At West Point (and later in the Army), PT (physical training in this case, not physical therapy) was a big part of our existence. We spent a lot of time at it, for one thing, and for another it tended to present us with some of the longest-lasting lessons we learned there.
Speaking for myself, anyway--the longest-lasting lessons I learned, I learned in PT.
During plebe year, our PT courses were pre-specified. Oh, some people got tortured in boxing a semester or so before others, but everyone in the male gender eventually suffered through bleeding in the gym. Wrestling, too--all of us guys learned new and painful ways that our bodies weren't supposed to bend. There were two other classes, but those we got to take with our female classmates: gymspastics (how the hell did I only get a C in "trampoline"?) and swimming. Swimming class, by the way, didn't actually involve much swimming at all, but I'm gonna grant that little episode a post all its own.
Yearling year finally rolled over the horizon, leisurely coming along to our class in a testament to the fact that everything will eventually turn out okay if you just keep on pinging and breathing for long enough. Yay, we thought. We made it! Now we don't have to memorize the lunch and dinner menus every day! Now we can start taking non-general-ed classes! Now we can pick our own PT courses!
Yeah, not so fast. Yearlings were allowed to pick half of their courses, if "arrange in an order of preference so the department can choose something near the bottom" is an appropriate definition for pick. Right out of the gate, I got my second or third to the last choice: volleyball. My preferences notwithstanding, it didn't actually sound that bad, really, until I showed up the first day to be informed that it was combat volleyball. Visions of bikini-clad girls and topless guys all sporting dogtags and diving after the ball on the beach were quickly replaced by repetitious "bump, set, spike" rehearsals of repetitive repetition.
But we still had to take pre-selected courses. One of those was the CQC (Close Quarters Combat) course that I, and I think many others, both dreaded and looked forward to. In that course, the men and the women learned the concepts of CQC together. It was a pretty awesome course. To get the idea, think karate meets judo meets police academy. The final exam involved walking through a darkened gym that was partitioned off into "alleys" and "back lots" using large wall pads, fending off surprise attacks from other cadets dressed as thugs. What could possibly be more full of awesome sauce than that?
It was toward the beginning of the course that I learned the lesson to which this post is building, though. We were learning throws, a topic also known as what to do if someone makes body contact with you and you don't like it. They demonstrated a few times, and then paired us off to practice.
My partner--heh, you see this coming already, don't you? Yeah, my partner was a girl. A petite girl, at that. She was in my cadet company, and so we knew each other. She was a nice girl.
So, like any good strong manly-man partner, I volunteered to get thrown over her shoulder first. She stepped in front facing away from me, and with a great big smirk I sauntered up and negligently tossed an arm over the little girl's shoulder.
Did you know that you really can see stars indoors, under artificial lights? I saw them quite clearly, laying there on my back as I was. Took me a minute to remember how to breathe. Once my chest has returned to its normal up-and-down motion, the nice little girl helped my stunned and suddenly much less arrogant self up and onto my feet.
She--my diminutive classmate--had apparently been paying close attention when they'd instructed us in the use of all that leverage and fulcrum stuff. Me, I'd been--well, um, looking elsewhere.
That lesson hurt, man. I mean, it really hurt. My asses (both outer and inner) smarted for days.
But I learned. I've never underestimated a person, male or female, based on their size or their gender, again.