from the September, 2010 issue of Kiai!
Thousand Waves Contributes
National Self-Defense Conference
By Marie O’Brien
A puppet show about sex and consent. A presentation about teaching self-defense to imprisoned women. A story about an incident of anti-gay bullying that almost became deadly…but didn’t, when someone intervened. These and other issues were highlighted at the 2010 Self-Defense Instructors Conference in Pennsylvania, and Thousand Waves was there. Our instructors offered strategies for training newer teachers and contributed to the larger discussions about how we define the work we do as self-defense instructors. Thousand Waves is proud to be among the leaders who set the standards for empowerment-based self-defense and to have the opportunity to learn from our colleagues who do innovative work in communities throughout the world.
This annual conference, produced by the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation, brings together women from across the U.S. and beyond who want to share and learn the most current methods of practicing and teaching self-defense. For those of us who teach self-defense from a social justice perspective, there are many skills to learn beyond just producing a powerful palm heel technique. We need to be responsive to various audiences and to the specific vulnerabilities they face. We need to be aware of systemic violence: how it infiltrates our society and our self-defense classrooms. We need to create safe places for people to heal, learn new skills, and build confidence. This professional development conference was created by women committed to social justice and social change and carries forward this orientation to all aspects of self-defense, including (believe it or not) how to teach that palm heel strike.
In sessions from this year’s conference:
In addition, Thousand Waves directed four of the 18 breakout sessions, three of which were led by our own Nancy Lanoue and Martha Thompson. They first each met with about 20 women who are seeking certification from the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation. In this session, they offered guidance on skill building, finding mentors, and the nuts and bolts of completing the application. Given that there are no business-wide standards for self-defense teaching, the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation created a certification process that sets guidelines for empowerment-based teaching. Thousand Waves helped to frame this model and has taught from it since our beginnings.
Nancy and Martha’s second session addressed the empowerment-based approach to self-defense (also called, variously, the “feminist,” “social justice,” “anti-racist,” “inclusive,” or “diversity-focused” approach), which is at the heart of what makes Thousand Waves’ self-defense classes go beyond mere physical techniques. With an analysis of individual and systemic violence driving the curriculum, we facilitate discussions on socialization and cycles of violence. We vary teaching methods and content based on our audiences. We create safe spaces for participants to try new things, and we make sure that survivors of violence can participate in a way that helps them move forward.
In their third session, Nancy and Martha presented a proposal they had been working on for two years entitled “Re-envisioning Self-Defense Work within the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation.” The proposal addressed ways to achieve greater cohesion, diversity, fairness, appropriate allocation of funding, and simplified administration. It also made concrete recommendations for convening a permanent Leaders Council to administer the NWMAF’s self-defense work.
Thousand Waves’ fourth session, led by Kate Webster, highlighted our approach to building assertive communication skills. Among the participants in her session were several women who are experienced martial artists—and therefore able to teach physical techniques—but are new to teaching empowerment-based self-defense. These participants, who are in the process of applying for certification, were grateful for a workshop that focused solely on assertive communication, a core element of empowerment-based self-defense.
Every year when Thousand Waves instructors attend the Self-Defense Instructors Conference, we are inspired by our colleagues and the innovative work they are doing. We are also excited to share our work and successes with this group of leaders, and we are emboldened to continue and expand our work in Chicago and beyond.