I had a piece over at Jezebel recently–something I never really expected to happen given that when my very first McSweeney’s column ran, waaaaaay back in 2009 (!), they didn’t like it much. But Emma Carmichael and Jia Tolentino were a delight to work with, and the finished piece is lushly illustrated with clips from various MMA fights, demonstrating the effects of groin shots on some unlucky fighters.
These days, only Muay Thai fighters strike to the groin—and they only do it in Thailand, where they wear groin protection made from fucking steel. But even armor plating isn’t enough for western sportsmen; in addition to groin protection devices, they shield their balls with every rule, regulation, law, and covenant they can think of. The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, for example, list 31 official fouls, with myriad subtle variations on things like kidney strikes (only a foul if you kick with your heel) and elbows (disallowed if striking downward; OK in other directions). And then there’s Item vii: “Groin attacks of any kind.”
My latest McSweeney’s column, Cage Match: Victorian Novelist Edition, addresses the important question of how to choose the best 19th-century writer for your side in a gang war:
Authors of marriage-plot novels might not be the first place you’d look for fighting prowess, but I see them as a deep talent pool. Seriously, go read Middlemarch and then tell me with a straight face that George Eliot wasn’t capable of terrible things. Or pick up any of Madame de Staël’s novels (go on, I dare you). Hell, Harriet Beecher Stowe started a war. These ladies knew some shit about conflict, even if they did bury it under calling cards and teacups.
I’ve been working on my next McSweeney’s column and realized I forgot to post the last one. Here it is: Control Freaks.
If, in discussing “appropriate” use of force, we reduce every violent police encounter to the moment the first blow is struck, we willfully ignore all the other what-if moments leading up to it, all of which offer much better opportunities for intervention and safe resolution. Shooting bad guys may sound more fun and exciting, but I don’t see why people should die just because our collective attention spans are too short to think about the problem in larger terms.
I have a new post up over at McSweeney’s, wherein I share a little bit of what I’ve learned this summer in my EMT classes:
I’ve spent some happy evenings this summer learning about the zygomatic and sphenoid bones and the maxilla of the face, comparing their most common fracture patterns to the places where my own face has been forcibly reconfigured, and thinking about how I might adjust my own punching technique to increase or decrease damage. EMT training has given me a new way to think about my martial arts and self-defense skills. I feel like a humble Florentine statue cleaner who has finally taken an art appreciation class.
I took a great breaking class last weekend with MyTien Duong (currently of Edmonton, Alberta). This was at the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation summer training camp, PeaceWorks, in Naperville, IL. I was thrilled to finally break two boards at once with a hand technique–I’ve struggled with that for years and it had become a real mental barrier for me. MyTien made it easy. One thing she had me do that really helped was to come up on the balls of my feet when I was reaching up to load the strike. I’m so invested in being grounded at all times (one reason I like breaking from a sitting or lying position) that I wasn’t taking full advantage of gravity. Lesson learned!
MyTien also talked about why it’s important for women martial artists to break. Because it’s part of our art, of course, and our testing requirements, but also because people need to see what women are capable of. We are so accustomed to see women as nurturers and builders, and we rarely get to witness their power to destroy. We’re acculturated to see that kind of force as negative in women, whereas we value it in men. So, board breaking = paradigm smashing. As if we needed another reason to love it.