Monday, April 30, 2018

Is Empowerment Self-Defense Only for Women?

No. Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) is definitely for women, but it’s also for LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people. Sometimes it’s even for straight men. Here’s why:

ESD is about ending gender-based violence.
Violence based on gender is an expression of – and reinforcement of -- men’s unequal power over women in society in general. LGBTQ people and gender-nonconforming people are also targeted because we break society’s rules about gender.

Gender-based violence usually shows up in one of these ways:
·       harassment (on the street, at work, at school, etc.)
·       partner abuse
·       sexual assault
·       stalking
·       sex trafficking.

No matter if the target is female-identified, male-identified, or another gender, the person committing the violence is usually a man (see page 24). That’s because gender-based violence of any degree is part of a system of oppression – call it sexism, patriarchy, or male supremacy – that keeps women in a less powerful position than men.

Who can take ESD?
The decisions about who is included in ESD programs are based on the above facts, and those of us who teach ESD in the United States and around the world have different guidelines about who participates in our trainings. At DefendYourself in Washington, DC, all our public classes are open to all women, trans people, and gender nonconforming people. We also have some classes open to all LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people. The only group we rarely offer public programs for is cisgender straight men (that is, men who were called male at birth and still identify that way, and who are straight). We do teach people of all genders when they take a program we’re offering to their group, for example, their workplace or faith group, or when they have another identity (for example as a person with a disability, or an immigrant) that makes them more likely to be targeted. We’ve made that choice because we want to focus on those who are targeted for gender-based violence.

We’re Changing Culture and Systems
We’re not looking at violence as individual acts; we’re changing culture and systems and structures that use violence to keep groups of people down.

Also, folks targeted for gender-based violence are targeted in different ways and with different kinds of violence than the ways, for example, that straight men are targeted.

Our culture and the way we’re raised also affects what strengths we have in standing up for, and protecting, ourselves. The reality of the kinds of violence Defend Yourself addresses in the classroom and the strategies we teach have to do with the skills and strengths of those who face gender-based violence. There are lots of programs that address what cisgender, straight men need. We’re trying to reach the people who need ESD skills: women, LGBTQ, and gender non-conforming people.

Note: There are ESD programs that teach these skills to men no matter their sexual orientation. That’s a reasonable decision to make as well.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Trust your own voice

I’ve always considered myself a fairly confident person; extroverted, happy in my skin and comfortable in my social interactions with people. 

However, when it came to work I found myself in awe of the professionals that I worked with. I didn't think I measured up to them. As I listened to them speak with such talent and wisdom, I was often too intimidated to offer my opinion, afraid of sounding stupid. I was often so frozen in thinking about how to articulate my point that I was often beaten to the punch by another colleague. 

Working my way up through a traditionally male-dominated profession and industry, I often found myself as not only the only woman at the table but the youngest person at the table. In an industry, like so many others, built on experience and influence, why should anyone listen to a young woman? 

All I knew about IMPACT before I registered for the Core Program was the fact that Gavin De Becker, author of the Gift of Fear, had cited IMPACT as the best self defense program for women. In. The. World. I assumed I would learn some physical moves, but I was not expecting my voice to play such a vital role in the process. 

Using your voice to say what you think sounds simple, and perhaps for many people it is, but putting it into practice takes, well, practice. 

Through IMPACT, I learned how to say what I wanted, with power, with authority, and without fear of any repercussions. We practiced using our voices, repeated our words, louder when necessary. Learning just how loud I can shout was a surprisingly satisfying while also chilling discovery. Most importantly, I learned to trust the words that came into my head and practiced verbalizing them. Not just thinking the words. Saying them. 

Gradually I found myself more confident speaking at work, sharing my opinion, contributing to conversations with what instinctively came to mind. Moreover, I found that I had a new well of power within me - I knew where my voice could go if I needed to speak with more authority or to a larger group; I had practiced at IMPACT. 

IMPACT taught me to believe in myself, to trust my instinct and trust my voice. When you trust your voice, others do too. 
Victoria, 2013 IMPACT grad

Monday, April 16, 2018

What’s In A Survey – IMPACT Social Media Survey Results

You might remember seeing some posts about a social media survey we hosted a few months ago. If you had the time to take it, THANK YOU! The information we got back helped us learn more about what matters to you! 

Here are 5 interesting things that we learned:

Facebook is where we connect most
The majority of respondents said they engage with the IMPACT Facebook regularly. So that’s really good to know. That means we’re going to start directing more of our energy to the Facebook page. Unfortunately for us, Facebook has changed the way that pages show up on a Facebook feed and going forward, it's less likely that we'll show up when you're scrolling your home page. So that’s a challenge we’ll be looking into. Fortunately for us, a lot of you also said you enjoy reading the newsletter – so we’ll also be able to use that tool to better connect with you.

Twitter was a no-go
IMPACT Twitter and Facebook have been around for the same amount of time, and while we’ve picked up a good number of followers, our respondents said – IMPACT is on Twitter? That’s right, most of you didn’t even know we had one! So we’ve decided to retire the Twitter account and put that extra time into Facebook.

Updates about IMPACT is your favorite content
Close behind that was educational information, new classes and self defense successes. You can expect to start seeing more of those topics from IMPACT in the near future!

It’s not just graduates we’re talking to
No surprise, almost 70% of the respondents were graduates of an IMPACT program. We love knowing that graduates are still so connected to IMPACT! Who were the other 30% you ask? That was equally as exciting and interesting. Parents of graduates, blog readers, friends of graduates, self-defense instructors not affiliated with IMPACT…the list goes on. So, while we are still mostly connecting with graduates, almost a quarter of the people that engage with us online are finding inspiration and information even though they never went through IMPACT. 

IMPACT still has work to do
Our demographics survey came back showing that most of the respondents identified as straight, white females. IMPACT is committed to making programs accessible to all economic, racial/ethnic, and social groups and we won’t stop until all people can live safely and with dignity. While we are reaching a diversity of economic, racial/ethnic, and social groups in our programming, the survey results show us that we have work to do to reach more communities on social media – and we plan to!

Thank you again to everyone who participated in the survey. After reading this, if you have questions or ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Arden Austin, IMPACT grad 
Cascade Reaction Consulting

Monday, April 9, 2018

Aaron: New IMPACT Chicago Suited Instructor

AC Christensen
Aaron Christensen (AC) is the newest member of the IMPACT Chicago Instructor Team.  He has completed the required attendance at a What is IMPACT program, rigorous interview process, observation of two Core Programs, and an intensive out-of-class training with instructors and experienced class assistants, wearing body armor customized just for him. He will be one of the suited instructors in the upcoming 2018 April Core Program.

Aaron brings a lot of experience to IMPACT. He is a certified Rape Prevention and Self Defense Instructor with the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and has worked internationally with Peak Potentials and Success Resources, assisting and leading motivational camps that incorporate martial arts and non-verbal tactics to de-escalate and/or end conflicts without compromising one’s safety or integrity of self (2013-present). He is an Elite-level personal trainer with Chicago Athletic Clubs, a professional actor, and one of the founding members of Not In Our House: Chicago, an organization created to combat sexual harassment and unbecoming conduct within the Chicago theatre community (2015-present). Welcome, Aaron!
Class Assistant and Board Member Janette
helping with AC's out-of-class training

Monday, April 2, 2018

How Can Empowerment Self-Defense Lift the Personal Burdens People Carry?

 As an IMPACT instructor I teach using Empowerment Self-Defense principles and see how this positively affects my students.  These principles influence how I plan classes, respond to student questions, and address prevalent myths and facts about interpersonal violence.

Infusing ESD Principles Into Teaching
ESD principles guide adaptation and customization of courses based on the participants enrolled. Adaptations take into account how various aspects of one’s identity affect: experiences of violence, choices about resistance or compliance, harm from rape culture, the aftermath of reporting, and obtaining justice. ESD principles apply to people of all ages and genders, with varying types of vulnerabilities and/or prior experiences of abuse/trauma/violence, those with learning differences, various physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities. Our ability to connect to our participants is enhanced by content relevance. ESD principles remind us to acknowledge the perspective and experiences of those who are not in the room - which may differ from those who are present.

  • Space for self-reflection and critical thinking
Class participants learn skills and tools such as threat assessment, verbal and physical resistance. Additionally ESD guided instruction intentionally invites our participants to consider how their gender, age, ability, appearance, race, religion, social class, and sexual orientation (among other identity factors) influence their beliefs and attitudes about violence and their options for resistance.

Participants examine their reflexive and internalized beliefs (and where they came from) regarding resistance and their own power to interrupt violence and boundary violations.  They learn what research points to in terms of which resistance strategies are effective most of the time and why.  Ultimately, in the hands-on component of class, they connect new knowledge and experience to their own lives. This is a significant contribution towards reducing the burden of worry, and fear of helplessness, that narrow people’s lives.

  • Space to let go of self-blame
Self-defense programs based on empowerment principles reflect on how rape culture influences who is blamed, who is believed and supported, the challenges of reporting, who the justice system works for, and who is excused and who is punished.

Making this explicit in class demonstrates to our students that we appreciate the decisions they have made for themselves, their range of experiences, and the choices and strategies they have chosen. It supports letting go of internalized blame and shame, as we are clear in assigning blame and fault to the perpetrator.

Violence is very personal and unfair. Nonetheless, it is important in our teaching to tie individual experiences to larger social systems that perpetuate this unfairness. Such connections can lift internal personal burdens about past experiences and their repercussions. What happened to me was indeed unfair and was the (predictable and intentional) outcome of biased systems.

  • Space to ask BIG questions
In classes, children and teenagers often raise BIG questions: Why are people violent? Who would want to hurt kids? ESD principles help us answer these types of questions by linking violence to inequality and power. For example, on the spectrum of violence, we include mean words, put downs, and micro-aggressions as forms of verbal violence. Students readily generate that put downs are usually based on looks, ability, race, class, religion, likes and dislikes, gender or gender non-conformity, etc. (for example, your hair is weird, you got the worst grade on the math test, your clothes aren’t new or cool, your religion doesn’t have the “good” holidays, boys don’t like ballet, girls can’t play basketball.) We witness the weight of these prior negative experiences being released, as students understand that they were targeted (all or in part) based on one or more aspects of their identity versus something that they did wrong or an inherent lack of value as a human being.

  • Space to sort myths and facts
We reference statistics about crime and about aggressors. ESD programs dispel myths about the frequency of stranger vs familiar crime, about armed vs unarmed assault, and intra-vs inter-racial crime. We address the effectiveness of different strategies of resistance as well as how the research data is collected and interpreted. By reviewing evidence-based information about interpersonal violence, we broaden participants understanding of the many forms violence takes. ESD principles help teachers acknowledge the many purely personal choices people make to stay safer. ESD classes cover a wide range of circumstances, depict a variety of different types of abusive behavior, and teach varied strategies for responding to specific situations. This customization makes the classes relevant and personal. ESD practitioners sort myths from facts, directly address the pervasiveness of violence in our culture, and seek to build empathy.

Carol Schaeffer, IMPACT and ESD Instructor