When I teach one hour self-defense classes with IMPACT Bay Area, one of my favorite moments is about a third of the way through. We’ve done some work with body language boundaries and “stop sign hands” (exactly as you’re picturing them). We’ve experienced to some degree the feeling of power over another person that many assailants are seeking. We’ve acknowledged that someone who crosses a boundary does not deserve our culturally-obliged politeness anymore. Even at 5 or 6pm after a long workday, at this point in class, people are starting to feel engaged and curious about the social dynamics that create their often constant experience of fear.
Then I add another tool.
A significant percentage of attacks can be stopped by a single determined act of resistance. Something as simple as yelling the word…
I yell this out, at full, 100%, blood-curdling volume. The room jolts like a 5.5 earthquake just hit. Then everyone gets to practice; first, as a group, and finally, individually. It’s electrifying. Aside from the mothers in class, most people haven’t used their voice at full volume in as long as they can remember. It’s astonishing but I was the same way in my first IMPACT class. I didn’t even know what my full volume sounded like. I’m still amazed, after 3 years of taking or teaching these classes, how people come alive when they hear themselves use their own voice. It’s a tool most of us have at the ready, and after childhood, we seem to completely forget. We forget a lot of things.
The techniques we learn in IMPACT use our bodies. We don’t teach pepper spray or how to shoot a gun. We don’t use advanced martial arts with nunchucks or knives. I always describe it to people as street fighting. It sounds badass (especially to middle schoolers who are, by far, the most hard-to-impress demographic) but it simply means that you could use these techniques with no notice, with no warm up, with no assistance. Just the incredible body — from the danger-sensing physiology in our brains, the ability to regulate adrenaline responses with our breath, the capacity to startle and draw attention with our voice, our power and strength with physical strikes, and our resilience in cultivating support and recovering afterward.
The weekend-long classes drill this competence into our bodies and minds, often transforming people who entered fearful and terrified into inspired, empowered warriors. But even after an hour of this potent curriculum, I see people entertaining the possibility that they too are strong. And though we can’t promise taking one class (or a hundred) will ensure no harm ever comes their way, I can see a lot of people’s worst fears dislodging ever so slightly from what seemed a permanent home in their psyche.
I’ve experienced the transformation of my own fear. I’m still alert when I’m on BART or in a rambunctious crowd, but having practiced setting verbal and physical boundaries over the course of hundreds of hours these last few years, I can say with some confidence my assailant wouldn’t walk away from that fight unscathed. I have no desire to initiate a fight but just know… I would rise to that challenge. My body language and energy make it clear that if an assailant is looking for an “easy” target, they won’t find that with me. (This is not to say it’s anybody’s fault for having a freeze response, it’s not.)
Learning these skills has made me feel safer in the world. Both because I know I have the tools and training to defend myself in most situations, and because it has demystified the “bad guy”. Everyone has weak zones. You can’t build muscle in your nose or groin. Everyone is human and has psychological vulnerabilities. Everyone is a little stunned when a person uses their voice as full-volume. I don’t see assailants as unbeatable villains, I see them as utterly, devastatingly human.
A lot of people criticize how others respond (or fail to respond) to situations in cell phone videos, the type we developed a curriculum around. But the freeze response is even more common than fight or flight, especially with bystanders. When your body is flooded with adrenaline, good intentions and what you think you would do goes out the window. Our classes train effective responses to these situations and give you an opportunity to practice them. As the Kensei reminds us, how we practice is how we fight.
You can only fight the way you practice.
We’re at an interesting time culturally. #MeToo galvanized a lot of disempowered communities to rise up and set some strong collective boundaries. “Boys being boys” got rightly challenged. Women got some catharsis to witness serial abusers tried and convicted, at least in the court of public opinion. I took my first class just before this president was elected. I’ve witnessed victims of harassment, abuse, gaslighting and trauma face their worst fears in IMPACT classes with our incredible suited instructors. They get to redefine past experiences and get some perspective on their anxiety. I’ve seen psychologically traumatized people rediscover their resilience and reclaim their right to be treated the way they want to be. We learn how to use boundaries and open up a world of possibilities. IMPACT Bay Area has created one of the most powerful healing tools and trainings for the challenges we live with today.
Being a student and taking my first class with IMPACT in July of 2016 was a revelation. Becoming an instructor has brought about a level of personal development I never anticipated. The process has been one of the most meaningful undertakings of my life. Discovering how powerful I can be and participating in others‘ empowerment is a phenomenal joy. I only wish more people could know the feeling.
Good news, they can. You can.
Are you local?
Come to our Community Celebration, an epic party on August 11 at Impact HUB Oakland, where you can watch a set of fights with our suited instructors and a group of graduates. Tickets here.
Not local? You can still be a (my) hero.
Help me fundraise to fight, I only need $100 per fight but my goal is $1000 so if you’re able to support, donate here. (Let me know if you donate so we can track it. )
All the funds we raise for this event go toward growing our organization so we can offer more classes, more scholarships (we don’t want money to be a barrier to people getting this training, we reserve 25% of our classes for scholarship recipients), and developing more amazing staff. We would love to offer an all-scholarship class in 2020.
And if you’re ready to enroll yourself or someone you love, summer and fall classes are here.
It’s worth it, I give you my word… at full volume and with all my heart.