"Making the world a safer place, 12-16 women at a time." That was his motto. Even while screaming obscenities in my face. Even while calling me horrible names and telling me the disgusting things he would do to me. Even while physically attacking me.
Sound awful? It was. But it was also three of the best days of my life. Who is this man who felt he was making the world a safer place while being completely creepy, verbally inappropriate and forcing me to roll over and spread my legs? He was my mock assailant and I love him for every horrible minute of it.
I recently attended a three day self-defense course taught by Impact Bay Area, a non-profit organization with the goal of teaching women and teens not only how to defend themselves from people who would verbally and/or physically attempt to invade their personal boundaries, but also how to heal mentally and emotionally from past attacks in order to move beyond them and feel safe and strong. This isn't any run-of-the-mill self-defense course. This course trains you to use mind, body and voice to defend yourself. It teaches you muscle memory by allowing you to practice full force defense techniques with a fully padded mock assailant.
Full. Force. Fighting. = Awesome.
It was three of the hardest days of my life, but when I emerged from each 8 hour day exhausted, sore, and sometimes even bruised and bleeding, I found a new me. One filled with awe and confidence and strength. These three days were spread out over a three week period and in the intervening weeks I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Yes, I hurt. Yes, I bled. Yes, I sustained a mild concussion. (Tuck your chin, ladies, tuck your chin. Protect your head and keep it off the ground!) But I know I'll do it again. It is a small price to pay for all I have gained.
I have not been raped or even physically attacked before, but that didn't stop me from feeling completely intimidated and overwhelmed by the thought of the emotional and physical toll this class would take. I knew it was going to be intense and would bring out fears and emotional scars I didn't even know existed. I found that I was not alone. The general agreement among all of my classmates was that while we all wanted to be there, we were all equally terrified, too. Gathering strength from that comraderie, I dove right in and was the first to openly cry. I hoped I wouldn't, but it didn't really surprise me considering I can pretty much cry at almost anything. This probably would have been less embarassing if it had been brought on by something more intrusive than "introduce yourself, tell us why you're here and what you hope to get out of this class." Yeah, to my great annoyance, I often find it hard to get through any strong emotions without tears. Did I mentioned I felt overwhelmed and intimidated? It was in that moment, however, that I decided what I wanted out of class was a way to find my voice while leaving the tears behind. I got this and so much more.
Day one we learned how to use our voices, how to hold our ground and our first core defense techniques that we would build on through the course. While I was certain that I had the physical strength to knee an attacker in the groin with the best of them, I was also pretty sure I would fail miserably in the "using my voice" portion of the training. Let me explain by saying I am NOT a confrontational person. I don't even like it when I am an observer to confrontation. It's so full of horrible negative vibes, anger and unwanted attention that I pretty much will avoid it at all costs. And in the past I have, even at the cost of losing my own personal boundaries. To say that I was shocked to find myself screaming (in front of all these strangers no less) at my mock assailant, telling him to BACK OFF and GO AWAY is an understatement. To say that it felt good to do so . . . unimaginable. Within a mere few hours I had found my voice. And it was loud and strong and empowering. But verbal attacks were only the beginning. Day one also brought physical attacks. From the front, from behind, pulling you, pushing you, grabbing your hair, picking you up and tackling you to the ground. I learned that yes, even I can immediately drop to the ground poised for a groin kick when faced with a charging person intent on hurting me. I learned that I can even do that without breaking a hip (who knew?), or feeling any pain. Adrenalin, I learned, is a wonderful thing. Addictive even.
At day two's check-in I was, mercifully, tear free. YES! We proceeded into a review of what we learned on day one and then further into new attack positions and scenarios. Foolishly, I had come away from day one surprised that our assailants didn't swear at us more. But day two introduced reversals. Think home invasion, it's 2 a.m. and you're sound asleep. Reversals are up close and personal and start on the ground, laying down, with your eyes closed. Reversals also brought a new level of verbal abuse which shocked us and caused us to cry. Verbal abuse can be more intimidating than physical violence. Day two we learned to "go to zero," one of the most difficult and most powerful positions you can be in. That's where you force yourself to stop fighting, try to ignore him as he tells you in the most disgusting way possible how worthless you are, how much you're going to enjoy this, how much he's going to enjoy this; where you remain limp and allow him to move you into vulnerable positions as you wait for that precious, golden moment when he thinks you have given up and he releases an arm or leans all his weight on you and you can finally strike a blow or heave him over and kick as hard as you can. Did I mention that adrenalin is a wonderful, addictive thing? Especially once you learn to work through it without panic and use it to your advantage.
While I expected day three to be physically exhausting, it also brought a new intimidation I didn't expect. Did you know that about half of all sexual assaults involve a demand for oral sex? Me either. Who would think that men would be stupid enough to put their penis near a pair of unwilling teeth? Actually, we were told the word in this situation is not so much "stupid" as "arrogant." They are counting on you to be so intimidated by their verbal assault and at having a penis shoved in your face that you will actually comply with this request without biting. Mind-boggling, I know, but it's true and sadly, it works. This brought a whole new level of creepy innuendo and verbal trash talk from our mock assailants. For me and my non-confrontational nature, it brought a whole new level of feeling helpless and uncomfortable. What can be more confrontational than having a penis shoved in your face? Yeah, OK, he's wearing like 3 inches of padding, but that doesn't stop it from feeling invasive and gross anyway. You know why? Because it is. But you know what it didn't bring? Tears. We had all become strong enough that even this new level of intimidation could not take away the power we had already claimed. Our response? FU creepy dude! We will bite that penis and/or administer a move aptly named "the weenie whomp." Although we were taught to strike twice with the weenie whomp before pushing ourselves away, I noticed that pretty much everyone struck about 3-4 times instead. It was just such an inviting target at that point and, well, I've mentioned that adrenalin thing right?
Day three also brought extended fights to give you the experience of fighting off an assailant who might be on drugs or in a psychotic break and who has a higher than normal pain tolerance level because of it. It's where we learned that even though your mind is telling you to quit, even though you feel like your legs have stopped working, even though you can barely gasp for breath, you find deep inside there is strength for one more elbow strike, strength to deliver a final kick to the head, pick yourself up off the ground and run for help.
Day three ended with a public celebration in which you could invite friends and family to come and see what you have been learning. A chance for the instructors to tell them about what they teach and why they shouldn't practice these techniques at home with you. (Full force = no pulling punches.) A chance to show them the fights and how you are able to defend and protect yourself in various situations. Afterwards my husband told me that even though it was difficult to see me in such a vulnerable position, he did feel better knowing now that I could defend myself if necessary. And while it was difficult to watch my daughter hide her face when the physical attacks were too uncomfortable and cover her ears when the verbal attacks too harsh, I knew she was learning that even though there are bad people who do disgusting things, you can fight back and defend yourself. She now wants to take the teen class and learn to defend herself.
I was lucky enough to not have to pay for my class this time as it was a gift from my employer, but most people don't have this option. Fortunately, Impact Bay Area offers a scholarship for women who are not able to afford the cost of the class themselves. They are able to do so with donations they receive from people like me and people like you. And there are many ways to donate. You can donate money, time, supplies and by shopping. Yep, you heard me. Click on links from their website to Amazon and 6% of your order total will be donated to the organization. How's that for easy? http://www.impactbayarea.org/impact.php?support Impact Bay Area is part of a non-profit that has Chapters in many different locations and you will most likely be able to find one near you. I urge you to donate or at least spread the word about this wonderful opportunity with women you know and love. Helping women to become strong and confident is one of the best things you can do for them.
From this course I learned that I have the right to set boundaries and have others respect those boundaries without having to justify them. I don't have to be afraid when commuting, grocery shopping, or going out alone. I learned that I have the right to enjoy my life the way I want to without anyone taking that away from me and that I can protect myself and those around me. I learned that speaking up will not provoke an attacker, but will cause them to back down in the face of opposition. I learned that an attacker does not decide to rape you because anything you say, do or wear provokes him, but that attacker has already decided to rape and is merely looking for someone to intimidate and overpower. I refuse to be that person. I refuse to let others around me be that person. I have a strong mind, a strong body and a loud voice and I'm no longer afraid to use them.
I did not accomplish any of this on my own. I had the help of 1 lead instructor, 2 assistant instructors, 2 mock assailant instructors and 12 other women who were all equally committed to the goal of making the world a safer place, 12-16 women at a time.