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Monday, March 30, 2020

What Can Empowerment Self-Defense Lessons Offer Us During a Pandemic?

Sister IMPACT Chapter Prepare in NYC offers insights into "What Can Empowerment Self-Defense Lessons Offer Us During a Pandemic" and how protecting public health is a form of self-defense because it keeps us all safer.
  • Safer physical boundaries might be the highest expression of love as we heed the call to implement social distancing measures
  • Verbal and physical boundary-setting is a life skill for a variety of challenging situations
  • Flattening the curve to slow the spread, protect the most vulnerable, and to ensure that our healthcare workers and institutions can respond at capacity, requires each of us to enact and sustain a new set of boundaries in the interest of public health.
In the full blog, Prepare identifies IMPACT Core Principles and how they apply to physical distancing and COVID-19. 

You can find the full blog HERE.

Thank you, Prepare!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Say Something Superhero

Say Something Superhero Field Guide: A Manual for Eliminating Interpersonal Violence is a project of Safe Passage, Inc. in Northhampton MA which draws upon the anti-violence work of Lynne Marie Wanamaker, ESD Instructor and co-founder of the Empowerment Self-Defense Alliance (ESDA).

It can be awkward being a "Say Something Superhero," that is, bringing attention to behavior  (and by doing so to yourself) that you would like to see changed. Check out the manual for details (link above) but here are some highlights:
  • Know that you can make a difference
  • Acknowledge the awkward
  • Know your objective
  • People are watching
  • Expect feelings
  • Remember: You didn't invite the icky
  • Connect with like-minded others

Friday, March 13, 2020

IMPACT Chicago Response to Coronavirus

Anything in italics below indicates updated information since we first published this post.

We continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and are keeping a close eye on official information and guidance from the CDC, the State of Illinois, and the City of Chicago. We are committed to providing a safe space for participants and staff in our programs. As of now, IMPACT programs and workshops have been canceled through April 21 when public schools are currently expected to resume. As official information and guidelines are updated and affect our program offerings, we will send updates to program participants and to our entire community via email, on our website, and through our Facebook page.

If you have any questions, please contact us at info@impactchicago.org or send us a message via Facebook  and your inquiry will be routed to the best person to answer your question.

Additional Resources from Chicago Department of Public Health:
What you need to know about COVID-19 (English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese)
What to do if you are sick with COVID-19 (English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese)
Stop the Spread of Germs Poster (English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese)
Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Poster (English, Spanish)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Gender Inclusivity at IMPACT Chicago

IMPACT celebrates diverse gender identities and expressions, and affirms the rights of people of all genders to feel safe and respected. Our instructor team includes people who identify as women, men, and non-binary. While we are continually working to improve the inclusiveness of our programming, there are also limitations of some of our current courses and aspects that may not feel like a good fit for everyone. You can find specifics about our various programs HERE.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Addressing Stereotypes and Social Inequalities in the Self-Defense Classroom

A couple of years ago, I met a woman in a professional context for the first time who, after learning that I live on the South Side of Chicago, responded that she never goes there. “Aren’t you scared?” she asked, not waiting for an answer, before telling me that if she has to pass through the South Side, she goes by car. And, if it’s dark, she said, she doesn’t stop at red lights. “I figure if the cops pull me over, they’ll understand.”
I felt conflicting urges. Part of me, an indignant and incredulous part, wanted to argue, to draw attention to all the riches the South Side has to offer that she was missing. I had done this a thousand times before in similar conversations. On the other hand, I was also weary of this kind of casual racism. I wanted to simply shake her by the shoulders and make her see that the invisible walls that divide our city, one of the most segregated in the country, shouldn’t be respected. Those walls have been built, year after dreary year, by racist policies and appalling structural violence, and they have been fortified by the city’s residents. I wanted to upend her fortress mentality—one that separates “good” neighborhoods from “bad” neighborhoods—and all the fears that come with it. In the end, I didn’t do any of these things. Now I can’t even remember how the conversation ended, but it did, and quickly. It was not a learning moment for either of us; we both simply moved on, choosing to put our respective energies into a better interaction.
It is not uncommon in self-defense classes to encounter a version of the question: “what should I do if I end up in the wrong neighborhood?” The student’s feeling about what is “wrong”--about places and, inevitably, the people in them--reflects the same atmosphere of racialized fear that created our cities. Biased “commonsense,” in this case, may come to feel like intuition. What’s more, this kind of question is an anxious one. It seeks the false stability of a rule: “don’t be out after dark in X neighborhood, city, or country;” “don’t take public transportation;” or, incredibly, “don’t stop at red lights at night.” So, on one hand, the premise is not something that people committed to creating a better urban future would want to endorse by not refuting. And, on the other hand, the answer that it seeks—a rule of behavior based on fear—is both ineffective and antithetical to the broader goals of empowerment self-defense. What is an instructor to do?
One way to reorient the student, to begin from a different starting point, is simply not to repeat the language of “bad” and “good” neighborhoods. The goal of empowerment self-defense is to encourage people to participate in their own lives to the fullest and to expand their horizons. That, by definition, always involves embracing unfamiliar experiences. Language that recreates an atmosphere of fear curtails all of that rich possibility. Moreover, fear of what’s “out there” shouldn’t obscure what is closer to home. We know that gender-based violence most often happens in quotidian settings with people who are known to the target. Quickly shifting the starting point with both language and information can lay the groundwork for a deeper discussion.
              For over 30 years, IMPACT Chicago has grappled with how to communicate that stereotypes make people less safe while also adding to students’ self-defense toolkits. In the early days, lead instructors addressed the issue when setting up verbal scenarios for the first time or when students asked questions about “bad” neighborhoods. To minimize shaming students who said "wrong" or "bad" neighborhoods and to stress its importance, about 15 years ago lead instructors began to integrate their comments into the course introduction. I asked Chicago IMPACT instructor Rachel Marro to share how this is addressed in programs: "When teaching how to assess potential risk and danger, we emphasize that we get the most accurate information from someone's behavior and their response to our boundaries. Indicators like someone's clothing, language, or which neighborhood they're from do not give us information about their intentions. Reorienting ourselves to pay attention to behavioral red flags can help reduce fear about circumstances that may not actually be threatening, allowing us to engage in the world more freely. Simultaneously, it can help us pay attention to dynamics that may be unhealthy or threatening in circumstances where we've been taught to ignore those red flags-- in particular, with people who are familiar or similar to us."
This commitment to focusing on behavior and not stereotypes is reflected in IMPACT Chicago policy about suited instructor characters. It has long been the policy of IMPACT Chicago that suited instructors do not play characters outside of their own racial/ethnic affiliation.
Empowerment self-defense is a powerful method of individual transformation. Participants can begin to relax their grip on patterns of fear that they have learned over the years as they gain confidence in their bodies and in their voices. They can reenter the world each day with a greater sense of power and purpose. But empowerment self-defense also entails a commitment to creating networks of support among all people who are at risk for or have experienced gender-based violence. It is a social affirmation, one that recognizes that the problem itself does not discriminate and that the best response will crisscross the borders that otherwise divide us.
Priya Nelson
IMPACT Chicago Volunteer and Workshop Leader

Monday, February 24, 2020

How A Self-Defense Program Made Me A Better Therapist: Part 2: Using My Body

"Your power is in your lower body, use it!” yelled my instructor as a man laid on top of me holding my wrists at my sides. His body weight pushed me into the mat, and I could barely move. I took a breath, then flipped him onto his back and kicked him repeatedly in the head. Women were screaming and clapping as he put his hands on his head, a sign of defeat.

At 34 years old, I completed IMPACT’s Core Program, and it was the first time I was given “permission” to physically defend myself. I was saddened by the realization that I needed permission. Why would I need someone’s permission to keep myself safe? With some self-reflection and a good therapist, I made a discovery. My parents never defended themselves; they both froze whenever they were physically or emotionally threatened. Moreover, teachers, daycare providers, and community members taught me that girls should ignore those who physically assault them. I can still hear their lessons: “Just ignore them,” “You’ll just make it worse,” and “Don’t give them a reason to hurt you worse.” Sadly, statistics indicate that the opposite is true. People who seek to harm others target those who appear as if they won’t fight back. Simply put, if an assailant thinks you’ll fight back, they are more likely to leave you alone and look for another target. You’re just not worth the trouble. Have I been unknowingly sending signals that I’m an easy target? Yes, I had been.

I gradually learned to give myself permission to use my body to protect myself and I began to physically assert myself in my life. I perfected my walk - fast paced, shoulders back, and not hesitant to look you in the eye. My walk communicates that I intend to fight back if threatened. I began walking around those who walk at a slower pace, instead of meekly walking behind them. I started pushing my chest out while sitting and I noticed how empowering it felt to take up space. A year later I completed an advanced IMPACT program called Defense Against an Armed Rapist, as I realized that feeling comfortable using my body to defend myself is something that may never come automatically, but is something that I need to practice continually.  

My experiences helped me integrate somatic interventions into my work as a trauma therapist. Like me, my clients experience obstacles that make it difficult for them to use their bodies to protect themselves. Some clients believe that their bodies are unsafe, others were punished as children for protecting themselves, and some have biological trauma responses (Flight, Fight, Freeze, and Faun) that are stuck in their bodies. After IMPACT, I began focusing more on my clients’ physical reactions. I began encouraging clients to use their bodies in order to process trauma, physically comfort their inner child(ren), and learn to keep calm under stressful or threatening circumstances. I noticed that some clients started to make more progress as they integrated their bodies in treatment. 

In addition to trauma work, I applied somatic interventions to help clients improve their self-worth. One of my favorite interventions is to encourage clients to take actions in order to learn how to talk up space in the world. These actions can include taking the last open seat on a busy train, requiring a person to yield when walking directly toward them on a sidewalk, sitting in a confident posture, and taking up physical space in an enclosed setting such as a meeting or class (instead of trying to take up as little space as possible.) When we physically take up space in the world, we can change our brain chemistry and advance our own self-worth.  

The phrase “life changing” is admittedly cliche, yet there is no other way for me to describe my experience with IMPACT Chicago’s Self-Defense Programs. These programs taught me how to use my voice and body to carve out my rightful place in the world. And now, I pass this knowledge on to my clients.

This post was first published HERE. Reprinted with permission from Amanda Gregory.You can find Amanda Gregory's "How a Self-Defense Program Made Me a Better Trauma Therapist, Part 1: Finding My Voice" on the IMPACT Chicago blog HERE.

Amanda Ann Gregory is a psychotherapist, author, and speaker. She practices in Chicago and specializes in trauma, attachment, and anxiety treatment. She has written for Highlights Magazine, Addiction Professional, Adoption Today, Holistic Parenting, New Therapist, and Psychology Tomorrow.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Thank you to 2019 IMPACT Chicago Donors

Tuition and grants cover about 65% of the costs of the Core Program and IMPACT for Girls. Donations cover the rest. 

Thank you to all those who supported the IMPACT Chicago 2019 Fund Drive! Your generosity enables us to bring IMPACT self-defense training to more women and girls.
David & Janet Altman   
Lisa Amoroso & Phil Tracy          
Ellyn Bank         
Susan Blessing  
Bruce Brio
Sheila & Steve Carson   
Nancy Cohen    
Christina Collins
Dianne Costanzo    
Cyd Curtis Bates    Constanzo Fund
Judith Feilen-Kocsis       
Eileen Gelblat
Robyn Gray       
David Hart         
Margit & John Henderson          
Loretta Jackson
Valerie Jenkins 
Carol Jennings  
Pamela Jurkowski
John Kitley
Kasey Klipsch    
Ruth Lipschutz  
Jeff Lisse
Carmen Maso   
Margaret McGrath        
Deb Mier & Sheila Hickey
Shiyu & Anthony Nitsos
Clara Orban
Lauren Perez   
Liz Pfau  
Rachel Pildis      
Lisa Pines
Don & Judy Rosedale    In honor of Katie Skibbe
Roger Safian     
Tania Schusler  
Janette Scott     
Katie Skibbe      
Carole & Richard Spreitzer         
Martha Thompson      In honor of IMPACT Chicago Admin Team, Board, & Instructors   
Margaret Tomasik         
Caroline Villa    
Iris Waichler Costanzo Fund
Amelia Zimet    

Please let us know if we have made any errors. Thank you!