Just after the New Year, I started taking classes in self-defense, or as Isaac calls it, "ass-kicking." Studying a martial art has long been on my personal “to do” list, and for a variety of reasons now seemed like a good time. It’s refreshing, if humbling, to be a beginner again, to try on new movement patterns, and to leverage weight and momentum in new ways. The system I’m learning, Sanuces Ryu, combines techniques from various traditions but defines itself as a street fighting form of jujitsu.

I’m ok with blocking, but I discovered quickly that I have a hard time with strikes of any kind. It’s something that I struggle with in every class, this hesitation to hit another person. Not that we hit hard, but still, the intention to cause harm, even in self-defense, feels profoundly wrong to me. I was beginning to worry that my survival instinct was forever lost under many layers of non-confrontational, “good girl” programming.

But last week, another white belt helped me change my perspective by suggesting, “Don’t think that it’s the person you’re striking, but the dark energy.” My interpretation of this rather mystical advice is that rather than inflicting harm for harm’s sake, my task is to prevent an action or behavior that is dangerous. In other words, if someone attempts an assault in the street (harm for harm’s sake), my training could enable me to stop it.

To be fair, said training would, ideally, inflict damage on the perpetrator of an assault. Still, this change of framing helped me a lot. As I’ve discovered over and over again in dance, yoga, and improvisation, the focus of my intention fundamentally changes my experience. Instead of hurting my partner, I focused on establishing a clear boundary, and was then able to commit more fully to the drills and to finally stop holding my breath.

Because it’s so much on my mind lately, I can’t help but apply this re-framing to our current political situation. It’s becoming clearer by the hour that this is not about party values anymore, but rather about real dysfunction within our government. The question that looms large is how long will we allow the dysfunction to continue? When will we draw the proverbial line in the sand?

As much as any of us may dislike (or like) the President himself, he is not the point. The point is that questionable executive orders are being issued and extreme right policies are being written into law. There are ethical violations that need a strong defense. For me, it is easier to fight when I remember the point is to stop harm from being done, not for my party or my candidate to win over another. I don’t care about winning. I care about stopping the damage.

So when I read the news now, I do my best to screen out language that attacks individual people, and to focus instead on information about actual deeds, events, or legislation, and then I look for ways I can address those concrete things.

What do you consider worth defending, and how to you do it? Leave your thoughts in the comments.