Fighting off fear with jiujitsu

Story highlights

  • Michelle Anthony says she was crippled by fear after her divorce
  • She began jiujitsu classes, which helped her conquer fear and taught her many things

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(CNN)Michelle Anthony doesn't feel afraid anymore.

She has been training for more than a year in jiujitsu (which involves "grappling" or wrestling, as opposed to striking one's opponent) and has already won a bronze in a statewide competition in Hawaii. But she doesn't have a long history of such success.
When she began her classes, she was several years out of her marriage. Friends told her she might have something akin to post traumatic stress disorder. She says that she lived in fear of being hurt or killed.
    "I would jump at the tiniest sound," she said. "Friends would suddenly walk up next to me and I would embarrassingly yell out in fear. I locked my bedroom door at night and I often put things in front of the door to block it, 'just in case'."
    When a new man came into her life, she realized that her crippling fear was hurting their relationship. She had to do something about it, and wanted to conquer her fears head on. That's when she went to her first jiujitsu class in Waipahu, Hawaii. Many of her friends and family protested, believing she might get hurt. Her more traditional mother especially was uncomfortable with a woman fighting.
    Anthony had her reasons, though. "I thought that by fighting men over and over, I would gain my sense of empowerment back," she said. "I did gain it back, but not in the way I thought."
    Through her training, she learned where empowerment really came from.
    She realized that not all men are the same. "I could roll around the mats with huge guys and come out of it unscathed. It was not my training that protected me, it was the gentleness of the guys I rolled with too."
    Her coach, Jay Penn, remembers that when Anthony started "she was a little timid, but then she had a great time after that first class, after not being sure. Now she's really into it and has recruited people." She was the only woman in her first class, but now several more women have joined since.
    She even gained a nickname, the "Pressure Princess," and entered the North American Grappling Association's statewide tournament taking the bronze. "Next I want the gold."
    Since she started training, the nightmares have stopped altogether. "In fact, my gentle soft-spoken boyfriend now trains jiujitsu with me and we have an entire community of jiujitsu friends behind us."