Mixed martial art is so common these days that people just say MMA and the conversation starts. Even little old ladies and gents are in the mix.

Popular TV shows bring variations of the full-contact sport complete with personalities ranging from fighting school teachers to grown-up privileged children. Thoroughly violent, it is nevertheless sometimes piped into living rooms during family viewing hours. Take a close-up look at the eyebrow scar tissue and permanently swollen ears of some of these guys, then ask yourself, why do people do this? Is it the money, the notoriety, the star power, the adrenalin?

One late summer evening, I was riding MAX from the airport to Beaverton. The train was close to empty and almost eerie in the dimmed light of a long pre-departure wait from the PDX terminus. I stowed my gear bag on top of the seat on the aisle side and opened a book - even though I was fighting to stay alert. The train jarred me wide awake as it pulled out. Two stops into the trip, a drugged-out hooker got on, mumbling to herself, which immediately turned into singing loudly to the ceiling. She smelled of wine and wore dirty pink ballet slippers barely recognizable. In July, where did the mud come from that colored her feet almost ankle high?

Pupils almost microscopic, her eyes were wide open the way they are for a split second when somebody is surprised or scared. Hers were staying that way and she wasn't blinking. She was bracing herself and clinging to one of those poles. As the lights in MAX blinked, she let go of the pole with her feet wide apart. Now, with her rump jammed against the pole, she started waving both arms in high-speed tai chi. Then, quickly as a channel change, she bit off the song and started clawing at the air in front of her face while profanely berating an invisible pimp. Good ole MAX continued bumping along as she was struggling to stay upright, battling her pimp apparition with an occasional kick. She tried twice to push him from the moving train. It wasn't the pimp but a lurch from MAX that put her face down onto the lap of the only other passenger in the car, a trembling exhausted looking 60ish lady who wore a hospital gown, jeans and one of those plastic hospital wrist bands.

The lady in the gown got off at Gateway. And the hooker stumbled off a few minutes later at Lloyd Center. There, three unshaven 30ish white guys with plaid shirts open three buttons down, tight fitting 501 Levis walked on. One carried an open beer and another took a long drag on a roach before snuffing it between thumb and forefinger then filing the rolled butt away in his shirt pocket. I thought this ride on MAX was actually pretty normal. Nobody got hurt, MAX was on time, there were plenty of seats, and the company was interesting.

Reality check! This ride and too many others like it in different cities convinced me at age 72 I need to be more ready for self-defense than I am.

For years, I have been no stranger to physical activity. I am in overall good health. I have a daily gym workout and am not a tiny guy. In 72 years, my life has put me in some threatening circumstances, but I have always felt physically capable of getting myself out of a jam.

Oops, time for reality check No. 2! Long before age 72, one's reflexes slow, trusted muscles grow weaker, balance and coordination wither. Self-defense moves learned 50 years earlier fade and some disappear entirely. So what does one do?

There are some choices. One can hand over the wallet, take a beating, beg for mercy, get stabbed, be raped, murdered or maimed or other equally bad things. Actually, what I did as a result of this awakening was search for a self-defense MMA class designed for oldsters.

I found one in my back yard at the Elsie Stuhr Center. This is a senior center for people 55 and better.

This particular self-defense class meets once per week, and the instructor is one David Bersaas, a very dangerous man and outrageously great teacher. The class size is small. This is my second season in the class, and I feel a lot more aware and a lot safer these days. I am aware of my old-timer limits, but now I also know some new MMA techniques that tend to level the field. I intend to continue with these affordable MMA self-defense classes for a very long time.

Ken says, be alert, be fit, be prepared.

(Ken Boire is a Beaverton resident.)

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