top of page

My Journey to Empowerment Self-Defense

Updated: Oct 24, 2023


Black and white picture with women in pink and black

As I began my own healing journey, I delved into shows like Scientology and the Aftermath and the Vow. Many of the abuses I faced as a young woman were prevalent in each episode I watched. A pattern began to emerge, and I started to understand that I was abused as a child, teen and young adult in the martial arts industry. I was taught to physically fight, how to do fancy kicks and break boards. I was taught knife defenses, nun-chucks, swords, and the Bo staff. I was so confident in my ability to defend myself; I walked right into abusive situations with the arrogance of physically fighting my way out if needed. What I wasn’t taught was setting and respecting boundaries, power dynamics in relationships, manipulation and coercion. Gaslighting, love-bombing and highly controlled environment are words I had never heard before. I realize now just how vulnerable I was as a teenage girl with no understanding of my own needs, wants, desires or boundaries. I was in the perfect position to be victimized. Empowerment Self-Defense helped me understand a way to help women take power in their own safety. Today I am a survivor sharing my story to help other women recognize abuse before it happens.

At 6 years old, I had my first karate class. I remember everything about that day. I walked in and saw a larger-than-life figure standing tall in front of the classroom of kids, a black belt was tied around his waist, and right then I knew what I wanted to do with my life. My first thought was if I couldn’t go to Japan and train for twenty years to be a ninja; I could be an instructor. For the next 15 years, I worked non-stop toward this goal. By 11, I was active in local tournaments, a leader on my demonstration team and the assistant instructor for multiple classes a week. By 13, I had earned my first black belt and local championship title. That year, I left my hometown studio and began training at an out-of-town competition-oriented studio to advance my career. By 15, I was a paid instructor teaching multiple days a week, a director of my demo team and competing in tournaments every weekend. A few weeks after graduating from high school and turning 18 I accepted a professional martial arts instructor job in Southern California. I spent the next 3 years teaching, learning and attending college full time for child development. I was setting the foundation and learning the skills to open my own school. I was on track to achieving everything I had ever wanted. Then it all came crumbling down at my feet like a house of cards just before I turned 21. I wouldn’t understand until later that what I thought was everything I had ever wanted was really a toxic, highly controlled and unhealthy environment. Nor would I understand the abuses I endured throughout the entirety of my career. At 21, for the first time in my life I had no goals, no job, no ambitions, no identity and no confidence. I had always been that Karate Girl, and I had no idea who Elicia the martial artist was without the martial arts. By 23, I had survived an abusive relationship, boxed up those memories and moved on with my life. By 30, I had successfully graduated from college, bought a house, got married and started a family. I believed I had moved on with my life and overcame my past.

The abuses I endured throughout my martial arts career were done over multiple years. I plan to tell my full story in time but today


I want to focus on an overview of how I went from badass martial artist to broken woman to empowered self-defense instructor. It starts when I was 16 and my 24-year-old martial arts introduced me to my first sexual experience. We had sex the first time just after my 16th birthday, while his parents and pregnant fiancé slept in the rooms next door. He told

me to stay quiet and not wake anyone, it would look bad on him if someone found us.

teenage girl black belt breaking board with foot. women's self-defense

I walked away from that situation as a confused and ashamed kid trying to handle adult problems while simultaneously protecting my abuser. He had told me I was the problem; I was a temptation, and I was ruining his business and his family. I believed him. The abuses I endured during my year long “relationship” with this instructor, I now understand as an inappropriate relationship with manipulation, coercion and gaslighting. There was no honesty, no trust and no communication. I had no power or equality in this relationship, he had held all the cards. My career was tied to him by the time he began sleeping with me, and he had a lot of control over who I dated and spent time with. I was so infatuated with this man that he only needed to ask me, and I would have done almost anything he said. When I walked away, I was too young and immature to truly understand the damage he had done to my maturing process. He had effectively changed the very way I felt about myself, looked at myself and how I presented myself. At 16, I felt as if I should have known he was not telling the truth, I should have recognized the signs that he was still engaged and most importantly I should not have tried to ruin this man’s family. I took the blame for the relationship and internalized it as I had been told it was my fault. He was a highly respected instructor of his own martial arts school with a family on the way, and I was just a teenage girl who took it too far. At 16 years old, with no sexual experience, I was pushed into a circumstance I was not ready for and held at fault for an adult decision I was not mature enough to make. Now as a grown woman, wife and mother I have just begun to understand how much damage can happen to a teenage girl given adult responsibilities and adult burdens.

Woman instructor smiling into camera. women's self-defense

I took another job teaching martial arts in Southern California shortly after graduating from high school. I was quickly introduced to the owner of the franchise’s son and began dating him almost immediately. Although I wasn’t looking for a relationship, I fell in love with the son and wanted to build a life with him. I faced abuses I wasn’t even aware existed while working under this owner and being considered “a part of the family”. I was love-bombed from the beginning and slowly more indoctrinated into believing I was working for my own goals to better myself as a woman and instructor. The owner would routinely break me down emotionally at our weekly instructor meetings by using my own mistakes and the mistakes of other instructors to berate me until I began to cry. He would tell me he was making me stronger, and he knew I could handle being reprimanded because it would help me in the end. I absolutely believed him; he was just trying to make me strong enough to run my own school and give me thick enough skin to handle the criticism I would face. About a year into my relationship, my boyfriend bought me a promise ring, the owner, my boyfriend’s dad, announced our engagement that same weekend to all the students and parents. I was engaged at 19 without ever being asked. The first time I ever questioned the owner and stood my ground on something I felt was unfair, his son ended our relationship by having his mom break-up with me at a Denny’s. My now ex-boyfriend had moved all his things out of our apartment while I was at work, so he wouldn’t have to see me. When we decided to try again, I moved back to Southern California and was given my instructor job back. I was told the expectation was for me to run the daily school operations behind the scenes, while my male co-worker would be given the title and pay as the school manager. I was told that I do not look the part of a school owner, being as I was 5’2, 20 and a woman. While my co-worker who had just earned his black belt less than a month prior was approximately 6’1, 30 and a male. When I argued my co-worker had no experience or understanding of the daily operations, I was told I needed to support the family goals. I was upset that I would be expected to do all the work with no recognition in either the position or pay. Frustrated with me, the owner finally revealed the truth and the families’ expectations. It was during this conversation I realized that my entire career to this moment, I had been trained to be a dutiful wife of an instructor, a behind the scenes owner and unrelenting support for my future husband. My dream to own my own school would never be a reality here. My job was to be a wife. No matter how hard I tried, how much I improved or how many hours I practiced. In the eyes of this man, the Dr., the Grandmaster, the respected business owner and a leader in the martial arts industry; I was nothing more than an object for him to use.

Pretty Hands, Hard Punches logo. women's self-defense

Pretty Hands, Hard Punches is my chance to be the adult role model that I so desperately needed in my life growing up. A strong

Woman Self-Defense Instructor in pink uniform with black belt

woman to stand up and say loudly that what happened to me was wrong. A fierce instructor to teach the signs to look for to help mitigate risks of falling for the same honeyed words and thought terminating tactics I fell for all those years ago. I decided to be that woman and to teach others how to defend themselves against the invisible abuses I had never known. I will teach the mental skills I was never taught, and help women everywhere recognize the red flags I never knew to look for. I will teach how to set boundaries, be confident in your choices, and physically defend those boundaries if necessary. I accept the mistakes I made, and I have dealt with the consequences of decisions of my past. But I will no longer hold myself accountable for the actions of the people who so clearly took advantage of me, used me and abused me. Pretty Hands, Hard Punches is the manifestation of using my own life experience and knowledge to be the positive influence I needed as a young girl.


 





101 views4 comments

4 Comments


LIFTING ISCAKE
LIFTING ISCAKE
Sep 27, 2023

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It definitely takes a lot of vulnerability and strength to put ourselves out there. I am sorry that you had to endure so much but I know you personally and I see you such a beautiful, strong boss woman that I get to call my friend.

Like
Elicia Ybarra
Elicia Ybarra
Sep 27, 2023
Replying to

You inspire me every day! I appreciate all your support, friendship and help with achieving my goals. Watching you put yourself out there gave me the courage to tell my own story.

Like

I had no idea! You are Gods and He loves you in the most pure way. I’m so proud of you Elicia-. I think the most brave thing is to share our stories and use the abuses we’ve suffered to help others. Thank you sweetie.

Like
Elicia Ybarra
Elicia Ybarra
Sep 26, 2023
Replying to

I have realized the power this trauma has had over me is significantly reduced the more I tell my story. Memoir is coming next.

Like
bottom of page