Monday, May 30, 2011

Teaching Self-Defense in Israel

In 2004, Jill Shames and Yudit Sidikman approached me about bringing IMPACT to Israel. After a year of planning, IMPACT Chicago suited instructor and trainer Mark Nessel and I arrived in Israel in the summer of 2005 and trained 4 lead instructors, 5 suited instructors, and 1 class assistant. We returned in 2006 to finalize the training of the 9 instructors and to start the training of another group of suited instructors and class assistants, some of whom are now lead instructors.

When I mention to people in the U.S. that I have been to Israel to teach women’s self-defense and train women’s self-defense instructors in IMPACT, one of the most common responses has been to question the need for a U.S. women’s self-defense instructor to go to Israel. Typical comments: sexual assault isn’t a problem in Israel, Israelis know more about self-defense than anybody, or Israeli women serve in the military so why would they need a self-defense course.

Even though I had not been to Israel before, I had known Jill and Yudit for years through the U.S. National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF). I was confident that these two savvy NWMAF certified self-defense instructors would not be spending time and money to bring IMPACT instructors to Israel to teach self-defense and do instructor training unless they saw it as a unique addition to the other effective self-defense systems they were already offering at El Halev, a nonprofit Israeli organization established in 2003 with a focus on empowering women and girls through martial arts and self-defense (

Though I believed that IMPACT would be a valuable addition to El Halev’s programming, I was concerned about how parts of this very American course were going to “translate.” Some of my concerns were echoed prior to our first self-defense class by some of the instructors-in-training who added other concerns that I hadn’t thought about--the circles where women share their experiences and feelings, women yelling together and offering their support to others, women fighting full force when someone in an obviously padded suit and helmet grabs them, and frankly—the drama and surrealism of it all!

I’m not sure exactly when my concerns were erased, but the instructors-in-training and the women in the first IMPACT course in Israel modeled what effective translation is all about. In its most common usage, the word translation means to take an idea formed in one language and express it in another, but in its broadest sense translation means to move, shift, or change—whether in language, perspective, location, or medium. That is what happened to this very American course in Israel. Instructors and students translated the essence of IMPACT—believing they are worth defending, judging behavior and not appearance or social status, being in the moment, 100% engagement, and following the ethic of least harm (i.e. doing only what you need to do to stop an attack and no more). What a thrill to have been part of the process of launching IMPACT Israel!
Martha Thompson
Instructor Trainer
IMPACT Chicago
Chicago, Illinois USA

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Was Assertive, Not Rude

Recently, IMPACT Instructors Martha Thompson and Rob Babcock taught our graduate teaching class ways to set and enforce boundaries both in our classrooms as well as in the outside world. We learned things like how to let someone know they are invading our space, to tell them we want them to leave, or to end conversations or interactions we are not comfortable with. The tips we learned through role playing were very informative, and we all left feeling empowered by having a few more tools to use in the future.
Yet since the day of the workshop, I had not thought a lot about these tools. They would come up in my head occasionally, but they were not on my mind a lot. Then one day I was doing work at a coffee shop with a friend of mine who was also in the workshop. I had my headphones on and was obviously focused on my reading, when a man approached me, said he noticed me, and proceeded to try to engage me in conversation as a way to hit on me. I did not feel unsafe, but I did feel uncomfortable and a little annoyed. I also felt frustrated because I did not want to make him think I was interested and I needed to get back to my work, but I also did not want to be overly rude.
Then, out of the blue, I found myself unconsciously saying things we learned in the workshop - just that I did not want to talk and that I wanted to end the discussion. My friend and I looked at each other shortly after he left and laughed - because it occurred to her too that I was using the same methods we had learned in the workshop. I should point out that I am not a shy person and would normally have had no problem asserting myself in telling him to go away. But the tools we learned made me feel more confident, and to feel like I had every right to make myself understood without worrying too much about if he would be hurt.
I was not rude, just assertive. And again this was not an unsafe or even terribly uncomfortable situation - I had a friend there and it was at a location that I am familiar with. But the experience made me appreciate even more having these tools to rely on instantly when I need them.
Thanks again to the folks at IMPACT who are doing the important work of giving people tools to protect ourselves!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rape Victim Advocates and IMPACT Chicago

In an effort to better educate ourselves and help connect with Rape Victim Advocates (RVA), the IMPACT Chicago board participated in a workshop at the RVA headquarters downtown in March 2011. RVA has been around 30+ years, and sets the gold-standard for rape survivors, their families, and loved ones. They do support work, legal and medical help, counseling, and, perhaps most well-known, their emergency room advocacy.
Their ER advocates receive 56 hours of training to be a responder to survivors of sexual assault. Once trained, advocates are on call (on a rotating basis) for 24 hour periods, and are called/paged to respond to participating Chicago area hospitals when a rape survivor shows up in the emergency room. Needless to say, we are happy to be forming a connection with RVA.
Eva Ball was our instructor/facilitator for the two-hour period. She was fantastic – full of energy, helpful, and charismatic. We talked about systems of oppression and power differentials in our society, including how language for sexually active women. We also watched and discussed a video of images of women in popular media (music, music videos, film).
The final part of the training was reviewing RVA’s materials to see the shift to a “pro-consent” approach from an anti-rape approach. Board members and instructors will discuss how best to incorporate these ideas and materials into our classes and on our website.
The next step is for IMPACT to provide training for RVA. We are looking forward to continued collaborations.
Rob Babcock
IMPACT Chicago Board member and instructor
For more about IMPACT Chicago and its Board of Directors, visit
For about the IMPACT Chicago mission, see IMPACT Chicago Director Martha Thompson’s blog “IMPACT Chicago: Committed to Ending Violence

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Resisted Taking IMPACT

My roommate nagged me for over a year before I signed up for IMPACT. She said ‘self defense course’ and my mind went straight to a class I’d witnessed in college, with two camera-ready workout models barking orders as 60-100 young women executed the same jabs and karate chops in unison, over and over. It seemed impersonal, artificial, and worthless. I considered myself a pretty smart chick who just didn’t get into bad situations, and had a hard time thinking that I needed something like IMPACT.
Eventually I was persuaded to take the class, and from the first minute I knew that this class was different. Twelve women of extremely diverse backgrounds, ages, sizes and shapes talked about what brought us to the class. Women shared their reasons – to gain self-confidence in every day life, to feel safer coming home late at night or by oneself, to stop being harassed, to stand up to a bully at work, to stop the nightmares of an attack – and as they did I realized that this was going to be an extremely intense and personal experience.
My turn came and I became so upset and angry that this group of modern women, none of whom seemed meek, inhibited, or timid, felt it necessary to sign up for this class. I was angry that the class had to exist, that we were all here, spending our time to fight what society teaches us again and again; that women cannot and should not defend themselves, and that when a woman gets attacked, she shares some of the blame. I hated that a part of the reason we enrolled in IMPACT was because we believed that myth and we didn’t know what to do about it.
Now, I can say that I know how to defend myself, but to limit the results of an IMPACT workshop to physical bouts would be a horrible understatement. IMPACT does teach self defense. IMPACT also teaches verbal and physical boundary setting, and above all it teaches women to re-claim their voices in everyday situations. IMPACT reminds us how much trust and support we can give to each other and ourselves, and it empowers a woman to do what is right for herself.
Taking IMPACT was one of the most rewarding and empowering things I’ve done. It was also one of the few times that I can say with confidence that I did something for myself alone and no one else. Every woman should have the opportunity to feel her own power, and I cannot think of a better way to do it than with an IMPACT workshop.

Shira Zisook
2007 IMPACT grad
Publicity Committee

To find out more about how IMPACT Chicago is offering programming for women with few economic resources, check out

Monday, May 2, 2011

“I Love You Mom, Now Go Kick Butt.”

Forget the Cards and Roses. IMPACT Self-Defense Training Is a Mother’s Day Gift to Last a Lifetime.

Families in every town and city typically scramble to find a unique gift for Mom on Mother’s Day, a global tradition which was first cultivated in the U.S. nearly a century ago. With the big day approaching, time is running out to find the perfect way to honor the mothers in our lives.
While it may be tempting to pick up a trinket or box of chocolates again this year, loved ones can instead pack a punch—literally—with a gift of IMPACT self-defense training. “Giving your mother a self-defense course for a gift is unique because it is not something she can wear, eat or look at,” comments IMPACT Chicago Director Martha Thompson. “Instead she will enhance her verbal and physical safety tools, something she will carry with her the rest of her life.
More than ninety-five percent of women who experience IMPACT’s flagship 24-hour CORE training report a substantial increase in confidence and self-awareness. “IMPACT taught me that I am powerful!” exclaims Arden, a recent Core Program graduate. “I learned how to assess situations and set boundaries as well as how to defend myself. Basically I walked away feeling freed from a life of fear.” Arden felt so profoundly altered by the IMPACT course, in fact, that she convinced her mother Victoria to sign up. “I’m so glad I did it,” notes Victoria who took IMPACT Core Skills at Northeastern Illinois University.
Students of IMPACT develop their fighting spirit and skills in a safe, female-led environment. In a variety of realistic attack scenarios, participants use full-force strikes—such as the palm heel and ax kick—on padded attackers. In more intense scenarios, women may lay prone on a mat, pretending to sleep when a rapist intrudes. In order to process their emotions after such scenarios, women gather together in a circle to check in with one another and express their feelings, which range from fear and rage to relief and even elation.
Participants develop a greater sense of their own power. “Women are taught all their lives that they are weak, but that’s just not the case,” says instructor Rob Babcock, who celebrated 12 years with IMPACT in 2010. “Men generally have greater upper-body strength, but women’s legs and hips are incredibly strong.”
Evanston resident Jan still remembers those lessons well. She participated in IMPACT training 20 years ago, just two years after the program’s inception. To her great satisfaction, Jan was recently able to treat daughters Riley and Morgan to Teen IMPACT, a special course tailored specifically to the needs of that age group. “As a mother, I always knew I wanted them to take the class before they left for college,” Jan explains. And the girls are grateful for their mother’s resolve. “It’s just as important for teenagers to take the class as it is for mothers,” they note.
Usually held over three or more days, IMPACT’s 24-hour Core Program training runs $395 (or $16 an hour), all of which goes toward instructor fees and the organization’s high operating costs with regard to insurance coverage and equipment. Financial assistance is available to women who find the course fees prohibitive. “We will work with any woman or girl to figure out a way for her to take one of our programs,” assures Thompson, herself the mother of a 29-year-old daughter.
Cathie Bazzon
IMPACT Core Program grad
Rogers Park Community Council
Director, Senior Initiatives Program