will be a little rougher than smaller towns. In big cities, I notice they have lots of security.

Anyway, my final point is that you meet in your life what is inside, so you have to look for that 'calm' that is inside you. Again, if you surround yourself with positive, strong people, this will have a big impact. Oh, another illustration, look up HeartMath.org. they have proven the power and value of thoughts/emotions. A human has a magnetic field at least 10 feet from body, and this is 'felt' by others, although usually subconsciously. Scientists venture that actually just that one field alone extends hundreds of feet, we just don't have the instruments to detect them, yet. The heart has a field that's 5,000 times stronger than the brain! So you can see the power of emotions. Hope this is of some help. Finally, the true martial art teaches us never to give up. Never give up. My friend has never given up, and she has experienced some very bad stuff that would knock out the Hulk. Think of that. There is also something strong in you that keeps you going.


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