“Honestly, therapy is great. Talk about your feelings. We love that, but also, your therapist isn’t going to put you in a chokehold and be like ‘okay, let me know when you’re all right,'” said Karissa Carlson, a jiu-jitsu student of two years.

Carlson, newly single, had decided to try martial arts to fill the recently conceived free time in her life.

“I knew nothing. I knew no one. And I’m sure I looked really, really awkward,” Carlson said.

She had grown up completely unathletic but liked the idea of learning to fight and was still feeling the repercussions of a past traumatic relationship, even after dating other people.

“I’m in this weird phase of self-loathing, I guess. Maybe I just don’t care if I get beat up,” Carlson said.

Carlson sparring with Julio De Jesus.

Carlson sparring with Julio De Jesus. Photo credit: Karissa Carlson

Carlson began attending the 5:45 a.m. class at Mamoru Martial Arts.

Everyone was kind and understanding towards the new person, but that did not make it a cakewalk.

Training can be terrifying.

A stomach, chest or arm begins to crush one’s face, slowly closing off airways or blood vessels and pushing consciousness away.

“I’ve cried a couple of times at training … your body will remember, you know, when it was hurt,” Carlson said. “And I still have my moments once in a while that I can feel that, but I handle it so much better now.”

Carlson sparing with her husband, Ethan Carlson.

Carlson sparring with her husband, Ethan Carlson. Photo credit: Karissa Carlson

At first, the man Carlson previously dated was great.

They met at her young single adult ward.

He was nice.

And then, it all changed.

“I feel like everyone calls their ex a narcissist, right?” Carlson said. “But whatever you want to call it, he lacked empathy and he was an incredibly insecure person … and he got very, very comfortable man-handling me.”

Carlson froze up during these episodes.

She left the relationship and tried dating others, but still was not okay.

While sparring with her teacher, there would be pressure on her chest or face, she could feel her thoughts clouding and her body becoming extremely sensitive, but instead of tapping out or taking a break, she would ask him to keep her in the uncomfortable hold.

Practice after practice, she built up an immunity to fear.

“Instead of feeling panicked, I can just think really, really clearly. Like, while being in a chokehold,” Carlson said.

Gradually, her mind began to heal. Fear left her day-to-day life. Any fear of confrontation, social or physical, was gone.

Carlson does not hesitate to take the difficult clients her co-workers shy away from at her job as a hairdresser.

“My brain has been trained to handle high stress and that’s just been a huge game changer,” Carlson said.

Her mental resilience was not the only thing that improved.

As she continued to progress in martial arts, she took better care of her body, making rest and healthy eating a priority.

Instead of being a chore, going to the gym was an opportunity to concentrate on improving different muscle groups advantageous in her jiu-jitsu training.

On one date, the man Carlson was with started to get more physical than she wanted.

Her eyes latched on to his starchy dress collar and she decided she would ask him to stop, but if he didn’t, she knew a chokehold that would put her in control of the situation within seven seconds.

“It’s just like very empowering to know that I’m not at the mercy of other people,” Carlson said. “That if push comes to shove, I could do something about it.”

Carlson practicing boxing.

Carlson practicing boxing. Photo credit: Karissa Carlson

A friend asked Carlson if she could come to teach a girl some self-defense moves. The girl’s abusive ex was coming into town and had been texting her, severely worrying the girl.

“It was kind of just like looking at myself from before and seeming so scared. And that’s when I realized, I’ve come a really long way, ” Carlson said. ” … That scenario doesn’t scare me anymore.”

Carlson demonstrated several techniques with the girl, talking her through some potential situations.

“It’s so wonderful to have my peace back,” Carlson said.

Carlson’s martial arts teacher is Alexander Greenfield.

“He’s got like three little daughters, right, so I think somewhere in there it’s more like a personal thing,” Carlson said. “You can’t really pay someone back for that … he has helped a lot of people more than he realizes.”

Greenfield, pictured front and center, with some of his students.

Greenfield, pictured front and center, with some of his students. Photo credit: Cat Menlove

Carlson is now helping at a new women-only jiu-jitsu class.

Carlson and her husband Ethan Carlson on their wedding day.

Carlson and her husband, Ethan Carlson, on their wedding day. Photo credit: Karissa Carlson

“…I do believe that even if things happen to us that aren’t our fault, it is our responsibility to do what is necessary to heal ourselves because we deserve the peace,” Carlson said. “And if we don’t take that responsibility for healing ourselves, who will?”