Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Dream: Self-Defense Scholars and Instructors Working Together

I believe passionately that self-defense programs based on an empowerment model have the potential to save lives and prevent suffering; in the long-term I think empowerment-based self-defense training has the power to significantly and positively improve our society, making the term “rape culture” antiquated and meaningless.  

We have seen pushback recently in the violence prevention community about self-defense as an empowering and practical tool for preventing violence.  This is not new; it is just  more noticeable with so much communication through social media.  Many women are not yet convinced that self-defense is useful for them.  Unfortunately, some even think self-defense training is dangerous and blames women for violence.  Part of that is ideological, and we will not change everyone’s minds.  But part of it is ignorance of what empowerment-based self-defense training is.  

Today, anyone can say “I’m a self-defense instructor” because there is no universally-agreed upon standard of practice.  The National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) is working to change that. The self-defense instruction we have developed over the past 30+ years is a combination of fighting skills anchored in the martial arts and what are essentially cognitive-behavioral techniques.  This is part of its power; it harnesses both the body and the mind (or, if you are a neurobiology nerd like me, the amygdala and the neocortex) to enhance our safety.  It also interrogates social norms and helps us recognize and interrupt social scripts that harm people.

For over 30 years, NWMAF has been working to reduce violence against women and other vulnerable groups by developing a self-defense pedagogy that is explicitly strengths-based and grounded in an understanding of violence within a larger cultural context. It is a model with both empirical support and clinical wisdom behind it. To receive the NWMAF stamp of approval, self-defense instructors must demonstrate how they put self-defense into a social context and address a continuum of violence, how they expand people’s tools while keeping the responsibility for violence on the perpetrator, and how they offer a comprehensive toolbox of safety strategies, including awareness, avoidance, prevention, and verbal and physical self-defense tools.

My goal is to bring together self-defense scholars, social service practitioners, and self-defense instructors to work together to end rape culture. This is an invitation to become part of the National Women's Martial Arts Federation (you do not have to be a martial artist to belong) and to attend our national conference. This year's conference features women doing rape prevention work in Kenya, members of Cure Violence (nee CeaseFire) in Chicago, representatives from the Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn (recipients of a Robert Woods Johnson grant for their work with homeless LGBT yourth), and much more. Additionally social workers can receive CEUs through a partnership of NASW Ohio and NWMAF.

Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Gender Studies, IMPACT and NWMAF certified self-defense instructor, and author of "Empowering Self-Defense Training in the 2014 Violence Against Women Special Issue: Self-Defense Martha Thompson says: "I've been attending the NWMAF annual training since 1991 and the Self-Defense Instruction Conference since its inception in the early 2000s. The opportunity to connect with others who are committed to an evidence-based and empowerment approach to teaching self-defense has enhanced not only my self-defense teaching but my scholarship. I always look forward to attending this conference because I leave with so many ideas, resources, and connections." 

The full conference is Wednesday July 16-Sunday July 20 and takes place on campus at North Central College in Naperville Illinois (just outside of Chicago). There are three attendance options:
--the full program starts Wednesday morning and concludes Sunday at noon. It includes martial arts session. You can find the full schedule at 
--The day-and-a-half program starts on Wednesday morning and concludes mid-day Thursday. The early program focuses exclusively on violence prevention. The early program schedule is at 
--a one-day oprtion on Saturday which includes 3 sessions. See the Saturday Schedule at Even if this year is not a possibility for you to attend, please check out the National Women's Martial Arts Federation ( and help us combine our resources and passion to create a world where all people can live safely and with dignity.

Amy Jones, Co-coordinator of PeaceWorks, 2014 NWMAF Annual Conference 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Ms. Amy Jones:

    I share your dream of Self-Defense Scholars and Instructors Working Together!

    I too see this as a way to develop validated national training standards and to bring to such training the credibility necessary to fully engage those who might need such training. I have been advocating such collaboration for more than a decade while working to deliver highly appropriate training in women's self-defense (WSD) in our area.

    So, I was excited to go and check out developments at NWMAF!

    I was very sorry to discover that as of this date NWMAF's training is not generally open to men who would wish to improve their ability to offer WSD training.

    I've looked locally for woman as allies in this work. I've even tried to recruit women as potential WSD instructors. Frankly that just isn't happening in our little towns. So I think it is unfortunate and counter productive (in terms of maximizing high quality WSD training getting out there where it is needed) for NWMAF to have men less than fully involved.

    Perhaps this will 'evolve'. I hope so.

    Joe Vaughan, Sandan Aikido, Aikido of Moscow (