Monday, November 28, 2011

IMPACT: a space where women can discover what is already true and inside of themselves

Our society appears grossly confused on the concept of blame and responsibility pertaining to criminal behavior. Additionally, our helping professions and our legislation are often laced with the underlying belief that rape, assault and abuse are problems stemming from and about women. Finally, there is a common myth that self defense only applies to individuals who have been “traumatized.”

In reality, the statistics for violence are non-discriminatory. Nearly everyone has been victimized by violence in the media, witnessed violence, sexual harassment on the street, or someone they know experiencing violence.

IMPACT prepares people for reality. And one of the greatest concepts I have learned at IMPACT is clarifying the concept of blame. Every time someone makes a choice to assault, push boundaries, harass or become violent, they are responsible for their choice. Because of the practical, hands on, full contact drills, IMPACT also clarifies what wrong looks like in real life, emotionally charged scenarios which assists in quick and efficient decision making for self-defense and de-escalation.

Clarifying right and wrong in-worse-case-scenario physical and verbal simulations frees women to take a stand for right in our society.

IMPACT does not change women from who they are. IMPACT is merely a space where women can discover what is already true and inside of them.

Sarah Grove, 2007 IMPACT graduate

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Chose to Trust Myself

I grew up in an abusive household. My dad suffered brain damage when I was in second grade-- a shell-shocked man from work thought he was a communist, and severely beat him into a bipolar psychotic state. Anything small thing could set him off to conduct hours of unusual and brutal physical and mental torture, but I never became angry with him because I felt bad for him.

I used to think that coming to terms with this situation meant forgiving and forgetting, neglecting the importance of identifying the abusive patterns in other parts of my life. I have many stories in the past where relationships have become explosive, and where I've complied to do and say things that made me feel uncomfortable. This happened just two days ago.

I was visiting my male friend of eight years, who moved to Chicago. After a night of clubbing with his friends, we went back to his apartment to crash, in separate rooms, as planned, as we always do. It was that night that he decided to express emotions for me-- I was very sober, but he was drunk at the time. Yet even while sober he is still proclaiming his feelings just as aggressively and intrusively as that night. He kept pulling me, and grabbing me and telling me to shut up when I tried to speak. Being so close (with nothing like this even close to happening in the eight years we knew each other) and with him knowing my past relationships with men, I told myself that he was a friend, and that even if I felt uncomfortable, by definition he was a friend who cared and will never want to hurt me.

Want. Even if no one wants to hurt you, that is no excuse. For a few minutes I sat there frozen, battling the confusing situation in my head, wondering why I was feeling so panicked. I knew I shouldn't say anything because I was inclined to do or say anything to make him stop-- in my father's case, it was admitting to an action I never did, and accepting hours of being beaten with a metal pipe or crammed into a heated oven. I understand that victims will often comply tothe most demeaning requests if only to experience the endpoint, which would be an apology and smiles.

Finally, I shook myself out of my upset state and took control. My words were mechanical, cold and matter-of-fact, but I felt that my instincts had kicked in and pulled together a script that I just had to read. "You know I took that self-defense class. When I'm in a situation of discomfort I'm now ready to react forcefully, and that sometimes means using physical force if necessary. You are making me uncomfortable and I will make you stop."

He backed off a little bit but continued to tell me to shut up and that I didn't know anything. He tried to be self-deprecating and self-pitying about the situation, an action I identified as manipulation --trying to get me to sympathize instead of being angry. I knew I had to leave but he kept saying these things and for a moment I felt that pity again. But once again, I found my voice, stood up firmly, stared straight into his face and said, "NO. I WANT TO GO. NOW."

I didn't get visibly upset until I left. I went home to my other friends who let me cry and vent. This person wants to see me again before I leave back for Pennsylvania but inside of me my initial reaction is no. I need time away from him, and just because we live 700 miles away from each other doesn't mean I have to put myself in yet another uncomfortable situation to make him feel better.

Before I took Prepare (IMPACT in New York City), I had felt this immense sense of panic in similar situations, and as I said, complied to whatever the demands were in that situation, physical to emotional. But that night I realized that the panic I've been feeling my whole life was a natural signal of danger. It was my body and mind telling me to fight, to get somewhere safe, and this time I actually stood up to someone who I trusted with all of my heart, and instead chose to trust myself.

Thank you for helping me get to this point. Please continue helping men, women, and especially children fight for the freedom and safety we all deserve.

Graduate of Prepare (IMPACT in New York City)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Strong. Resilient. Spirited. United

Book review of Erin Weed’s Girls Fight Back!
The College Girl's Guide to Protecting Herself

 It's that time in the school year where the excitement from moving in and figuring out where your classes are is winding down and the threat of finals hasn't solidified quite yet. Homecoming has just passed or is coming up and maybe the fraternities and sororities on campus are planning huge blow outs to celebrate the latest home team victory. In short: it's a social whirlwind!

Enter Erin Weed, author of Girls Fight Back: The College Girl's Guide to Protecting Herself. After her sorority sister, Shannon, was murdered, Erin studied with experts in campus security, personal safety, violence prevention and self-defense. During this extensive research and training, she formed a movement called Girls Fight Back. Not only is this an organization which teaches women self-defense, but the author calls it a “conscious choice to reclaim our security in the world.” She says that this is the book that she wished she and Shannon had in college.

At first glance Girls Fight Back starts out like any other “how-to” book; here is the background information and how to use it. However, as soon as you dive into the first chapter, you realize that you're reading something you're never going to forget. The book reaffirms that being a college-aged woman is supposed to be exciting and the experience full of “outrageous adventure.” We have the right to enjoy our independence and be safe while doing so. Then she takes the next 100 pages to outline exactly how to prepare yourself the best way you can. How do you trust your intuition? Who are the bad guys? (Surprising to most young women: he's 4 times more likely to be someone you know.) What kind of roommate should you choose to live with? What if your boyfriend is too possessive? And included in it's own chapter: how do I keep myself safe on Spring Break?

Erin's take on what modern college-aged women need to know is refreshing, current and above all, practical. (There is an entire chapter on navigating the online world.) She knows that experiencing new things, people and situations is part of the college life. And yet, she explains how to do all of those things while discovering your adult identity in a safe way.

Girls Fight Back includes an entire chapter on getting to a self-defense class. Without mentioning IMPACT by name, the author heartily recommends a class that offers “scenario-based training against a guy in a padded suit.” Also, just like IMPACT, the author reiterates that while knowing self-defense doesn't offer any guarantees, knowing it at least gives you a fighting chance.

This book represents a frank and open discussion of intimate topics that a lot of young women haven't ever broached before. It removes the mystery around date rape as well as assuring young women that assertiveness is critical in being safe, even if it may portray you in a light that others find uncomfortable. Your comfort is paramount. This book should be distributed to all freshman women right alongside their class schedule and dorm assignment.

Erin Weed wants to know, “which girlfriend could you not live without?” Read this book, come to IMPACT, and pass it on.

Molly Norris, IMPACT Chicago workshop instructor and Core Program instructor-in-training

Monday, November 7, 2011

My voice was no longer a whisper; it was full of power I didn’t know I had

Olga Adamska (September 2011 graduate)

I left work early on Friday to make it to the first class of the three-day self-defense course at IMPACT. I didn’t know what to expect. Driving to the class, I felt curious but at the same time anxious and even nervous. Would I have to stand in front of a group and look silly trying to punch somebody? Would I look awkward repeating fighting routines I had no idea about? Am I even cut out for this? IMPACT was recommended to me, and not knowing too much about it I decided to give it a try. I felt it was an interesting way to spend a weekend and try something new. But I also hoped I would learn how to be more confident and assertive, and how to stand up for myself with more success.

The class started with introductions. Our instructor, Margaret, told the group of 11 women how she had gotten involved with IMPACT nearly 20 years ago. She said she divided her life into two parts, pre- and post- IMPACT. That made me somewhat skeptical; I thought it was a nice way to advertise the course, but a statement hard for me to process. I didn’t believe in such overnight ‘miracles’. Needless to say, when Margaret then proceeded to ‘showing off’ what I thought were her martial arts skills, fighting on a matt with a male instructor dressed in a heavily padded armor, I started looking for the nearest door. And she wasn’t only fighting, she was also yelling loudly, a pronounced ‘NO’ echoing in the gym. What had I gotten myself into?

Over the next two days, we learned several basic yet very effective self-defense moves, such as hitting the assailant with the heel of one’s palm, holding up hands defensively, dropping to the floor with legs in the best position to strike the attacker, and, yes, lots of yelling. First, we practiced the techniques on a mat, and then, each woman actually participated in fights with padded muggers (male instructors). I was apprehensive at first. I was able to repeat the moves as they were not difficult, but felt intimidated when I had to fight with the mugger and be very vocal. However, the atmosphere created during the course helped tremendously. Not only were the instructors very understanding and supportive, but so were the other women.

I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into this journey. At some point, I forgot I was in a gym participating in simulated attacks where nothing bad was going to happen to me. The scenarios were very real, and so were the emotions that overcame me. First, it was shyness and intimidation. Then, fear, which eventually transformed into anger. Anger, that the 11 of us, women, found ourselves on the mat learning how to fight off attackers who want to harm us. The very sad reality of it hit me really hard. I also remembered times when in the past I had been put in uncomfortable situations, be it unkind words from a bully at school, a seemingly harmless yet stinging comment from a jealous coworker, and other everyday situations which made me feel uncomfortable. I never knew what to say or how to react in those moments. I felt helpless because I didn’t want to seem oversensitive or dramatic, so I just brushed it off. But suddenly, somewhere between Saturday and Sunday at IMPACT, an unknown strength emerged from within me. There, on the mat, I started fighting for myself like I had never before in my life. Through IMPACT, I realized I had every right to stand up for myself, and that being treated without respect should never be a norm for me, or anybody else. My voice was no longer a whisper; it was full of power I didn’t know I had.

After an amazing weekend of IMPACT training, I now know how to protect myself if attacked. I hope to never have to use the techniques I learned, but if I ever find myself in a dangerous situation, I will know what to do. The moves are acquired in a highly adrenalized state and stay in the muscle memory. I would like to think they are like lyrics to a song – sometimes we remember them only when the music comes on. From now on, it will be more natural for me to be more assertive in everyday interactions, and saying ‘NO’ shall always be one of my options. IMPACT challenges many beliefs about women so meticulously ingrained in our minds by the society. The image of women as physically weak, quiet, accommodating… After completing IMPACT, I know that all it takes is recognizing the strength we already have in ourselves, and finally seeing that we, women, have the power, both mental and physical, to always fight for ourselves.