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Monday, February 28, 2011

Criteria for an Effective Self-Defense Program and How IMPACT Stacks up


1. Do instructors demonstrate sensitivity to people who have experienced violence? Do instructors project calmness and centeredness, offer clear instructions and guidelines, use positive an non-judgmental language, project compassion for each person, demonstrate patience and competence, project confidence in the participants and a commitment to their success?

Led by a highly trained female instructor, our instructor team is sensitive to abuse and related issues. Our female instructors take responsibility for the overall climate of the course with support from suited instructors and class assistants. While our techniques have been rigorously developed, our instructors see the psychological well-being of the women in the course as the first and foremost issue which is given consideration at every step of our ongoing program development efforts. We view positive non-judgmental feedback and modeling as two important and frequently used training tools. Our step-by- step process of developing skills and confidence allows women to build on prior successes. Women come to the course with various backgrounds and we have no expectations that all will be at the same place at the same time. In fact, quite the opposite, we expect women to experience aspects of the course in their own way. In all cases, our instructors are compassionate and accepting of participants.

2. Is a supportive and emotionally safe environment created for the participants? Do instructors establish ground rules for expected behavior in the class (e.g. treating others with respect)? Do instructors give participants a chance to introduce themselves? Are calming and centering techniques taught? Are limits placed and maintained on who can come into the class (e.g. are minimum age limits established)?

Our ground rules include confidentiality, active listening, avoiding interruptions, and treating each other with respect. IMPACT instructors offer a physically safe and emotionally supportive environment, which allows students to increase self-confidence and skills and enhance their sense of personal power.
We have an enrollment limit of 16 women per Core Program. The enrollment limit for other courses varies.

Because of the emotionally charged nature of the Core Program, IMPACT strongly recommends that women who have experienced sexual assault or relationship violence wait to take IMPACT for at least six months from the last attack. Most women who have been recently assaulted are still working through the trauma of the assault, and the simulated scenarios can stimulate flashbacks of the real-life assault, delaying emotional healing. We highly recommend that anyone who has been assaulted and is contemplating taking our program consult a therapist before registering. This training is not meant to substitute for therapy.

We do not recommend the Core Program for women who are pregnant. If a woman becomes pregnant during the course, we strongly urge her to discontinue her participation in the course. We have workshops that she would be welcome to attend. She may re-take the course within a five-year period
without any additional fees.

3. Is a physically safe environment created for the participants? Are participants asked to identify
injured or vulnerable areas to reduce chance of re-injury? Are participants given guidelines in how to use their bodies safely and powerfully? Do instructors guide participants through warm-up exercises?

Do instructors pay attention to creating a safe physical space, such as free from obstruction, safe distance between participants when practicing, access to water and bathrooms, privacy from onlookers, monitored entrance so that an abuser cannot enter the building?

Physical safety of participants is a high priority for IMPACT.

Our warm up routine is a part of every program involving physical work.

In terms of injuries, in each course, one instructor is the designated lead to make sure any injury is handled properly and efficiently. We strongly urge women who have chronic conditions to inform instructors of the condition, the whereabouts of any needed medication, and the directions on how to help her meet her needs.

Any injured or vulnerable area is marked and the instructors are always reminded of this injury prior to any physical work. The equipment worn by the suited instructors is the result of over 25 years of design work by a mechanical engineer to ensure the safety of our participants and instructors.

Our spaces are safe, private, and minimize the presence of onlookers. In many of our locations, the entrance to our space is monitored outside of the room. When there is not a monitor, assistants and instructors immediately deal with people who (typically inadvertently) enter the space.

4. Do the instructors have a clear pedagogical approach and well-organized class plan? For instance, do the instructors set a beginning and ending time with an opening and closing to the class? Do they have a plan for teaching whereby one thing builds on another? Do instructors demonstrate tools and skills slowly so that participants can see what is happening, use clear and measured language and body movement to teach tools and skills, give participants an opportunity to practice and receive constructive feedback? Do instructors create the opportunity for questions?

IMPACT has a clear pedagogical approach that undergoes continual review and refinement. Our courses are well-organized and efficiently run. We begin and end programs on time. Techniques are incrementally learned and paced appropriately. Participants see demonstrations of what they are going to learn and have an opportunity to ask questions. In the Core Program, techniques are learned, practiced in the air, and then practiced in drills with padded strikers and pads. Eventually these same techniques are used in simulated attack scenarios that allow for full-force training. Our simulations include physical and non-physical boundary violations committed by strangers and people we know.
Students are coached by one instructor while another instructor portrays the role of aggressor or assailant. Our instructor team: student ratio in courses involving physical work is at most 1:5 (and often 1:3), allowing constructive feedback to be provided on an individual basis.

5. Do participants learn and practice more than physical techniques? For instance, do instructors offer a big picture of violence and self-defense and teach self and environmental awareness, assessment skills, verbal boundary setting, de-escalation, and physical tools?

IMPACT emphasizes communication strategies such as verbal de-escalation, assertive communication, and boundary-setting skills. We understand the cultural context experienced by our participants with respect to social norms implicitly condoning certain types of abuse and we are committed to reducing violence. We also recognize and address cultural variations in understanding of spatial relationships, eye contact, and verbal engagement.

6. Do instructors demonstrate an understanding of the challenges faced by survivors of violence? For instance, do instructors offer recommendations that are consistent with self-defense laws and with advice by advocacy groups and service providers, such as a safety plan and not carrying weapons? Do instructors use language that emphasizes getting to safety rather than expressing revenge or hatred?

IMPACT training is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to create social change, prevent abuse, and support healing. IMPACT organizations are committed to a broad vision of societal response to violence. We do not advocate any form of revenge or hatred. Our emphasis is on safety and basic principles to prevent an assault, de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, physically stop an attack, and survive and move beyond an attack experience.

7. Are instructors certified women’s self-defense instructors? Are the instructors certified by
a nationally recognized women’s self-defense organization, such as the National Women’s
Martial Arts Federation Self-Defense Group www.nwmaf.org or IMPACT International
www.impactselfdefenseorg? Do the instructors have professional knowledge concerning violence against women and/or professional experience in working with survivors of violence?

IMPACT instructors go through an extensive interview process and background check before beginning training. The training process is lengthy and thorough. IMPACT instructors are certified before they can be the lead instructor or the main suited instructor in a course. Some lead instructors in IMPACT have also gone through the process of receiving additional certification from the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation. IMPACT instructors also continue to do professional development and training to stay abreast of current issues and research in terms of gendered violence and self-defense.



The checklist for choosing a self-defense course was developed by Martha Thompson, Director and Instructor, IMPACT Chicago with input from Jennifer Caruso and Elizabeth Vitell, Rogers Park Community Council. Lisa Amoroso, IMPACT Chicago Board Member, wrote How IMPACT Stacks Up. For recommended philosophical underpinnings and FAQs about women’s self-defense, refer to the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault Guidelines for Choosing a Self-Defense course http://www.karatevid.com/article-SDguidelines.html

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