Monday, February 28, 2011

Criteria for an Effective Self-Defense Program and How IMPACT Stacks up

1. Do instructors demonstrate sensitivity to people who have experienced violence? Do instructors project calmness and centeredness, offer clear instructions and guidelines, use positive an non-judgmental language, project compassion for each person, demonstrate patience and competence, project confidence in the participants and a commitment to their success?

Led by a highly trained female instructor, our instructor team is sensitive to abuse and related issues. Our female instructors take responsibility for the overall climate of the course with support from suited instructors and class assistants. While our techniques have been rigorously developed, our instructors see the psychological well-being of the women in the course as the first and foremost issue which is given consideration at every step of our ongoing program development efforts. We view positive non-judgmental feedback and modeling as two important and frequently used training tools. Our step-by- step process of developing skills and confidence allows women to build on prior successes. Women come to the course with various backgrounds and we have no expectations that all will be at the same place at the same time. In fact, quite the opposite, we expect women to experience aspects of the course in their own way. In all cases, our instructors are compassionate and accepting of participants.

2. Is a supportive and emotionally safe environment created for the participants? Do instructors establish ground rules for expected behavior in the class (e.g. treating others with respect)? Do instructors give participants a chance to introduce themselves? Are calming and centering techniques taught? Are limits placed and maintained on who can come into the class (e.g. are minimum age limits established)?

Our ground rules include confidentiality, active listening, avoiding interruptions, and treating each other with respect. IMPACT instructors offer a physically safe and emotionally supportive environment, which allows students to increase self-confidence and skills and enhance their sense of personal power.
We have an enrollment limit of 16 women per Core Program. The enrollment limit for other courses varies.

Because of the emotionally charged nature of the Core Program, IMPACT strongly recommends that women who have experienced sexual assault or relationship violence wait to take IMPACT for at least six months from the last attack. Most women who have been recently assaulted are still working through the trauma of the assault, and the simulated scenarios can stimulate flashbacks of the real-life assault, delaying emotional healing. We highly recommend that anyone who has been assaulted and is contemplating taking our program consult a therapist before registering. This training is not meant to substitute for therapy.

We do not recommend the Core Program for women who are pregnant. If a woman becomes pregnant during the course, we strongly urge her to discontinue her participation in the course. We have workshops that she would be welcome to attend. She may re-take the course within a five-year period
without any additional fees.

3. Is a physically safe environment created for the participants? Are participants asked to identify
injured or vulnerable areas to reduce chance of re-injury? Are participants given guidelines in how to use their bodies safely and powerfully? Do instructors guide participants through warm-up exercises?

Do instructors pay attention to creating a safe physical space, such as free from obstruction, safe distance between participants when practicing, access to water and bathrooms, privacy from onlookers, monitored entrance so that an abuser cannot enter the building?

Physical safety of participants is a high priority for IMPACT.

Our warm up routine is a part of every program involving physical work.

In terms of injuries, in each course, one instructor is the designated lead to make sure any injury is handled properly and efficiently. We strongly urge women who have chronic conditions to inform instructors of the condition, the whereabouts of any needed medication, and the directions on how to help her meet her needs.

Any injured or vulnerable area is marked and the instructors are always reminded of this injury prior to any physical work. The equipment worn by the suited instructors is the result of over 25 years of design work by a mechanical engineer to ensure the safety of our participants and instructors.

Our spaces are safe, private, and minimize the presence of onlookers. In many of our locations, the entrance to our space is monitored outside of the room. When there is not a monitor, assistants and instructors immediately deal with people who (typically inadvertently) enter the space.

4. Do the instructors have a clear pedagogical approach and well-organized class plan? For instance, do the instructors set a beginning and ending time with an opening and closing to the class? Do they have a plan for teaching whereby one thing builds on another? Do instructors demonstrate tools and skills slowly so that participants can see what is happening, use clear and measured language and body movement to teach tools and skills, give participants an opportunity to practice and receive constructive feedback? Do instructors create the opportunity for questions?

IMPACT has a clear pedagogical approach that undergoes continual review and refinement. Our courses are well-organized and efficiently run. We begin and end programs on time. Techniques are incrementally learned and paced appropriately. Participants see demonstrations of what they are going to learn and have an opportunity to ask questions. In the Core Program, techniques are learned, practiced in the air, and then practiced in drills with padded strikers and pads. Eventually these same techniques are used in simulated attack scenarios that allow for full-force training. Our simulations include physical and non-physical boundary violations committed by strangers and people we know.
Students are coached by one instructor while another instructor portrays the role of aggressor or assailant. Our instructor team: student ratio in courses involving physical work is at most 1:5 (and often 1:3), allowing constructive feedback to be provided on an individual basis.

5. Do participants learn and practice more than physical techniques? For instance, do instructors offer a big picture of violence and self-defense and teach self and environmental awareness, assessment skills, verbal boundary setting, de-escalation, and physical tools?

IMPACT emphasizes communication strategies such as verbal de-escalation, assertive communication, and boundary-setting skills. We understand the cultural context experienced by our participants with respect to social norms implicitly condoning certain types of abuse and we are committed to reducing violence. We also recognize and address cultural variations in understanding of spatial relationships, eye contact, and verbal engagement.

6. Do instructors demonstrate an understanding of the challenges faced by survivors of violence? For instance, do instructors offer recommendations that are consistent with self-defense laws and with advice by advocacy groups and service providers, such as a safety plan and not carrying weapons? Do instructors use language that emphasizes getting to safety rather than expressing revenge or hatred?

IMPACT training is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to create social change, prevent abuse, and support healing. IMPACT organizations are committed to a broad vision of societal response to violence. We do not advocate any form of revenge or hatred. Our emphasis is on safety and basic principles to prevent an assault, de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, physically stop an attack, and survive and move beyond an attack experience.

7. Are instructors certified women’s self-defense instructors? Are the instructors certified by
a nationally recognized women’s self-defense organization, such as the National Women’s
Martial Arts Federation Self-Defense Group or IMPACT International
www.impactselfdefenseorg? Do the instructors have professional knowledge concerning violence against women and/or professional experience in working with survivors of violence?

IMPACT instructors go through an extensive interview process and background check before beginning training. The training process is lengthy and thorough. IMPACT instructors are certified before they can be the lead instructor or the main suited instructor in a course. Some lead instructors in IMPACT have also gone through the process of receiving additional certification from the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation. IMPACT instructors also continue to do professional development and training to stay abreast of current issues and research in terms of gendered violence and self-defense.

The checklist for choosing a self-defense course was developed by Martha Thompson, Director and Instructor, IMPACT Chicago with input from Jennifer Caruso and Elizabeth Vitell, Rogers Park Community Council. Lisa Amoroso, IMPACT Chicago Board Member, wrote How IMPACT Stacks Up. For recommended philosophical underpinnings and FAQs about women’s self-defense, refer to the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault Guidelines for Choosing a Self-Defense course

Monday, February 14, 2011

Awareness and Assertiveness

It was Saturday night around midnight and a friend had just dropped me off at my house.
I live in a corner coach house so there’s only one way to get into my house, through
a locked gate into the yard (my front yard/the three flat’s back yard). As I heard my
friend’s car take off, I turned the knob on the gate and as soon as I opened it a guy
stumbled out from between the three flat and the next door neighbor’s fence. I stayed
outside, lowered my voice a bit and said “Who are you?” He replied “a friend of Paula’s”
and walked right past me out the gate. I quickly locked the gate behind me, ran into
my house and locked the door. I hadn’t really thought too much of him or even paid
attention to where he went because Paula is one of my neighbors who lives in the three
flat. As I thought about it I realized that he popped out of a spot where he must have
hopped a fence and he must have been peeking into Paula’s window at the side of her

I let Paula know about the incident the next day and she immediately came over to talk
about it. No one had contacted her the night before or knocked on her door and she
was home around that time. She had an idea of who it might be but I wasn’t very helpful
when she later brought a picture to me. I emailed the rest of the condo association to be
alert, keep the gates locked, and to let Paula know if they see anyone suspicious.

Thankfully this was not more than, what seemed like, a drunk intruder who was pretty
easy to get rid of, but thanks to my IMPACT training, I was able to stand my ground and
use my verbal boundary setting skills. Now, more than ever, I’m making sure to scan the
premises whenever I walk in and I make sure to ask people who are dropping me off to
wait until I get in and turn on the lights.

Colleen Norton,
IMPACT graduate
Publicity Committee

Monday, February 7, 2011

Looking Ahead to New IMPACT Chicago Leadership

2010 was another exciting one for IMPACT Chicago. As we look toward the future, many changes are ahead, but this year we began to assure that these changes would be nothing but positive for the organization.

After 2012, IMPACT Chicago will be a different place, and we are planning for that eventuality. Martha Thompson, for many of us the heart and soul of the organization, will step down as Executive Director at the end of 2012. She will not be gone, by any means—those of you who’ve had the privilege of knowing Martha know that! She will continue with her first love, working as an instructor for IMPACT.

This means that IMPACT Chicago must begin to plan now the transition leading up to the day when Martha will no longer be Executive Director. In 2010, we started to restructure the Board and our work to bring on new people and new structures. A few of our long time Board members left us in 2010, to pursue other interests as they continue to help their communities: Liz Pfau, our long standing Treasurer, and Maureen Dunn, our Board Secretary. In those positions, Katie Skibbe has taken over the Treasurer’s position and Lisa Amoroso has become IMPACT Secretary. Amanda Crawford, Associate Director from September 2009-December 2010 also stepped down from the board. The Board thanks Amanda, Liz, and Maureen for helping the Board help IMPACT.

In June, we also constituted several standing committees: Graduate Relations, Publicity, and the Executive Council. Interim chairs are Martha Thompson for Publicity and Debborah Harp, board member, for Graduate Relations. As Chair of the Board, I work with Lisa and Katie as the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors. We believe these changes will allow us to continue to improve IMPACT Chicago and bring in even more women.

New to 2011 will be the Task Force on the Executive Director Transition. We intend to plot out the path leading to the day when Martha will become “emerita” Executive Director. As a final word, we are always looking forward to volunteers to help us in our various endeavors. We look forward to hearing from you, and to your energy as we plan for the future.

Clara Orban, Chair, Board of Directors