Monday, September 24, 2012

Living With IMPACT: Interview with Leslie Eto, Registration and Workshop Director

From AC Racette, IMPACT Chicago Assistant Director: Last month, we caught up with Leslie Eto in our blog. Leslie took her first IMPACT Core Program in 1990. She talked about how IMPACT helped her set boundaries at work, and how she’s seen women with disabilities succeed in the Core Program with the support they receive. You might have spoken to her already, as she is the understanding person on the phone who takes your registration or coordinates your IMPACT workshop. She is part of a group of women that has stayed very involved in IMPACT ever since taking a Core Program. AC Racette, IMPACT Chicago Assistant Director, interviewed Leslie in June 2012.

Q: Why do you work for IMPACT with your already busy schedule?

It’s fun, it’s a workout. I reconnect with classmates and instructors. They’re the best group of people I’ve ever met. Two years after I took the class, there was an opening for Registration Coordinator. Twenty years later, I’m still the Registration and Workshop Director. I answer the hotline and e-mail, register people and set up workshops and I also now teach workshops. Organizations ask whether we’ll come on site and teach self-defense to their clients, their staff or to children in a school environment. They’ve seen a video from a website and they want a “mugger”, but the "mugger" is not available for these shorter workshops. I tell them that a workshop is an introduction to give them an idea of what can be learned in the full IMPACT
Core Program.

Q: Tell me about how you have lived with IMPACT and how IMPACT has stayed with you since your class in 1990, 22 years ago.

On the trading floor, I became very clear about boundaries. I didn’t go there to be belittled or abused so when it happened, I called it out. I put a stop to that very early. That was a big change for me. I work in an office now, which is a very different environment than the trading floor. I bring my flyers and pass them out to women I work with. Other things might be preventing prospective students from taking the step to sign up. When people leave a message with lots of questions, they want to talk and have someone listen. So I listen. Because I don’t know them yet, it’s easier to talk about anything that comes up. Graduates and supporters don’t want to be pushy when enrolling their friends in the class. They know what they were up against when they went through it and they don’t want to open that can of worms. I get permission to open that can of
worms. It’s not as easy as “Hi, I’m calling to register”. It can be a long emotional process to sign up for IMPACT classes.

Q: Not only do you coach people in workshops, but you coach people in their decision.

That’s mainly what I do. They want to talk about their martial arts or fitness background. I know from first-hand experience that there’s nothing like IMPACT. You really get to learn what it feels like to hit  somebody 100% and get feedback. The male instructor tells you “Oh you’re hitting me with 20 lbs, 60 lbs of force.” The prospective students want to know “Who are these guys and why are they doing this? Do they get a kick out of it?” The male instructors are supportive and kind, and all they want to do is end violence against women. They’re willing to put on 40 lbs of protective armor and sweat and fall down and get kicked and get all this pent-up emotion directed at them. Women are very powerful using all this emotion because we’re fighting for our lives. They’re really doing us a service and you can’t find it can’t find it in martial arts. Aikido classmates came to my graduation and watched the extended fights. Afterward, they said to my male instructor, “Come on, she knocked you out way before the end of that fight!” He said “Yes, she did, but we over-train”.

I tell women interested in registering for a class about my old fears walking down the street, things that happened and how I used to shy away. I don’t shy away anymore--that’s IMPACT training. I talk to mothers who want to protect their kids and toddlers. You have to learn to defend yourself if you want to be able to defend your child. You learn to be a role model. During the 20th Anniversary celebration, women could choose fights from different set-ups. A Raggedy-Ann doll stood in as somebody’s kid. A woman ordered it “Stay over there!” and she kicked the hell out of the mugger and went to get the doll and walked off. It was funny because it was a doll, but it was also touching... meaningful to her and to everyone.

When women finally sign up, I congratulate them and tell them they’re brave. It’s a brave thing to do. There are many reasons not to do it. I know where they are--I, too, was really anxious and I was looking for reasons to get out of doing it. It’s scary. Once you’ve found the courage to commit to the class, you’re half-way there. Everything occurs before it occurs.

If you would like to join a great group of men and women in volunteering for IMPACT, we can use your skills and talents! We need copywriters, media experts, people to help put up posters in stores and drop off flyers which we do in teams, people experienced in fundraising, and people to get the word out in general. Contact the volunteer coordinator at and welcome to our team.

If you are a graduate of the Core Program, put the date for the 25th Anniversary Celebration in
October on your calendar! Check out our website at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nonviolent Communication

The IMPACT Chicago mission statement commits to ending violence and building a non- violent world in which all people can live safely and with dignity. As such, IMPACT Chicago relies upon the principles of de-escalation and non-violence within our programs and across our organization. In the fall of 2011, the IMPACT Chicago Board of Directors adopted Marshall Rosenberg’s principles of nonviolent communication as a foundation for addressing “lower-level” conflicts that are unlikely to escalate into violence. Rosenberg’s approach is based on three aspects of communication: empathy for others, self-empathy, and honest self-expression. Honest self-expression includes a situation or behavior in a nonjudgmental way, stating the feelings that the individual has in response to the situation or behavior, expressing the needs that an individual wants to have met, and proposing an action.

At the 25th anniversary on October 14, Lisa Amoroso, who introduced Rosenberg’s work to IMPACT, will offer a workshop on nonviolent communication as one of the afternoon seminars. Through experiential activities and interpersonal learning, participants will practice strategies for sharing our concerns, developing productive solutions, providing feedback, setting healthy boundaries, and building our relationships with each other.

Monday, September 10, 2012

From the IMPACT Chicago Archives: IMPACT Just May Have Saved My Life

Megan, Northeastern Illinois University Core Skills graduate

I took IMPACT about 2 years ago. I was recently attacked on my way home from school. I was taking a short cut through an alley when a man grabbed me from behind.

It was seriously like slow motion yet all happening at once. I remembered everything I was taught and just acted. I don't even remember everything that happened since it was so fast. He grabbed me from behind and I know I did the butt hit. That nearly knocked him down because he totally was not expecting it. He then went for my legs and knocked me over (this was before the snow hit, so the ground was really really hard). He was saying stuff to me but I honestly don't remember what it was.

I remember twisting in his grip and getting a lot of kicks in, mainly his torso. He really was not expecting what I was doing. I know I got a kick into his groin and then my knee collided with his nose (all of this was done on the ground). The crunch was really loud. He was lying on the ground, fetal position with blood just pouring out of his nose.

A woman on the second floor of an apartment saw him grab me and immediately called the police. I don't live far from the 17th district police station so I was really really surprised and freaked out when the police showed up not two minutes after the woman called. A patrol car was only 3 blocks away, so that's why it all happened so fast.

The woman also said I was screaming NO really really loud but I honestly for the life of me do not remember screaming. I just know most of it took place on the ground because I knocked him down. The cops pulled up in the alley and everyone was shouting and screaming and then one cop had his gun on the guy and the other officer was pulling me away, trying to get me to stand up. Before I knew it the guy was cuffed and in the back of the squad car and I was in an ambulance. I was in shock for a good 24 hours afterward.

So those are the details that I remember. That butt hit is what did it. I know that my legs are much stronger than my arms, I've always known that. So my body just took over. The whole experience looking back on it is just really really surreal. You can share the details. People should know that the butt strike does work. Especially since women are typically stronger in their lower bodies and legs.

I have a court date in January, he's looking at 10 years for aggravated assault with a weapon (the cop found a knife and a rope in his coat). He's going away, from what I know me showing up is just a formality. They really do not know what he was planning since he just took the first deal that was offered to him.

The D.A. asked me how I managed to defend myself. I told her that I took self-defense classes. She asked me where and I told her about IMPACT Chicago. She said she would look into your organization and recommend your classes to women who've been abused. So score on that one as well!

Anyway, I'm alive and I'm ok and he's in jail with a broken nose and his balls in his throat. I just want to thank you. What you taught me just may have saved my life. Thank you.

Megan took IMPACT Chicago Core Skills in 2008. She used what she learned to defend herself
in 2010.

Monday, September 3, 2012

IMPACT International and Self Defense as a Social Movement:

“One class, twelve women at a time.“
Julie Curtis, Director-in-Training, IMPACT Chicago

It is the first week of August 2012 and I am here in Los Angeles with Martha for the IMPACT International Director’s Conference. I’m sitting at the table with the other IMPACT Directors from Los Angeles (Lisa and Heidi), San Francisco (Lisa), Santa Fe (Alena), Denver (Amelia and Sarah), Columbus (Julie), Chicago (Martha and me), Boston (Meg), D.C. (Carol), and on the phone (Well, Skype, actually.) are New York
(Karen) and Israel (Jill).

Alena mentions self-defense as a social movement and I look around thinking, “THAT is exactly what this is!”

When I took the IMPACT BASICS, social movements were not on my radar. My interest was purely about investigating the program structure and how I could use it as a martial artist. I was passionate about karate and then because of a single experience, became interested in effective programs for teaching women who
weren’t as passionate about karate as I was. i.e., what self defense programs were out there that could be relevant to any and every woman?

IMPACT answered that question. It has hurdled me on a path toward social justice. Given our history, how could we not be part of a self-defense social movement? Chapters in Los Angeles, Bay Area, Boston, D.C. and Chicago have been around for over 25 years.

“On March 12 and 13, 1991, the Organization Faction met in Chicago. This meeting was attended by Melissa Soalt, Model Mugging (MM) of Boston; Al Potash and Lisa Gaeta, IMPACT Personal Safety in Los Angeles; Carol Middleton; DC Model Mugging; Sheryl Doran. Bay Area Model Mugging (BAMM); Martha Thompson and Joe Connelly, Self-Empowerment Group of Chicago (SEG)… At our next meeting, a phone conference on May 16, 1991, we settled on Impact International Inc. (III)” ~ Mark Morris, a history of IMPACT International, Inc.”

We’ve been growing as chapters and coming together for a long time. Through our programs and workshops, we’ve reached thousands of women and men. Lisa Gaeta likes to think that she has been part of the self-defense social movement: “one class, twelve women at a time.“

I get that. I know she has been part of the movement. I remember watching videos of Lisa coaching and wondering what would it take to be a “Whistle.” By the way, Lisa, you weren’t reaching only one class, twelve women at a time, you were reaching others of us who aspired to be instructors.

Since I took the BASICS in D.C., it has been absolutely compelling to be a part of something that has so much potential for creating an equal and just world.

IMPACT chapters are in three countries, ten states, and eleven cities, with two more states in the process of either sponsoring a course or establishing their own IMPACT chapter. IMPACT courses have been delivered in several other countries, e.g., Mexico, Kenya--at least that I know of and I’m sure if I polled the collective memory of the directors, the list would grow…

And once a year, since 1991, the directors come together to share experiences, learn from one another, and to our own benefit, grow the possibility that we can and are creating a less violent world. This year the Directors agreed to continue to engage with more organizations involved in preventing and ending violence. If you have connections with any of these types of organizations and would like to join in this effort, please contact us.

For more on Mark Morris’ History of IMPACT International, check out the blog archive: