Monday, September 30, 2013

Our Senses Are Our First Line of Defense

Our senses are our primary means of connecting to our environment and our first line of defense when threatened. In the aftermath of trauma, the story of a survivor’s experience reveals itself as sensory fragments. By training ourselves and our students to cultivate the use of all the senses, we are better prepared to respond to danger and also more resilient.

When we talk about helping people “trust their instincts” we are talking about the development of sensory literacy and energy awareness, the ability to recognize and respond to subtle body cues essential for survival. Physiological responses happen immediately. They are pre-verbal. In self-defense, we want to be able to interrupt uncomfortable or dangerous situations early. By practicing tools to build energetic and sensory awareness, we can do this more quickly and more effectively. 

In the case of trauma, when we bring awareness to unconscious, non-verbal sensory cues and feeling states (images, sensations, emotions, etc.) and find language to describe them, we are helping the right and left hemispheres  come back on-line. We are helping people make meaning of previously un-integrated experiences. This makes it easier to manage difficult sensations and emotions and to take effective action. For this reason, when we do boundary exercises, it is important to ask people to notice the physical cues that indicate boundaries are being breached and then describe them - “How do you know when someone is standing too close, or moving too fast?” -  (i.e. - stomach clenching, body bracing, holding breath, changes in visual field, etc.). Becoming more conscious of body signals and learning to verbalize them helps to overcome some of the freeze response associated with trauma and strengthens the mind-body connection. Embodied awareness helps us make healthier choices in general because we can more easily recognize and move towards things that are life-affirming.
In “Why Cops Don’t Believe Rape Victims,” Rebecca Ruiz reports on recent studies in neurobiology and trauma to help us better understand the effects of traumas like sexual assault. The research highlights the fact that victim-survivors often have fragmented memories of sensory details, which often contributes to them being disbelieved. Victims have difficulty recalling important parts of traumatic experiences and providing a coherent, linear narrative precisely because they were victims of trauma, not because they are making things up.

Brain science can also help explain why somatic therapies – approaches that work with the senses – such as touch, taste, smell, and visceral reactions, can be more effective than cognitive therapies alone in helping people heal from trauma. With extreme stress, the pre-frontal cortex, particularly the speech and language centers, become impaired or shut down, while areas of the right side, which affect emotions and arousal, light up. When traumatic memories surface, rational thinking is essentially “hijacked” by the survival-oriented parts of the brain and nervous system, and is no longer as readily accessible. It becomes difficult to process information. If the two sides of the brain are not working together, the story will be chaotic and confused. A person may be flooded with sensations and emotions with no way to make sense of them. Or, the story may make logical sense but lack the emotional charge one would normally associate with painful events. 

The symptoms described are also true of torture survivors. Asylum officers receive some specialized training in how to recognize symptoms of trauma and PTSD which might include fragmented memories, flat affect, and dissociative states. Well-trained officers are likely to elicit sensory memories to help substantiate a victim’s story. Police officers need to have this kind of training as well. 

Diane Long has been teaching sex-positive self-defense for schools, shelters and social service agencies for over 20 years. A Somatic Experiencing™ Practitioner and Nationally Certified Massage Therapist (NCBTMB), she has worked as a French interpreter at The Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis for 10 years. Diane currently serves on the Self-Defense Leadership Committee of the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF).

Monday, September 23, 2013

IMPACT Chicago Board Member Katie Kramer in Carlisle Kentucky News

A Carlisle Kentucky newspaper featured IMPACT graduate and IMPACT Chicago Board member Katie Kramer in a recent article “Carlisle Native Aids in Ending Violence Against Women.”The article appears below.

Two of five women have experienced at least one type of abuse or violence in their lifetime according to The Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Women's Health. A self-defense organization known as IMPACT Chicago is working to end this violence and Carlisle County native, Katie Kelley Kramer, is part of the effort.

Kramer, who moved to Chicago with her husband after college, decided to take her first self-defense course with IMPACT Chicago three years ago. The organization teaches boundary setting and self-defense to women and focuses on the natural areas of strengths in a woman’s body. A lead female instructor facilitates the classes and one or more suited male instructors accompany her. The fact that the males are suited, enables the women in the class to learn by using full force hits and kicks. The style of teaching allows women to learn by watching instructor examples, drilling the learned moves, and acting out scenarios, which is key to muscle memory.

After completing the core course, Kramer completed two advances classes, one that focuses on defense against an armed assailant and the other, which teaches defense against multiple assailants. Kramer continued to be amazed at the work of this organization and the freedom and confidence that exuded from the women who graduated each class. Since the first class in 2010, Kramer has volunteered as an assistant in classes, helped to plan the 25th anniversary celebration, and served on the hiring committee for new leadership.

In December, Kramer was welcomed as a new IMPACT board member and is looking forward to helping the organization live out the mission of “ending violence and building a non-violent world in which all people can live safely and with dignity.”

For more information about self-defense and IMPACT Chicago visit: Information about other chapters, visit:

Katie Kelley Kramer is the daughter of Steve and Melanie Kelley of Bardwell and the granddaughter of Martha Wilson of Wickliffe.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Collaboration: The IMPACT International Annual Directors Meeting

The 2013 IMPACT International Directors meeting was hosted by IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado with representatives from each chapter meeting via Skype and face-to-face.  IMPACT International is an affiliation of 10 chapters in the US and two abroad (England and Israel). Each chapter has its own organizational structure and programmatic focus, but chapters work together to share resources and ideas to enhance the quality of IMPACT self-defense training. For more about common characteristics of IMPACT chapters, see

IMPACT International engaged in two joint projects in 2013: developing a caregivers curriculum and participating in preparing a grant proposal. At the conference, each participating chapter presented a module that could be used as part of an IMPACT International caregivers curriculum.  The modules included the influence of socialization on safety; distinguishing intuition, paranoia, and prejudice; and principles of and practice with teaching children about boundaries, respecting children’s boundaries, responding when children set boundaries and/or tell of a boundary violation, and having challenging conversations with other adults. Videos and outlines of each module will be discussed by each chapter and feedback will contribute to the development of an IMPACT International caregivers curriculum.

IMPACT International directors also worked this year with Rachel Lucas-Thompson, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University, to develop a research proposal for national funding. Rachel attended the Directors meeting to talk about her research on cortisol, the current climate for research funding, and ideas for research. Ellen Melko Moore, visionary brand business consultant, was another special guest who led Directors in an exercise to help refine our mission and vision statements, define who we are serving, and identify our unique value.

Directors also addressed working with domestic violence and sexual assault service providers, networking with other national organizations, and identifying the multitude of ways that chapters benefit from and contribute to the work of other chapters. 

Martha Thompson

IMPACT Chicago Representative to the IMPACT International Directors Meeting

Monday, September 9, 2013

FAQ: What is the advantage of a class with a padded attacker?

The results of a powerful knee to the groin delivered by Instructor-in-Training Katie Skibbe
Photo: Daniel Teafoe

In Real Knockouts, Martha McCaughey writes, "Padded attacker courses offer women a chance to experience full-force fighting, as these self-defense instructors believe that most successful assaults occur not because women aren't strong enough to fight men but because women facing an assailant often freeze up rather than fight. Because the 'muggers' attack the students at full force...women...learn their defense techniques while their adrenaline level is high and their fine motor skills low, thus committing the skills to 'bodily memory,' which will automatically be triggered in the course of an attack."

We have a new FAQ page on our website with answers to this question and others, such as why is self-defense necessary, is self-defense effective, is IMPACT effective, would these techniques really work on someone bigger and stronger than me? Check out the new FAQs at

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Passionate Advocate for Women: Tara Brinkman, New Office Coordinator

Tara Brinkman is the new Office Coordinator for IMPACT Chicago. In this part-time role, Tara works with program registrants from their first inquiry until they step into a program, sets up workshops, and manages the IMPACT office. In her first two months on the job, she has worked closely with Lisa Amoroso, Board Chair,  and Martha Thompson, Director Emeritus and IMPACT Instructor, to learn the job. She got off to a running start, by setting up major workshops with Albany Park Theater Project and Nielsen Marketing Analytics. Martha says: “Tara joined IMPACT in the middle of workshop discussions with several organizations. With warmth and efficiency, she stepped into the position, smoothly facilitating the transition.”
Tara is a passionate advocate for women and girls. She attended Northeastern Illinois University where she studied Women’s Studies and Community Health. Tara took IMPACT Core Skills at Northeastern in 2009 and her daughter recently completed IMPACT for Middle School Girls. She has done front-line nonprofit work with Girls Rock! Chicago (a camp devoted to empowering young girls through music education), run her own business as a childbirth educator and doula, and worked with the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation as a grants and administrative assistant. In addition to her role as the parent-staff liaison with Girls Rock! Chicago , she is also the head of the Girls Rock Inclusion, Anti-oppression, and Diversity Committee -- a group founded with the intention of educating staff, volunteers, and board members on the importance of enacting policies which engage social justice issues.
She not only brings a commitment to social justice to IMPACT but considerable administrative skills. Quoting Lisa Amoroso: “Tara is a passionate advocate for women and girls. She has the ability to build a warm rapport with people very quickly. In addition, her ability to juggle many things (e.g., emails about an upcoming program, workshop inquiries, deposits, etc.) with a smile is just what is needed in this position.”
    Tara says about her first two months with IMPACT: “I have admired IMPACT Chicago since participating in the Core Skills training years ago, and I am thrilled to be a part of the IMPACT team. It has been a busy few months learning the intricacies of the position, but I am continuously inspired by the staff and board’s enthusiasm and commitment to self-defense, social justice, and ending gender-based violence.” You can reach Tara at or 773-561-9000.