I Punch First

The night of the 22nd of May, I’d gone out with some friends in the evening, only had a couple drinks and got home early. I was in bed by 11pm. At just after 5 the next morning, I heard one of our cats jump down from my little son’s bed in his room right next to mine. My son happened to be in bed with me as Brian was away for the night.

Less than a minute later I heard footsteps in his room. Shoes on the wooden floor. FFS!! My teenage son was either sneaking in or trying to sneak someone out that he’d snuck in the night before. He’d never done anything like this before, but I was livid.

I got up and went to shout at him. I walked out of my room, turned right, looked into my little son’s room and there was a strange man standing there.


Before I tell you what happened after that, I want to ask you “What would you do?”

Most women will have thought about what they might do if they were mugged or attacked on the street, but without any actual plan. Most women won’t have any self-defence training nor any fighting experience at all. Their plan might be “scream and hope that someone else saves me” which is, frankly, utterly useless as you won’t have time to wait for someone to help out. And what would you do if you discovered a strange man in your home when there mightn’t be anyone else there to save you?

I’d certainly never thought of that before. I had no plan. I did, however, have three years of boxing training.

As I’ve said before:

…having a bit of strength in my arms AND knowing how to throw a punch properly has made me feel less physically vulnerable than I did before. You know, vulnerable from being physically attacked by *men*.

I’m not saying I could beat a man in a fight, but I could definitely land a well executed punch to an attacker’s face and get the fuck out of there while he deals with the pain of a dislocated jaw. I know I could do that. And that is a great feeling.

About a year ago, I’d asked a friend of mine, who also does boxing training, if he’d ever hit anyone before. He told me he’d been in a few fights in his life mainly because when he was a kid his dad told him ‘if you’re ever in a situation with another person that looks like it could go bad, punch first’. So, several times in his life he’s punched first.

I thought it was actually really good advice.

The kind of boxing training I do is pad work. That means I wear boxing gloves and wraps and my trainer has pads on her hands which I punch according to the punch coordinations she calls out. A little bit like this:

In boxing there are basically four different types of punches- a jab, a cross, a hook and an uppercut. A jab is done with your leading, weaker hand. A cross is done with your rear, stronger hand. Both the hooks and the uppercuts can be done with either hand (real boxers will disagree!). I’ve been training 2-3 times a week for the past three years, half the time doing boxing, the other half doing strength training, so I’ve done about 200-ish hours of boxing, so about 50-ish hours on each different type of punch. Over that time my stance has improved, I’m lighter on my feet, I move quicker and I punch harder. A lot harder.

I do not, however, spar. I’ve never aimed a punch at a head or a face. I’ve never aimed a punch at a moving target. I’ve never been punched. Sparring is a big step up in boxing training as you are no longer being told what combinations to throw, so you’re on your own and also: someone else is trying to punch you. I’m not keen on that.

Before starting boxing training, like most every other woman on the planet, I was always a bit fearful on the street, always on high alert, scanning, looking for signs of danger, afraid of being physically threatened or assaulted by someone. As a woman, it is statistically more likely that I will be attacked by a man and it is statistically more likely that they will be bigger and/or stronger than me. Waiting to be attacked and then defending myself would mean I would be much more likely to be seriously injured or overpowered. Boxing training has given me the confidence to know that if I go in first and hard, I would at least be able to buy myself a bit of time. “Punch first” has been my mantra for the past year.

I’ve read a few things about self-defence over the years, so already had some idea of what to do. A lot of the advice is very different from what you may “feel” is right. 9 Myths About Self-Protection, is pretty good. Here’s a very quick run-down, my asides in italics:

Myth #1 You should reason with your attacker. (He’s a criminal ergo he’s unreasonable.)
Myth #2 If you’re attacked, scream for help. (You don’t have time to be saved.)
Myth #3 You need to cause pain. (No, you need to injure.)
Myth #4 Being fit can save your life. (All you need to do is injure them. Being fit may make that easier.)
Myth #5 You need technical self-defense skills. (It helps, but all you need to do is injure them.)
Myth #6 Women who survive are fearless. (You will be terrified, but you will operate with your fight or flight instinct. If you’re even a bit prepared you can react with confidence.)
Myth #7 Focus on blocking his attacks. (Focus on injuring them.)
Myth #8 Try to back away from your attacker. (He can run forward faster than you can move backwards.)
Myth #9 Hit as often and as quickly as possible. (Hit HARD, even once, and injure them.)

So back to my story:

I saw a strange man in my son’s bedroom. My first thought- “Is there anyone else with him?”- disappeared immediately. The one thing I know about self-defence (rather than boxing) is that you need to fight for your life. There’s no ‘being nice’. There’s no ‘maybe I can talk my way out of this’. There’s no ‘let’s just see what happens here’. You must approach it with a ‘kill or be killed’ attitude. I had no idea if that man was armed, if he would try and attack me, if he would try and rape me, if he would try and kill me. Life or death stuff. I wasn’t going to wait to find out.

I punched first.


I immediately ran into the room, shouting (and not a ‘girly’ scream, but a deep, loud, roaring, dominant boom), got in close and right-hooked him to the face. It wasn’t a technically brilliant punch (my second and third knuckles were bruised). I didn’t punch to score points from judges. I didn’t punch and snap back ready to punch again to continue the fight until the end of the round. I threw everything into it like a heavy weight does- a big, full-bodied, ‘you’re going fucking down! my fist shoulder and whole body are going straight through your fucking head’ whallop. He made a “well, that really wasn’t very nice at all” sound, pushed past me, ran down the stairs with me chasing after him continuing to shout and out the front door of the house.

I phoned 999, gave them a description, they went straight to the local CCTVs, he was picked up, the cops came to my house and drove me past him, I IDed him, he was arrested, they found his finger prints in my house, he was charged, they put him on remand, he pleaded guilty and I just found out on Friday that he’s been sentenced to 8 months in prison.

The end.

Would I do it again? I’ve no idea. Probably. Remember, I punch first. :) Would I recommend you do it? Not really. Unless you’ve been trained even a bit, your punch isn’t going to have much of an effect which would open you up to being attacked. You really do need to know how to injure someone with a punch. I could have still been attacked – I had no idea if he knew how to fight or would try and punch back. Would I recommend you start taking self-defence training? Yes, yes, yes, yes. I didn’t start boxing training for that reason at all, but I would highly recommend it alongside a much more practical street self-defence course that teaches you awareness and how to handle various different situations.

Apparently, I was the talk of the police station for a few days after the burglary. The police officer who was dealing with my case said that he had never had another case where someone punched a burglar. All of the officers I spoke to asked “Are you the one who punched him?… Well done!” They said they wished more people were like me and had some kind of self-defence training in order to know how to handle themselves in these unusual situations.

Recently, the new Miss America suggested women take self-defence classes in order to defend themselves and “Twitter feminists” went crazy with accusations of “victim blaming”. Caroline Criado-Perez wrote an article in the New Statesman about how self-defence training wasn’t victim blaming and she got all kinds of crap from people saying it was, it was, it was victim blaming.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is common after a burglary even if you don’t confront the burglar. Deep feelings of violation, anger and trauma are common. The idea that you were helpless can worsen these feelings and make it difficult to come to a satisfactory resolution. One can develop trouble sleeping or even a fear of leaving the house.

Apart from a couple days immediately afterwards of quite powerful flashbacks where I was “re-living” over and over again the moment where I saw him and punched him, I’ve been fine. I have no trouble sleeping at all. When I spoke to Victim Support they said perhaps it was because I’d got all of my anger out when I punched him and there was none left to torment me. To me, that feels right. I was not a victim. If anything, I was the aggressor as I punched first, I punched hard and I punched strong. I am not weak, I am not vulnerable. But I only feel this because I have done boxing training.

Sociologist Jocelyn Hollander researches self-defence training and the prevention of violence against women. Her research into sexual assault has shown that:

women who complete a self-defense class are significantly less likely to be sexually assaulted in the following year than similar women with no self-defense training. Self-defense training has also been found to increase women’s confidence, shift their understanding of their own bodies, and change gender expectations and interactions.

Boxing training has very definitely given me confidence and a completely different understanding of my body and what this female body is capable of. Resistance to the idea of self-defence training is often based in deeply ingrained sexist ideas of what “a woman” is, should be and is capable of. We have been taught that we are passive, that we can’t ever be strong. The idea that women – feminists even!- continue to believe this saddens me. And I’m calling bullshit.

Women can be physically strong, women do not have to be passive, women do not have to be victims. I am strong, I can defend myself and, damn it, I punch first.

So I ask you again “What would you do?”