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I Taught My Teen Daughters How to Break a Guy’s Nose

I’m not overprotective; I’m just being proactive

young teenager girl in a boxing gym kicking a large punching bag
Jared Soares

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but my daughters, ages 12 and 16, know how to fight.

It’s something I have practiced with them for the past few years in twice-weekly sessions combining boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’ve spent the past 20 years studying jiu-jitsu, earning my black belt from the estimable Royce Gracie.

I’m compelled to share my knowledge with my daughters because the world is different for women. Rare is the man who draws the uncomfortable attention of classmates or coworkers. Nobody tells me to smile when I walk down the street. There’s no “resting son-of-a-bitch face.”

But for my girls, the overtures are already underway. I’ve heard the “hey baby” chorus directed at them a few times. My mission has been to make sure if that attention is unwanted and becomes aggressive, my girls become more trouble than expected.

We began when they were young enough to consider it play, roughhousing with an agenda. As they got older, there has been protesting; my leaning into their rooms to tell them it’s time for their rounds can elicit groans and eye rolls.

Jay Ferrari and his daughters during their jiu jitsu training at his martial arts facility in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Jared Soares

The key has been to keep the parental pressure light — progress, not perfection. They get to discover the satisfaction of crisp execution at their own pace. Some days they sleepwalk through it all; other days I’ve caught shots to the gut with enough sauce on them to leave me gasping for breath. And where they used to pause and apologize, now they press forward with a flurry. Punches come in bunches.

The girls and I practice and practice — and practice some more. They deliver cross-hook-cross combos after slipping the dumb overhand right every untrained male predictably throws. They drill wrist locks and hip throws off uninvited grabs. They hit knee-tap takedowns to full mount off hair pulls, and shoulder locks off unwelcome arms around their shoulders.

We’re creating what I hope is a bit of confidence — not to be an aggressor, but to know they can be properly aggressive should circumstances warrant. As my first boxing coach taught me: People don’t like to fight; people like to beat up people. This is the mantra I constantly reinforce. Don’t look like an easy target, and you won’t be one. If you’re on the brink of confrontation, knowing enough to fix your stance, raise your hands and step back out of striking range can be enough to diffuse a fight.

And I always reinforce the simple virtues of running away as fast as you can — which is much easier to do if a misguided suitor has dropped to a knee while blood leaks from his nose.