My name is Sophie Newnes. I’m 24 years old and I’m a martial arts practitioner. I started martial arts at the age of five: my parents thought it was best that I learnt self-defence. At that age I didn’t have a clue why I would need to learn self-defence, I just assumed it was because I was destined to become a superhero.
I took to martial arts straight away, perhaps that was due to my “tomboy” nature and being a very energetic child - it was definitely a sport that suited my personality.
Martial arts helped me to learn discipline, respect, build confidence (God knows I needed that to help me surpass bullying), but most of all, it was a way for me to express myself.
So, fast forward 13 years to December 11th 2010 - just two months after representing Great Britain at the world martial arts games - I soon found myself in the most important fight of my life. In the early hours of the morning I was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver. In that moment I was able to put my 13 years of training into practice. On reflection, I remember feeling composed and clear-headed with my full focus on getting away. I felt calm and confident. I wouldn’t say the self-defence I used was anything spectacular or particularly advanced - I just did what I had to do to get away. It was at that moment I realised why I needed to learn self-defence. It wasn’t to become a super hero or a world champion in martial arts, it was so I had the confidence in myself and my own natural abilities to stay safe as a female in this world we call home.
It’s been just over six years since that happened, so that means that taxi driver has just came off the sex offenders register. Do I hope he’s learnt his lesson? Yes. Do I think he’s learnt his lesson? No. When I stood up in court five years ago I was asked whether the incident had affected me as a person, and I said “No” but honestly…yes it has. It changed my view of the world and my perceptions of equality, diversity and the justice system, and it made me question just how safe women really are.
So, here I am. Still training, still competing, but best of all I’m still learning, and not just for me but for every other woman out there. I learn to become a better coach, I learn to become a better teacher, I learn to be able to share my knowledge.
People ask me why I do what I do in offering free self-defence lessons to women. Honestly, I do it in hope that one day we can live in a world where women don’t have to learn self-defence.