The first college course I took at Portland Community College (PCC) was karate. I had good reasons. I was a beautiful, young girl walking dangerous streets every night.
This dangerous walk was not by accident. It was part of my career plans. Throughout high school I studied English, typing, stenography, bookkeeping, and participated in a work-study program to become a secretary. The week I finished high school, I moved to Oregon to be with my boyfriend. I had a place to live with him and his family, but wanted to work quickly to support myself. His parents had two teens, a daughter and son, to worry about.
Following my career plan, I started working any jobs I could land in the secretarial field to support myself. My money went to buy food, clothes, save for our own place, pay medical and dental bills, and make payments on our first car.
Within a year, I landed my dream job as a real secretary to two executives at a real estate investment firm in downtown Portland, Oregon. I wanted to work in Portland for my career, not the atmosphere. Portland was a gritty city. Portland was not the mini-Manhattan it is today with good restaurants, trendy bars, beautiful hotels, and fancy shops on every corner. We had major urban blight. Pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers lived downtown in low-rent motels, lingered on street corners, and actively worked their trade every day and night.
Like myself, plenty of business people worked in downtown Portland, but few stayed to shop or eat in the evening. In fact, there was no place to hang out in the evening as most services shut down. Each night I walked a long 15 blocks to meet up with my future father-in-law, as he was my carpool ride home to our country house in Aurora, Oregon. I was constantly being followed by pimps who called out directly “hey baby” or much scarier silent sinister types.
PCC offered a physical education class in karate after work, the perfect antidote. My “sister” and I signed up together, and bought the required white belt outfits. We quickly discovered this outfit wasn’t really designed for women, so we used safety pins to hold the top part together. Both of us were very fit from daily running, hiking or playing tennis together, weighing in at around 110 pounds each. We arrived the first day to find we were the only women in the class. So naturally, the instructor made us sparring partners.
Karate was fun and challenging. It built our physical strength, and gave both of us a great aerobic workout. It taught us mental strength and agility. The 12-week class was based on defense against attacks, from behind, from the front, being punched, kicked, and so on. The instructor drilled into everyone to block, twist, defend yourself fast in one or two key blows, then run. Plus karate was credit class. It still counts on my transcript today as my physical education credit towards my degree.
Yes, that first college class in karate was life-changing. Even the first week, I walked my commute in those dangerous streets a new brave woman, knowing if I needed to, I could “block, kick, punch and run”.