“ARE you tired?” growled MMA fighter and instructor Adrian Dziarnowski.

“No,” squealed a defiant voice.

“Ha, we’ll see,” he replied, with a shudderingly evil laugh.

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It was day two of the United Krav Maga World Organisation summer camp in Kolobrzeg, Poland. We were holding the push-up position after eight hours or so of training, and I briefly wondered whether I'd lost my mind. For this year’s summer holiday I’d decided to go for a week’s intensive training in the Krav Maga self-defence system, and even I could barely believe I was really there.

Even now, I’m still not sure exactly how it started. At the beginning of the year, still in the haze of post-Christmas and New Year celebrations, I impulsively decided that I wanted to learn how to fight. I had an odd sensation of thrilling excitement and deep discomfort at the thought. I’d always considered myself a pacifist, and the concept of violence has haunted me since childhood; the fear of violence, hatred and war fuelled a fascination in me from a young age of all kinds of conflict and destruction. It made me nauseous, filled my nightmares and frazzled my nerves, and so when I suddenly decided to begin classes in a street combat system, even I didn’t understand why. Perhaps it was time to face the fear.

Krav Maga felt like a natural choice. Created in Eastern Europe in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld to protect Jewish communities from Nazi attacks, it feels prescient at a time when we’re all trying to get a handle on the new wave rise of the far right across America and Europe.

I picked a class in Glasgow before I could talk myself out of it and was greeted over the phone by the man who would become my trainer – a “demanding trainer”, as he describes himself – Bartosz Szczepanski. He was straightforward, he gave me basic details about the class, and we left it at that. The rest was up to me.

I could have told him how nervous I was at the thought of attending a class, but I didn’t want to hint at fragility. I could have mentioned how inexperienced I was – I’d never so much as thrown a punch before my first class. I wanted to warn him how self-conscious I would feel giving it a go in front of a room full of strangers, but I worried that my lack of confidence might translate as vanity.

So I said nothing. I ignored every impulse telling me not to bother with this crazy idea and I went to my first class on a cold Wednesday night in early January. From then, I never looked back.

The biggest surprise for me was overcoming the internal prejudice I had about my gender. Women are not raised to fight; our societal conditioning tells us that it just isn’t our role, and that physical aggression is a more masculine attribute. Western societies have to an extent trained themselves out of aggression, Szczepanski later explained to me, because we’ve chosen to live with one another in a civilised way and we encourage less aggression rather than more. This is no bad thing, but aggression is built into our instincts. When it has no outlet, it can find other means of escape, like disciplined fighting systems, or roaring at your favourite football team once a week.

Perhaps it’s better to acknowledge what we’re capable of as human beings, to indulge our fears and flaws and, ultimately, take control. Maybe there’s a fine line between strong emotions like aggression and passion, but whatever that wild instinct is, it was easy for me to find it.

The training encourages fighters to find their aggression and to show it quickly. Krav Maga is about inflicting as much or as little damage as is necessary in the quickest time in order to get to safety. It’s vital to teach your brain to react to a threat, and not to freeze. It was only with training I realised how much danger I would be in if I found myself in a volatile situation. My natural instinct was to do all of the wrong things, and with Szczepanski’s help I was able to change my brain and body’s responses and trigger a more useful reaction.

I quickly felt addicted. The training affected me in ways I didn’t expect; I felt empowered, I felt assertive, not only in a physical sense, but in all aspects of my life. I felt a sense of freedom that I hadn’t experienced before, a sense that I could take care of myself in a whole new way.

It was a revelation for me in a world where violence against women is pandemic throughout society. I no longer felt like my defence systems were solely about avoiding such threats; rather I felt I had a more comprehensive arsenal of options should a problem arise. Instead of crumbling into a bag of nerves on a dark night when men feel entitled to heckle women, I began straightening my posture and putting my body on alert.

The change was an absolute transformation, and it’s happened to many more women than just me, according to the president of the United Krav Maga World Organisation, Master Tomasz Adamczyk, a former scientist who also has degrees in psychology and philosophy.

“Women focus more on instructions and details, and usually make faster progress than men,” he told me over lunch on the final day of our camp in Poland. “After many years of observation I see that girls collect details, checkpoints, and focus on doing it correctly.

“When some women start training with us they may be nervous and avoid eye contact, but year by year they change. It's amazing to see. It's unbelievable. We feel we are positively changing lives. What’s interesting is we can actually see this in the photographs we take during classes and camps. Women’s body language and silhouettes change and you can see the difference in their posture. Even their voices change. It's fantastic.”

Adamczyk believes that martial arts and self-defence differ from fitness classes because they create bonds between fighters which trigger our evolutionary responses.

“When we are fighting, we connect with the first rule of life: to survive. During training we are constantly surrounded by how to survive if somebody wants to punch or choke us. So in a stress scenario we are close to these emotional challenges with the people we train with, and we survive together. It forms relationships and everything changes, life changes. We’ve seen many marriages and strong friendships.”

Having enjoyed my whirlwind in Poland and my year so far learning Krav Maga, I decided to branch out a bit further and headed for Glasgow’s Everyday Athlete (EDA) gym to learn a bit of Muay Thai, a combat sport from Thailand.

It was a lot less intimidating taking my first steps into a new gym this time around. Instead, I was buzzing, excited, and ready for a challenge.

I was lucky enough to get my very own personal training stint with trainer and co-owner of the gym, Tommy Young, a Muay Thai trainer who teaches classes not only at EDA, but at Glasgow University.

According to Young, there has been a big change in the number of women taking up martial arts and self-defence training in recent years.

“I think we’re about 60-40 per cent female to male at the gym,” he says. “At the Glasgow University class, we’ve got about 250 members and I would say it’s 70 per cent female.

“I’ve been teaching up there for about 12 years. At the start we had about 15-20 members and it was always guys, with a couple of girls. In the last five years there’s been this massive shift, and it’s now predominantly females who want to hit pads, have fun and learn about fighting.”

He believes this could be a result of wider trends in sports fashion; it’s common now to see adverts depicting strength in women. Recent ones have featured names like singer Ellie Gould, showing off her boxing skills to demonstrate the strength of her haircare product, or Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams becoming the face of a skincare brand. It may be sending mixed messages to women about how exactly we view ourselves in relation to strength and violence when it becomes tied to stereotypically "girly" products, but it’s clear that a market has been established.

Indeed, a couple of years ago hashtags like #StrongNotSkinny and #FitNotFat hit the internet in an apparent storm of defiance against the dominant notion of beauty and success being associated with extreme weight loss.

“The only class that flips is the sparring class,” Young says. “Of about 250 members at the university classes, about 60-65 per cent are female, but on our Saturday classes here at the gym it's the other way around, so I still think guys take sparring a little bit more seriously. But girls are definitely getting into it more – the door has been opened.”

Our Krav Maga classes at the Griphouse in Glasgow are mixed. Trainer Bartosz Szczepanski often runs women-only classes, but he’s keen to point out that he sees no practical difference in gender. Indeed, the star fighter in our class is a woman, 21-year-old Rebecca Houston. She is dedicated, motivated and has captured the attention and praise of many senior trainers. A career in mixed martial arts could beckon for someone like Houston as fighting competitions like UFC continue to grow in popularity.

Having spent almost three years dedicated to Krav Maga training, she has now begun branching out and is considering her long-term future.

“Krav Maga has introduced me to a whole new world of martial arts and I’ve recently started training in MMA,” says Houston. “I want to pursue it and hope to one day compete.

“Competing in UFC would be a dream but I’m still at the beginning of a new journey into MMA. Right now I just love training with people from a multitude of disciplines.”

Regardless of any successes she goes on to have in MMA, Houston will always have a soft spot for Krav Maga and her introduction into this wild world.

“I love Krav Maga for so many reasons: for meeting so many people in the positive and encouraging atmosphere that we have at Glasgow Krav Maga; that it makes me feel so much stronger and fitter; and it’s empowering to know that I am much better equipped to defend myself and others if I found myself in a dangerous situation.”

Trainer Bartosz Szczepanski speaks in glowing terms about Rebecca Houston. He has been working with her for years, and he suspects a bright future ahead.

“Rebecca is my best student and I've never met a person who's so dedicated and hardworking,” he says. “I think because she is so dedicated and ambitious sometimes it actually makes me emotional, because I care about her becoming an amazing fighter, and maybe an instructor, and I think she has the predisposition to compete. I think she's absolutely made for a career in fighting.”

No such career beckons for little old me, but I won’t be quitting any time soon. Learning how to fight has given me a different perspective on that idea of violence that has caused me so much distress throughout my life. It challenged gender stereotypes I’d internalised without ever really acknowledging, and it gave me an irresistible form of expression I’ve never had before.

Fighting makes me feel alive, electric. The focus required allows me to completely lose myself, to sideline all my worries and thoughts in a way I’ve never been able to do. I gained my first two grades in Krav Maga within eight months, and it’s difficult to describe the sense of accomplishment that came with that.

That said, there’s no doubt that I’ve been conflicted at times about my new-found passion. I still despise violence, and it’s been challenging to discover that punching and kicking pads with as much force as I can during training is utterly exhilarating. But I now find it easier to understand how addictive that sense of power can be, that rush of endorphin-fuelled invincibility.

Rather than live in fear of violence, I now feel I’ve gained some control over it. Others may see it as an "if you can’t beat them, join them" attitude which is morally self-defeating. Whatever it is, I’m still willing to see where this journey will take me.