Monday, January 29, 2018

Self-Defense is Not About Eliminating Risk

Amy Jones, Thousand Waves
When we talk about the Thousand Waves' approach to empowerment self-defense, one of the ways we explain it is to say that we don’t give people a bunch of rules to follow. Today I’m going to unpack that idea a little bit.

First of all, if I were to give you a rule, the chances of it being applicable to your life are pretty small. For example, one of the “rules” that well-meaning people will often tell you is to be careful getting into your car – make sure there’s nobody lurking in the back seat, or under the car.
I don’t know you, but I don’t currently own a car. So that’s a rule that’s useless to me.
If I did own a car, I could look underneath it and in the back seats every single time I got into it, and the chances are fairly high that there would literally never be anyone there. The risk is very low. And that gets me to the second reason we don’t bother with rules.* The rule-givers are trying to sell you on the idea that if you just follow all of their rules, you’ll eliminate all risk of being a victim of violence.
That’s a very compelling idea, one that plenty of folks are eager to embrace. It’s a pretty easy sell, in other words. But here’s the thing: it’s not actually possible to eliminate all risk from your life. If you follow all of the rules that the well-meaning rulemakers give you, you’ll find your movements more and more constrained – never going outside after dark, never going to new places, never meeting new people. And you may STILL find yourself a victim of violence. Most of these rules end up being about strangers – and of course, most violence is perpetrated by people known to the victim.
Life is risk, and risks are part of what make life exciting. In a very literal sense, risks are growth opportunities. So instead of giving people rules and an illusion of safety, we help people learn to realistically assess and decide for themselves what risks are worth taking. We give them accurate information about the realities of violence (for example, that violence from strangers is relatively rare). We give them tools to move through their worlds with confidence, which both makes it less likely that they’ll be targeted, and enables them to be more aware of their own internal signals that something might be wrong. And we talk about ways they can mitigate the risks they choose to take.
One of the criticisms of self-defense training is that it can be victim-blaming. As empowerment self-defense instructors, we work pretty hard to make it clear that we’re not about blaming anyone but the perpetrator of violence for their behavior. When you think about self-defense as mindfully choosing the risks you take, it becomes more clear that we’re talking about ways you can enhance your safety without putting the responsibility on the defender for someone else’s actions.
One of the workshops we’ve started teaching this year is Self-Defense and Bystander Intervention. We’ve always taught intervention as part of our self-defense curriculum, but this workshop expands on the content and focuses on it more explicitly than our ‘standard’ empowerment self-defense workshops. One of the repercussions of the decision to intervene in a potentially violent situation is that it elevates one’s own risk. It’s not our place to tell anyone whether they should intervene in a situation they’re witnessing, but it’s our hope that at least some folks will weigh that risk and decide that it’s worth it, at least some of the time.

*We do have one rule, and even it is more a strong encouragement rather than a rule. Here it is: don’t go to a second, more private location with someone who you know means you harm. Statistically, your situation will not be improved – the new location will be more isolated, less familiar to you, and more familiar to your assailant. If you’re going to choose a moment to fight, the moment right after someone says, “come with me” is a really good choice.
Amy Jones, Violence Prevention and Self-Defense Program Manager at Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center. Self-Defense is Not About Eliminating Risk was originally published 9/15/2017 in tyrft: Thousand Waves' Blog/Newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, January 8, 2018

What Can Adults Learn from Kids about Conflict?

From How Many Ways Can You Say Mom
In “ What I’ve Learned About Conflict from a Four-Year Old,  Rebecca Armacost, Executive Director, Mediation Training Institute, reflects on the lessons she has learned from her 4-year old son:
  • While sometimes we want to cry and act out, conflict is resolved sooner when we talk through our perspectives
  • Lack of sleep can seriously impact our ability to handle conflict appropriately
  • Know when to engage and when to let it go
  • Don’t underestimate the power of expressing emotions
  • We all want some amount of control
For the full story, read here

Monday, January 1, 2018

Grounded in My Boundaries: Reporting Inappropriate Behavior

I finished IMPACT Core training just a couple weeks ago [fall 2017], and I've already had a chance to put my training into action.  No, I haven't had a physical altercation with a potential assailant.  My incident was much more commonplace, and was one of those situations we often refer to as a "gray area."

I've worked at the same company for 3 years.  My boss's boss, who joined the company 6 months ago, is a little too hands-on (literally) with myself, my teammates, and other young women in the office.  Hands on shoulders, arms, backs, and general invasion of personal space.  He also makes comments and uses language that he would not use with male employees.  It's not overtly predatory, but it's inappropriate, makes women uncomfortable, and is non-consensual.  

This has bothered me since he joined the company. Pre-IMPACT me might have reported it to HR eventually, but I would have really deliberated and stressed and worried that I was endangering my job or wrongly incriminating him.  Post-IMPACT me had a much easier time with it.  I reported it to HR today, and while I did have trouble sleeping last night as I was gearing up to make the report, I was pretty calm and felt completely justified.  I really think IMPACT's emphasis on respecting your own boundaries helped me stay calm through this.  The whole time, my motivation was "let's nip this in the bud, let's correct this behavior," rather than "this person is threatening, this person makes me feel icky and uncomfortable, but I'm afraid of what would happen if I reported it."  It's a subtle but profound shift.  
Before IMPACT, I would be much more likely to excuse this behavior, second guess myself, talk myself into accepting it, etc.  If I did report it, I would have had to talk with a lot of people to build my confidence or help me feel justified.  As women, we are so used to accepting this kind of thing--if we rocked the boat every time a man made us uncomfortable, we'd never get anything done.  But IMPACT has helped me feel grounded in my own boundaries in a way I have never intentionally practiced. Thanks to this, I did not waste time internalizing this behavior or making it my problem  ("Maybe *I'm* too uptight, *I* just don't understand his humor, *I'm*overreacting") .  Instead, I felt free to move swiftly and directly, taking the action I needed to take without having to discuss it with anyone but HR.
It's not a gray area if it makes you uncomfortable.  End of story.  I am, of course, concerned that this may be handled poorly by my company and negatively affect my job.  But the alternative (letting it continue) was unacceptable.  
IMPACT has a way of clearing the clutter, allowing you to recognize a threat for a threat, without being encumbered by self-doubt.  It clears the way for you to act swiftly and directly, with no wasted time or energy.  This is as true of my incident this week as it is with the physical fight scenarios in class.

I never would have expected a physical self-defense class would help me in a situation like this.  But I am just starting to realize how multifaceted the effects of IMPACT really are.
S.G., IMPACT Chicago 2017 Graduate