Girls are supposed to be sweet and nice.
Girls don’t hit. Girls don’t fight.
Sweet and nice girls grow into women who avoid conflict, smooth things over, and never say anything that could hurt anyone…
Women who hesitate to defend themselves…
Women who are easily taken advantage of…
Women who roll with the punches instead of fighting back.
This week’s guest Cindy Villanueva didn’t learn to fight for herself until her 30s, when she took up martial arts so she could have something to do with her kids.
As she learned to spar on the mat, she began to see where she’d avoided fighting for what was right in her own life.
In her book Don’t Fight Mad: A Black Belt’s Quest to Recapture Joy, she tells the story of the way martial arts transformed her life. It taught her about her own power. It taught her that it’s never too late to get off the sidelines. And it taught her to go after her dreams.
What You’ll Learn
Cindy’s mom died from cancer in 2011, two weeks before she would have celebrated her 51st wedding anniversary with Cindy’s father.
That’s the kind of love Cindy expected for herself.
Staying married forever…
Sitting on the porch in rockers, holding hands.
But that’s not what life had in store for her.
Starting with an unplanned pregnancy that caused her to drop out of college, Cindy struggled to find her way through emotionally abusive relationships. She never imagined she’d end up an empty nester with two divorces behind her.
“It’s nothing at all like what I expected this part of my life would be,” she says.
But in many ways, it’s a million times better.
Today, Cindy is an adjunct professor of marketing at Concordia University Texas with an MBA under her belt. She’s a successful business owner, running Ernie Reyes World Martial Arts in Austin.
She’s a seventh-degree black belt master instructor and an in-demand speaker on leadership and women in business.
She didn’t let life defeat her.
She learned to stand up and fight back.
This is the story of how she did it.
Midlife Martial Arts
Back in 1994, Cindy’s kids were taking martial arts lessons.
Cindy had signed them up after her daughter got into a pushing match at school, and her parents wanted the kids to learn to defend themselves.
She found an Ernie Reyes school in San Jose that taught not just kicking and punching, but also values she was trying to instill in her children: respect, self-discipline, and excellence.
Cindy was happy sitting on the sidelines with the other moms. But there was an instructor who kept coming up to her and saying, “You know you want to get out here!”
Cindy couldn’t see herself doing martial arts. She was too old. She was too out of shape. Maybe when the kids were purple belts.
But then one day she went with her kids to watch a black belt test. She saw a number of women in their 30s on the mat. If they could do it, she mused, why couldn’t she?
She signed herself up for classes the very next week, never thinking in a million years that anything would come of it.
Learning to Fight
Like so many of us women, Cindy was not taught how to fight.
She grew up with a brother who had no problems throwing a punch, but she was taught that girls don’t hit.
Of course we shouldn’t hit for no reason.
“But there are times when it’s appropriate,” Cindy adds, “one of which is in a sparring match.”
As she learned to hit back within the safe context of sparring, she began to feel a new sense of power.
“Especially for us as women, fight is not a word that we typically associate with ourselves,” she explains. “It feels very aggressive. It can feel very mean.”
But fighting “doesn’t mean strapping on gloves or getting all aggressive or being hyper-masculine.” Women can fight, too.
“The truth of the matter is, you can fight for what’s right.”
Teaching Girls to Fight
Cindy flourished within the Ernie Reyes organization.
She got the opportunity to open her own school in Austin, where she moved from the role of student to instructor.
Her job was to teach her young students to fight.
The boys picked up sparring naturally. They didn’t seem to have any problem hitting or being hit.
But the girls were different.
Cindy remembers one pair of sisters. They were super-excited to advance to the level where they could finally start sparring. They picked out their gear, everything in pink.
The girls were excited, but their dad was not.
He asked Cindy, “How are you going to protect them? Can they get hurt? Could they get punched in the face?”
Cindy replied, “Well, yeah. This isn’t a knitting club. This is martial arts. But they’re wearing headgear. They have a face shield. There’s always two black belts in every ring… They’re going to be fine.”
When sparring day arrived, the girls were just fine.
“They had no problem taking a punch,” Cindy remembers. “They’d get kicked; they’d get punched. They’d come right back.”
But she noticed something unusual.
“Every single time they would punch, they’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!'”
Cindy stopped everything. “What is going on here?” she asked. “What do you mean, you’re sorry?”
She started paying closer attention, and she realized it was all the girls. They were all apologizing.
No More Apologies
When we hurt someone, we apologize.
Even if we hurt them in self-defense.
Even if we were supposed to do it.
“You’re not in the sparring match to just get hit; you’re in a sparring match to score points,” says Cindy.
“And it’s exactly the same thing in life. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to throw a punch.”
To train her girls to stop apologizing, Cindy gave them instructions.
If one of the girls felt she’d hit too hard, she could say, “Time out. Are you okay?”
But if the girls continued saying sorry, Cindy ordered 10 pushups until she broke them of the habit.
“I don’t want you saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ when it’s an appropriate use of force,” she told them.
“I don’t want you saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ if you actually have to use this out in the parking lot.
“You cannot get in the habit of apologizing for doing what’s right.”
Fight for Yourself
As Cindy absorbed the lessons she was teaching, she found herself questioning her own habit of taking the punches but never punching back.
She’d accepted it when her second husband cheated on her and embezzled from the company. Now, it was time to strap on those gloves and fight back.
“So many of us just automatically write off fighting” as something bad, she says.
Of course you don’t want to go out and pick a fight.
“But if someone is taking advantage of you, you have every right to defend yourself, physically or figuratively.”
Cindy will be 60 in September, and it doesn’t phase her.
“I can remember when my mom was 60, and she was an old woman. I’m not an old woman!” she says.
“We don’t have to be old at 40 or 50 or 60 or 80. I’m reinventing the rules for myself constantly.”
In her book Don’t Fight Mad: A Black Belt’s Quest to Recapture Joy, Cindy leads readers through a series of lessons and questions designed to help them consider who they are, where they are, how they got there, and where they want to be.
Even if life has hit you hard, it’s time to get off the sidelines.
“Maybe you need to go back to school, like I did. Maybe you need to chill out, and you need to go get a yoga class. Or you need to start painting, or you need to do whatever. But go through the questions,” she urges.
“Figure out where you are. Figure out what you need.
“And believe 100% that no matter what you’ve ever done, no matter what decisions you’ve made, no matter what anybody has ever said to you about who you are… that you have every right to deserve and believe that you are worthy of a life of joy and love.”
If you’re ready to take up Cindy’s challenge…
And you’re ready to stop rolling with the punches and strap your own gloves on…
Then we have a very special opportunity for you!
During the month of May, Goodreads is offering 100 readers the opportunity to get the ebook version of Don’t Fight Mad for free.
Cindy is experienced global marketing and communications professional with a passion for connecting people and ideas. She believes in the power of storytelling and relishes the process of creating unique ways to express a brand. She is an inspirational leader who values positive and productive relationships. I have a strong record of building high-performing global teams and am an enthusiastic developer of talent. Find out how you can work with Cindy.