Monday, June 11, 2012

Currents in the IMPACT classroom: Where the river takes us

Margaret Vimont couples her dedication to the women going through IMPACT Self-Defense training with a respect for  each student’s flow. Margaret took her first class in 1988, which was the third class offered in Chicago. Margaret obtained her certification to teach IMPACT Self-Defense in 1992 and has led many of us through our Core Program and graduate classes. She talked about her early days as an IMPACT instructor, and her experience from that side of the mat.

What was your purpose for taking the training? 
My martial arts teacher suggested we take IMPACT training. Much faster than with martial arts, I felt how powerful I was. That was transformative.  I was a physically powerful person. A lot flowed out of it. I started to live from within my own skin. I got my Masters in Social Work. I came back, and jumped in the assistant role. I knew something about helping people in crisis. I knew something about IMPACT. I liked the women involved in IMPACT and wanted to be like them, like Dee and Martha, defining themselves and living their lives in a big way. IMPACT allowed me to develop the balance to be attuned with an other person yet be grounded in myself. It built my confidence. As I felt success creating classes, I was less critical of myself. I was more in the moment with the student.

How do you create an environment in which women succeed?
The attention we pay to a supportive environment in class allows a woman to take her first risk. The staff assumes every woman will be successful. It’s taught in an accessible way for women of all abilities. We support them and help them notice what they’ve done before they even realize they’ve done it.  The experience starts to have its own momentum.  The class begins to flow.
We learn not to flail or freeze, because we are at that edge in class, with support from others. We enter knowing what we can do, and add a new ending on it. Other things happen too, but that’s individual. Many things can happen: We face memories, we re-experience moments,  we face limits of who we thought we were. But for all of us, we come up against the limits of where we would have stopped or what we would have usually done, and relearn that, and go further.
That’s why we get stories of women using what they’ve learned after eight years, where the knowledge has gotten in deep. The construct of the class always pushes women to their limits to find that they have more in them than they thought, without pushing them over into defeat.

What’s the line between flow and tension?
We want the student to be immersed in her own experience. Each woman finds her own way through this. She creates something that’s very much hers. We can’t dictate what a woman’s experience will be. The metaphor I use is what they call the “Lazy River” at a water park. Those “rivers” create a current on which we drift in an inner tube. We as instructors create a current, but we don’t tow them in a specific direction. Women choose to enter the current that takes them to a destination that could have many wonderful things for them. But we don’t make anyone do anything. At minimum, the women will have knowledge of how to defend themselves that will be embedded in them even if their minds have forgotten everything we taught them. But their bodies will know how to fight, that’s our measure of success.
Then women can find much more than that, such as emotional gifts, or the experience of learning that they are physically powerful that might help them take up more room in their lives in other ways. They might also feel more assertive and less apologetic about who they are, and knowing what to do when their boundaries are violated. If you don’t know what you’d do if your boundaries are violated, then it’s harder to even set boundaries. It’s a scary place. But if you know how to defend them, then you feel more entitled to have some.
The instructors don’t have to have a plan for each woman. You set something in motion, you know what important things to insist on, the current to have, and you pace the current. When you’ve mastered those parameters, you can let it happen. It’s just like a lazy river at the waterpark.

You talk about teaching being intuitive and that it brings joy. It’s a meditation.
I’ve heard this described as a state of flow, when we’re attuned to the moment and lose a sense of ourselves. When I’m in the state of mindfulness in teaching, I’m in the moment completely but part of the moment is to create an environment with the right tension for women to learn. The process is so familiar to me now that I can be in a state of flow even when we’re teaching something as emotionally demanding as reversals. The emotional challenge is not happening to me. I’m the friendly guide. I’m telling them they can do it. We’re in that part of the river.
It’s an advantage of doing this so long. It’s a joyous thing to teach, you find the sweet spot. There is a privilege of being present to powerful moments in people’s lives. Women face previous traumas on the mat and come through it. It’s not my moment, but I create an environment. It’s like what midwifing might be like. I nurture and celebrate a woman through it. It never gets old, it never gets less potent. Every time, it happens. Every time, it’s powerful. How can I do something multiple times a year for fifteen, twenty years and still have it be powerful? But it is!

Interview by AC Racette, IMPACT Chicago Assistant Director.

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