The Cutting Edge

Self-defense training empowers Kate M. Reese—and gives her a heck of a bar story

Published in 2021 Virginia Super Lawyers Magazine

Kate M. Reese knows 72 ways to kill you—and the family law attorney doesn’t mean on cross. For nine years, she has been working her way through the ranks of krav maga, a form of self-defense that incorporates jujitsu and Filipino stick fighting. Throw in Reese’s side interest in sakeen (Hebrew for “knife”), and “It’s probably more like 150 ways now,” she says.

Earlier in her career, Reese was stalked by opposing parties. While she says krav maga wasn’t a direct response, a heightened awareness of personal safety was. When she learned about krav maga, she was all in.

“I was looking for exercise, but I’m also big on safety education,” Reese says. “This is both.” 

Reese says the practice’s tenet is, “Do what you have to do to get away.” But she has her own rule: “Make sure they can’t get up.”

That’s why she travels with an 18-inch steel baton. “If an attacker is smart, as soon as they hear that thing snap open, they should be running,” Reese says. “If I hit you in the temple, you’re in trouble.” 

Her nine grueling years of three sessions a week has earned her a brown belt. “This is not playing,” Reese says. “The testing is incredibly intense. But there are levels to go. I plan to reach black, and then maintain.”

She’s only had to use her training once: A stranger at a bar mistook the 5’3, 115-pound Reese for an easy target and got uncomfortably close. “In three simple moves, I had this 6-foot-tall guy on the floor,” Reese says. “I said, ‘Do not screw with people you don’t know. Now I’m going to take my hand off the back of your neck, and I’m going to go back to my table. When I sit down, you can get up.’ ‘Yes, ma’am,’ he says. He waited until I was seated, and then he got up.”

The training isn’t handy just in bars. “Not only is it a perfect outlet for stress, I’m also much more confident in my body to support me if I need it to,” she says. “It also goes to all-around health, particularly mental clarity”—something she needs in spades as she is set to begin her residency to become a licensed professional counselor. 

“My lawyer friends say, ‘Why would you quit being a lawyer to be a therapist?’” Reese says. “I’m not. But what I’m studying has informed my practice tremendously. I’m 57 now; I’ve already spent 22 years in school because I took things slow—what’s a few more?”

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