Posted on May 12, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the nineteenth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.
Have a story to tell? Submit it here! Tell us who you are, a little bit about your journey and what you fight for – in life and sport.
My entire life, I've been labeled. I was called bossy, aggressive, and direct. From as early as I could remember these labels slipped their way into my tiny ears, often accompanied by a sweetly condescending tone. As a girl in school, being competitive was frowned upon. I noticed quickly that when boys showed leadership, they were commended for it. But when I did the same, I was called "bossy". It makes me cringe to this day. These are the kinds of messages that stick with our girls- that what is acceptable for a man is not acceptable for you. It's the same mentality that I see my girlfriends display when issued a compliment. Instead of saying "thank you" and risking sounding proud of yourself, we reply with the standard "this old thing?" routine that women have done for decades. We are supposed to act shocked that someone even noticed our accomplishments and attributes, not proud of what it took to get there. What I learned in school was self doubt.
Every positive thought about myself was to be muted, because in females, humility is more important than confidence. Approval - that's what I thought I needed.
I felt it in high school. That's about the time when girls with leadership skills start getting called the dreaded b word. I remember the first time I got called a bitch, and sadly it wouldn't be the last time. Having an opinion made me different, and different wasn't good. We do it to ourselves. We shame each other for standing out. Downplay what you're good at, as to not be called a show-off. It makes me sad to think that my daughter will one day curb her behavior for the comfort of someone else. We all do it.
After high school, I played around in college before I decided on cosmetology school. I loved instant gratification and the power that changing someone's appearance gave me. I loved the actual work, but the politics never sat well with me. There wasn't that softness in me, the kind that you need to be the compassionate ear for a client who's had a bad day. Our dean instructed me to "fake it till I make it". They didn't get me, and I sure as hell didn't get them. I knew in my gut that faking my entire personality for the rest of my working life was not an option. It was right then and there that I made a promise to myself - I will never commit to something that I know in my gut I don't completely love. If it doesn't consume me, I should keep looking for something that does. I take that general approach to every avenue of my life now. If it doesn't make me happy, I don't do it.
Eventually, I found my niche. I stumbled upon a Krav Maga gym in my city while trying to get back in shape after the birth of my daughter. I instantly fell in love. I picked it up quickly, and it wasn't long (four months to be exact) before I was asked to become an instructor. My coach elevated my training and matched me with someone who mirrored me - another female that went the road less traveled. She and I worked side by side for months, perfecting each and every technique. She was physically much stronger than I was, so I supplemented my physicality with knowledge of the material. I picked apart each and every combative and technique until I knew it backwards and forwards. I wanted to be able to teach ANYONE because I truly believed Krav Maga was for EVERYONE. Being praised for my aggression was a completely new experience for me, and the ability to pass on that knowledge and mindset was powerful. It became my obsession and over the next few years I'd work my way up to program director of my gym. I started with teaching about five classes a week and then snowballed into almost 20. I couldn't get enough. I was on fire. I was quickly devouring our entire schedule and it still wasn't enough.
I had been given an incredible gift - making a real impact by being who I was. But my success in the classroom couldn't have juxtaposed my behind the scenes experience more. I was working tirelessly on trying to build someone else's dream, which never really sat well with me. The direction I was going in was not the same as the rest of the group and tensions began to mount. I felt pressured to be someone else, a softened, more commercial version of myself. With being strong and standing tall comes people who want to tear you down. I battled with management in every meeting - the more I disagreed with our approach to things, the more isolated I became. I attacked every project with the ferocity in which I train - get it done and be the best. I didn't realize that this kind of drive can be intimidating. I am easily frustrated by mediocrity. The need for perfection can be strong enough to push people away, which is exactly what happened. It took being pushed out of a company that I helped build for me to realize that my vision is one I'd have to build on my own. I had been living a great lie- telling my students to be strong and assert themselves while trying to soften my personality and ideas so that other people would accept me. I was disgusted with myself. I loved teaching so much that I accepted the general discomfort of being in a place that I didn't belong. No one could deny my work ethic and talent, so instead it was my personality that took all of the hits. I took that hurt and decided that my message was stronger than my flaws - I was born to teach.
I quickly got hired on at the UFC Gym near me. I started filling my time with training. I got to go back to basics and renew my love for fighting. They gave me the freedom to explore my craft. It was exactly what I needed - a tiny push in the right direction, to keep going.
With leaving came encouragement. My students sent me texts, emails, letters even, telling me about the impact I had made on them. It was then that I realized that what I was doing mattered to more than just me. I was going to build the gym of my dreams, a place where a student could thrive and learn well past the basics. I wanted to build monsters, people who could defend themselves and their families. I wanted to build a place that would care more about spreading knowledge than hitting sign up goals and selling clothes. From all of the hurt of being rejected, Defiance was born.
Defiance Training Systems started as a mobile training system and quickly progressed into looking for a facility. It was also my way of saying "I don't have to be a cookie cutter version of myself to be successful". I didn't care if I had to teach people in parks, I had a message and my students wanted to hear it. My partner, in life and Krav, followed suit and joined me in chasing our dreams. Cody believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. We push each other to be our personal best in everything we do, and this project has brought that out even more. We get to do what we love without compromising who we are. With this, came extreme joy.
There is nothing as freeing as being your authentic self and being appreciated for it.
My daughter has been the driving force in my life. I am supposed to be her example, a role I take very seriously. I get to show her that women are strong by nature, and we can refuse to curb that. I let her explore all aspects of her personality and encourage her to ask questions and give opinions. Just yesterday someone referred to her as bossy, but don't worry - I quickly corrected them with "You mean, she displays leadership qualities".
My whole life is dedicated to making people feel more powerful. I get people from all walks of life who want that feeling. They want what I've spent the majority of my life suppressing. Not everyone is comfortable asserting themselves. I wrestled with my personality for years before I made my weaknesses my strengths. The words that were once meant to tear me down are, ironically, now the same words that build me up. Anyone in my line of work will tell you, when you go to a training and your feedback was that you were "direct, aggressive, and powerful" you say thank you.
I'm living proof that you don't have to compromise who you are to be successful, and you certainly don't have to make yourself small so that someone else can feel big. Insecure people are the only ones that are threatened by another person's strength. So bossy girls, don't be discouraged!
There is a place for you in this world, and it is beautiful.
And maybe, if you get lucky like I did, your career will be as kick-ass as you are. Some of us are meant to follow a path. Others, like myself, say "screw the path" and forge our own way.
Jamie Prescod is a personal safety and defensive tactics instructor out of New Orleans, Louisiana. She is the owner and lead instructor of Defiance Training Systems, a mobile fitness and self defense training team, servicing their community with reality based training.