Monday, November 9, 2020

I Have Felt Privileged for Every Moment of This Work: Martha Thompson Retires From IMPACT Chicago

Over 30 years ago, my friend Theo encouraged me to go to a self-defense presentation and demonstration to find out more about a unique self-defense course she had taken. When the organizers invited volunteers to do a knee strike to the guy in the padded suit, my hand went up. The experience of that kick was all I needed to sign up for the next course.

That May 1988 program brought together so many of my commitments and interests that I said yes when asked to help develop a self-defense program appropriate for a college curriculum. I had started my university career of teaching sociology with a women's and gender studies focus at age 23 and the opportunity to  combine my academic interests with teamwork, emotional work, and powerful voices and bodies as a self-defense instructor was irresistible.

I’ve been involved with IMPACT Chicago for over half my adult life and it is now time for me to step back from teaching full-force programs, serving on the board, and doing administrative work. I will continue to support IMPACT Chicago and its dedicated and skilled Admin Team, Board, and Instructors in whatever way I can (e.g. if needed, assist with instructor training and help our IMPACT:Ability program get off the ground).

I will still be doing empowerment and social justice work as I continue as the Self-Defense Coordinator for the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation until 2022; continue to be an active member of the Empowerment Self-Defense Alliance, an organization dedicated to influencing national dialogue about preventing interpersonal violence; and continue to support the work of not only IMPACT Chicago, but other IMPACT chapters.

I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated all the people I’ve worked with over the past 32 years to build and maintain the infrastructure that makes it possible for IMPACT Chicago to offer our fabulous programs. Whether new to IMPACT or a long-time volunteer like Lisa Amoroso who has been volunteering since 1990, the work of IMPACT Chicago board members and administrative staff has made it possible for IMPACT Chicago to continue to shine since 1987. I have felt privileged for every moment of this work.

Not surprisingly I hope, my biggest inspirations and rewards have been found on the mat. I have been moved profoundly by each person who has courageously stepped into an IMPACT class; each circle where we witness others’ grappling with their past, reflecting on the present, and opening themselves to a bigger future; each scenario where a defender faces and meets a challenge; and each time we applaud and cheer for each other. I have felt privileged for every moment of this work.

I have not experienced these inspirations and rewards alone. The teamwork with other lead and suited instructors and class assistants has been so enriching. There is nothing like getting feedback from a team on a class plan; working with that team to put the plan into practice while also working to make minute by minute adjustments; and in challenging moments experiencing support from a team member's glance, a word, or a nod. I have felt privileged for every moment of this work.

Martha Thompson
Instructor, 1988-2020
Volunteer Coordinator/Director/Admin Team Co-Leader, 1988-1995, 1996-2020 

Our fund drive this year is in honor of my retirement. You can find the lovely letter from IMPACT Chicago about my work and some more words from me HERE. I know there are many organizations and issues worthy of your financial support. I hope you will join me in making a donation to IMPACT Chicago this year. Any amount will mean a lot to our continued work. You can donate on the IMPACT Chicago website via Paypal, on the IMPACT Chicago Facebook page, or send a check to IMPACT Chicago, 4057 N. Damen Ave, Chicago IL 60618. Thank you.

IMPACT Chicago’s 2020 Annual Fund Drive

For this year’s Annual Fund Drive, we celebrate Martha Thompson’s contributions 
to IMPACT Chicago. Martha is retiring at the end of 2020 after over three decades 
of IMPACT service. Throughout these years, Martha worked with others to build 
consensus and help promote empowerment self-defense across Chicagoland, as well 
as nationally and internationally. Her IMPACT Chicago work spanned many 
different leadership activities, including: 

  • shaping our organizational structure and culture
  • developing curricula and class plans
  • drawing upon the latest research to inform our curricula and pedagogy
  • teaching the Core Program, Advanced programs, and workshops
  • training IMPACT and Empowerment Self-Defense instructors ­
  • recruiting volunteers and staff
  • locating office and program space
  • coordinating our social media communication
  • building relationships with violence-prevention and empowerment                                          organizations, frequently securing grants to partner with them
  • representing IMPACT Chicago within national and international self-defense              organizations
  • laying a foundation for IMPACT Chicago’s future.

Martha’s contributions have been invaluable and IMPACT Chicago is deeply 
appreciative of all her time, energy, and expertise. Martha has worked and 
connected with many, many, many graduates and supporters over the years. And, 
while we are not able to have a big party due to the pandemic, we’ve asked her to 
write this year’s letter as a way to share her insights and share her retirement news 
with you directly. We ask you to join with Martha to help make our future work a 
reality by making a donation today. 

From Martha
Like every other organization, the pandemic affected IMPACT Chicago. We started the year with a substantial roster of workshops for other organizations and waiting lists for many of the programs we offer directly. For the safety of participants and instructors, we have canceled our in-person programs through the end of the year.

Although we were all disappointed by these cancellations (e.g. I didn’t get to teach my last Core Skills Program), IMPACT Chicago has demonstrated the resilience and teamwork that has helped us through ups and downs over the last three decades. We developed an online self-defense program which we have already successfully offered several times; we have streamlined our virtual communication and updated documents; and we have held two organizational dialogues about racism, acknowledging our strong organizational foundation for anti-racist work, identifying ways that we can do better, and setting goals for doing better.

Our Team—Admin, Board, and Instructors—has shifted over the decades and so many of us continue to donate generously. While circumstances and people change, our continued shared commitment to providing high-quality empowerment self-defense training has not.

What a privilege for me to have worked collaboratively for over three decades to envision, build, and continue to grow an organization dedicated to creating a world where all people can live safely and with dignity. What a privilege to have witnessed so many courageously transforming their lives and their vision of themselves, expanding their circles of support, and aiming to build safer communities for all. 

Please join me in supporting IMPACT Chicago; no amount is too small or too large! You can donate on the IMPACT Chicago website via Paypal, on the IMPACT Chicago Facebook page, or send a check to IMPACT Chicago, 4057 N. Damen Ave, Chicago IL 60618. Thank you.

Wishing you peace and safety,
Martha Thompson

Monday, November 2, 2020

Resources for Self-Care in Challenging Times

The following are some resources for self-care to address burnout, stress, and overwhelming feelings.

Marisa Cohen interviewed IMPACT Boston Meg Stone about how she regained energy and passion for advocacy work. Cohen identified six things to avoid burnout: 
  • focus on self-nourishment 
  • harness your anger 
  • narrow your focus 
  • take regular breaks 
  • celebrate small steps 
  • find the power of an affirmation
Emma Seppälä, Christina Bradley, and Michael R. Goldstein report on research about the effectiveness of breathing in stress reduction. For instance, changing the rhythm of our breathing can slow our heart rate and can help us find calmness and improve our ability to think clearly. Breathing in speeds up our heart rate and breathing out slows it down. One recommended exercise to increase calmness is for several minutes inhale to a count of 4 and exhale at a count of 8. 

Linda Graham highlights the benefits of self-compassion for reducing anxiety and fear and practices that can help build resilience: She says: “Mindful self-compassion teaches us to notice and focus on our feelings, but then gives us a practice to shift those feelings.” She recommends two self-compassion practices to build resilience: 
  • Self-compassion breaks For instance, if you start to feel overwhelmed with an emotion, put your hand on your heart which “activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety and trust.”  
  • Develop self-compassion as an ongoing practice For instance, practice saying “May I be kind to myself in this moment, in any moment, in every moment.

Monday, October 19, 2020

IMPACT Chicago History Lives On

On October 15, 2020 Laura Berfield (pictured here), Archivist at Loyola University Women and Leadership Archives, accepted four crates of documents from IMPACT Chicago Lead Instructor and Admin Team Co-Leader Martha Thompson. Martha donated the IMPACT Chicago documents she has collected since she began working collaboratively to build and maintain the infrastructure to support IMPACT Chicago programming (not participants' personal information or instructors and staff personnel files). The documents provide insight into the founding and early development of IMPACT Chicago as well as the opportunities and challenges that the organization faced from 1987 to the early 2000s. The Women and Leadership Archives collects, preserves, and makes available records of women and women's organizations documenting women's lives, contributions, and activism and women's issues. IMPACT Chicago is proud to be part of the Women and Leadership Archive collection!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kicking Down the Barriers: Self-Defense and Social Justice

Social injustice is not all in our heads. Our identities and our bodies are influenced by our placement in complex intersections of social privilege and oppression.  We learn to use and move our bodies in ways that reinforce these complex intersections.  Empowerment self-defense training offers an opportunity to interrupt perceptions and movements of our bodies that perpetuate patterns of inequality and injustice.  

In empowerment self-defense training, participants:

  • Develop confidence, calmness, and assertiveness; not aggression or submissiveness.
  • Practice setting boundaries and honoring the boundaries of others.
  • Discover the power of their bodies and the power of integrating body, mind, voice, and spirit.
  • Explode the myth that only extraordinary people and actions can prevent, redirect, or stop someone bigger or stronger.
  • Recognize the effectiveness of everyday skills, such as paying attention, making decisions, speaking up, and acting decisively.
  • Learn that physical self-defense tools are as close as their elbows, hands, knees, and feet.
  • Experience being responsible for themselves while also supporting, cheering on, and learning from others.

The potential impact of empowerment self-defense training goes beyond individual participants. Imagine the consequences if thousands of people in a community were not only able to defend themselves from violence, but had experienced an empowerment self-defense program where they practiced challenging norms of aggression and compliance, demystified images of who is powerful and deserving, and collectively imagined a world where all people live safely and with dignity. Those thousands could set thousands more in motion.

Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago

Based on “Kicking down the barriers: Self-defense and social change,” originally published in KIAI!, the newsletter of Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center, September 2001.


Monday, September 28, 2020

The Power of NO


A common experience in an IMPACT Chicago program is participants gathering in a circle and uniting their voices with a loud NO.  What is it about that circle that unleashes such powerful energy? On the surface it seems like a simple exercise, however, the underlying assumptions and principles are complex.  Key assumptions are that experiencing and/or witnessing violence affect the total person, disrupting our sense of wholeness and creating individual isolation and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness; and that we have the capacity to turn feelings of helplessness and powerlessness into empowerment.  

Empowerment occurs when we claim or reclaim our body, mind, and spirit and experience our connection to others. In a NO circle:

  • We are in community with others.
  • We practice our right to say NO.
  • We engage our whole selves.
  • We experience the power of a collective voice.

Martha Thompson

IMPACT Chicago

Lead Instructor and Admin Team Co-Leader

Drawn from Martha Thompson."The Power of NO." First published 1990 in Feminist Teacher 5(1):24-25. Republished in 1998 in The Feminist Teacher Anthology: Pedagogies and Classroom Strategies. Teachers College, Columbia University.

Monday, September 21, 2020

"Five Fingers" of Being An Ally

Think ♦ Listen ♦ Connect ♦ Check ♦ Reflect


  • What are the most relevant positions of privilege and oppression in this situation?

  • What is your combination of privilege and oppression? 

  • What are the combinations of privilege and oppression of others?

  • What are possible communication dynamics with these combinations of privilege and oppression and how might they affect communication.


  • Open your mind and your ears to hear words and feelings

  • Release judgment

  • Make no comparisons

  • Try imagining the world or situation through others’ points-of-view

  • What might your challenges be in listening?


  • Give your full attention to the person speaking

  • Make “soft” eye contact 

  • Use open body language

  • Project warmth and empathy

  • Be or stay open to learning from those you wish to support as an ally

  • Note your feelings, including any discomfort but set that aside for the moment. 

  • What challenges might you face in connecting?


  • Say in your own words what you have heard/witnessed

  • Ask what might you offer or do in the way of personal or organizational support

  • Check that what you can offer is helpful 

  • What challenges might you face in checking in with others?


  • What have you learned about the issue, yourself, your beliefs, your behavior? 

  • What steps can you take to make your beliefs and behavior more consistent (not perfection)?

  • What challenges might you face as you reflect on your own beliefs and actions (or lack of action)? 

Developed by Pamela Robert and Martha Thompson, 2014 Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center Meditations on Activism: On Being an Ally (updated 2020). Adapted from “Five Fingers of Self-Defense,”an approach to teaching self-defense to women and girls created by women martial artists in the 1970s: Think, Yell, Run, Fight, Tell.