Monday, February 26, 2018

Empowering ≠ Empowerment Self-Defense

All kinds of educational environments have the potential for that rush of feeling empowered but that feeling does not then make it empowerment self-defense. The Empowerment Self-Defense movement is gaining traction and more and more people who have been teaching self-defense and martial arts are using that designation. I’m motivated to write this blog to clarify that an empowerment self-defense program is more than a feeling of empowerment.
         “Empowering” refers to that exhilarating feeling that arises when an activity or experience builds our confidence, skills, or independence.  Examples that can result in that feeling include climbing a tree or climbing a mountain; jumping double-dutch or jumping a stream; learning to read or learning to weave.
I became involved in the women’s liberation movement at Kent State University in January 1970. I was heady with feelings of empowerment though I didn’t call it that then. I was also aware that I needed more and drew what seemed to me to be a very logical conclusion: if I’m going to challenge male domination, I need to be able to protect myself. In the context of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Anti-War movements, it seemed certain that working to dismantle patriarchy would, just like these other movements, entail physical risks and I wanted to be prepared.
In the summer of 1970, I signed up for a karate class to become stronger and learn self-defense. There was one other woman in the program and the men, from beginners to black belts, did what they could to humiliate us. In the midst of this mistreatment, I got to practice kicking and punching. No, I didn’t like how I was treated but I was elated I could see my biceps and deliver powerful kicks and strikes.
I’ve had other experiences since then where I’ve been in an excellent, mediocre, or crummy learning environment and felt that exhilaration of learning a new skill, feeling more confident, or building my independence. 
Empowerment Self-Defense is More Than a Feeling
Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) is a philosophical, pedagogical, and methodological approach to addressing violence. It is rooted in the women's movement and feminism with a focus on ending violence against women and girls. As feminism and ESD developed, so have awareness of and attention to how intersections of gender with other systems of oppression, such as ability, race, nationality, sexual orientation, and social class affect expressions and framing of violence. 
         Below is a chart for a self-assessment list of sorts—the list is not exhaustive and I'm hoping others will contribute to expanding what sets ESD apart from other approaches. I was motivated to develop this chart not to keep people out but to draw people in. No program is perfect but if we want to call ourselves ESD instructors, then we are aiming for most of our work to fall consistently in the ESD column. Noting where our work doesn’t fit can give us a guide for areas to develop. If the items in the non-ESD Program column more accurately represent our approach and we have no interest in changing, then we are teaching self-defense but not ESD.           

Is it Empowerment Self-Defense?
A checklist for assessing in what ways a self-defense program meets standards of an empowerment self-defense(ESD) program. In an ESD program, most elements of philosophy, pedagogy, and methodology fall in the ESD column. 
Gaps point to room for development.

Non-ESD Program
ESD Program
Philosophy (the underlying thinking)

Attention to social context of violence
Little to no attention
High attention
Source of violence
Individual problems (e.g. bad people)
Social issues (e.g. social structure of privilege & oppression)
Targets of violence
Little to no attention to social characteristics; focus on individual behaviors
Attention to intersections of gender, intellectual and physical abilities, race, sexual orientation, social class.
Perpetrators of violence
“Bad” people different from others
Indistinguishable from others—focus on behavior not on appearance or social status
Framing violence
Physical violence
Continuum of violence
Pedagogy (the practice of teaching)

Students’ capabilities
Expose their weaknesses
Reveal their strengths
Hierarchical with the head instructor the most respected     
Respect for all and what each brings
# and ease of learning tools
Many and takes time to learn and retain
Few and accessible  
Types of tools
Physical fighting tools are the focus
A range of tools--awareness, assessment, verbal, physical tools, (breathing, escaping, fighting)
Application of tools
The instructor provides the mindset: “If this, then…”

Toolbox approach--defenders apply strategy, tools, principles based on their assessment of the situation.
Attention to trauma
Responsibility for violence
Risky behavior of target; morals and mental state of perpetrators
Perpetrator is responsible and focuses on those perceived as socially vulnerable and who likely will not be believed
Methodology (the means of developing a self-defense system)

Source of knowledge
Tradition, instructors’ experiences
Research and evidence, students’ experiences
Internal, closed, isolated from practitioners from other systems
Collaborative, open, networking
Making a name or a profit for oneself or system
Social justice and social change
Dealing with disagreement, conflict
Attacking, bullying, one-sided
Dialogue, Non-violent communication
Martha E. Thompson  2/26/2018
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Thank you to Donna Chaiet, President, Prepare Inc, for her suggested revisions on an earlier version of this blog. You can find a copy of just the chart "Is It Empowerment Self-Defense" here.

Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago Instructor
NWMAF Certified Self-Defense Instructor
Member, ESD Alliance
Participant, 2017 ESD Global Incubator

Recent IMPACT Chicago Blogs About Empowerment Self-Defense
Harmon, Julie. Principles of Empowerment Self-Defense. September 25, 2017.
Jones, Amy.
McDonald, Mona. What Do Empowerment Self-Defense Students Learn? October 30, 2017.
Thompson, Martha

1 comment:

  1. So GREAT and thank you for all the work and energy this required!