Artwork by Todd Saucier

I WANT TO LEARN how to fight a bear. Sadly, there aren't bear-fighting classes in Portland (or anywhere, probably), so for this assignment, I opted to learn how to fight a man.

My background in fighting is that I don't have any. One time I pushed a really drunk guy who was aggressively hitting on me, but I don't think that counts. However! I'm all about empowerment, and I want to do something so I won't be pants-peeing scared when walking to my car alone at night. So last Saturday morning I got up early, put on my Notorious R.B.G. tank top, and kissed my boyfriend goodbye. "I'll be back in a little bit," I purred, "to murder you." Then: off to Tigard for Gracie jiu-jitsu!

For you weaklings who may not be familiar, this jiu-jitsu is a Brazilian martial art that teaches leverage over strength so that a small person (like me!) can take down a much larger opponent. This sounded right up my alley. I'm not ripped, but I could probably learn how to balance.

The folks at River City Warrior were happy to entertain my assassin dreams. Owner and instructor Joe Heller was badass, and we quickly got to grappling. Newbies like me were partnered with more advanced class members to practice each move. I got paired with a 12-year-old girl who was approximately my height but had several years of experience. She clearly wasn't there to play. But even though she was strong, I fought her off pretty good, and was embarrassingly proud of myself.

Once I'd mastered fighting children, I got an adult partner, and my confidence plummeted. We were taught tougher maneuvers and it got a lot harder to break free from an attack. I giggled as we folded ourselves into a pile of arms and legs. "AW IT'S LIKE WE'RE HUGGING!" I choked out. My partner ignored my immaturity and patiently explained how to squeeze her neck to pop off her head. (Popping off heads looks a lot like hugging, FYI.)

While this single class didn't give me the expertise needed to kill a man with my bare hands, at the very least I know some tricks. Like always work against the thumbs. And if up against a bigger attacker, leverage your tiny body for maximum destruction.

For self-defense, Joe said that the most important thing is spatial awareness. My instinct (and that of many women) is to look down and avoid eye contact with strangers, but don't! You should know who's who and where they are.

That said, if somebody makes it through this new hyper-aware security system, aim for the soft spots: groin, throat, and eyes. Joe said that a common mistake is hitting once and then taking off, but no! Keep fighting, and mix it up. Groin! Throat! Eyes! Throat! Eyes! Groin! Don't stop! And don't bolt too early. Put in some distance before you turn your back. Also: Carry something, and know how to use it. Keys or a phone can do some damage.

Joe asked if I got a lot out of the class, and I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up, but confessed that I'd set out to fight bears. "Oh, put out dog food," he said. "The bears will come to eat the dog food. Then you just shoot 'em."

And that's how I learned how to take down a man AND a bear.

River City Warrior, 14935 SW 72nd, Tigard, free trial for one-hour Gracie jiu-jitsu class, then $8-12 for individual sessions,