Self-Defense in the News: Two Women Who Defended Themselves Against Harvey Weinstein

10.18.17 by Amy Jones

I’m always annoyed when people gain fame by behaving badly, and I really don’t want to spend much time on Harvey Weinstein at all. But there are two women who have come forward and told the world about both his detestable actions and their courageous defense against him. Those are the people I want to talk about.  Their names are Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and Katherine Kendall, and they deserve to be remembered and celebrated.

Before I get into their stories, I want to make a couple of points that are at the heart of the empowerment model of self-defense.  First of all, the fact that these two women were able to defend themselves against assault (or rather, further assault) in no way changes the truth that Weinstein’s behavior was his choice and that he is solely responsible for his actions.  Nor does it imply that what they did was ‘right’ and what other women who were targeted and victimized by Weinstein did was ‘wrong.’  When someone like Weinstein makes the choice to commit an assault against a woman, she does what she can in that moment to protect herself.  Right and wrong are meaingless concepts in this context, and imply a level of responsibility that just doesn’t exist.  It’s also a fallacy to assume that if other women had done what Ms. Gutierrez or Ms. Kendall did, they would have experienced the same results.  Every situation is different, and there isn’t a rulebook for these kinds of encounters.

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Self-Defense is Not About Eliminating Risk

09.15.17 by Amy Jones

When we talk about our approach to 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 about you, but I don’t currently own a car. So that’s a rule that’s useless to me. read more >

“I’m 6’6″ and 300 pounds. Why do I need self-defense?” A male student’s perspective

07.28.17 by Thomas Cosgrove

Tom Cosgrove is a training member at Thousand Waves

I have been studying karate at TW for about a year and a half now and I was promoted to advanced yellow belt in mid-May. Shortly after I advanced, Amy Jones approached me and reminded me that the 12-hour self-defense course is a requirement for my next step, advancement to green belt. She also reminded me that the next self-defense class just so happened to be that very weekend and would not be offered again until mid-October. I had seen the self-defense courses being offered before and I had always thought, ”What do I need that for? I’m 6’6” and weigh 300 pounds. I was a Chicago police officer. I played football and wrestled in both high school and college. “What am I going to learn there?” But, I needed the class to advance. I signed up.

First, a little background. Many people I talk to are surprised to find out that when I was growing up, I was a victim of bullying. My physical appearance was that of a boy two or three years older than I but my maturity and intelligence were age appropriate. To the older kids, I appeared about their age but when they found I was much more immature, the bullying began. Any complaints to an authority figure were met with something along the lines of “You’re big, you can take it.” “Who would pick on you?” Times were different then but not so much. These are phrases I still hear today and I need to be very careful when I stand up for myself because it is automatically assumed that I am the aggressor.

Eventually, as I grew older and began playing sports I learned what my body could do, the bullying stopped. It didn’t stop immediately — there were some times when I had to defend myself physically, and my newfound abilities served me well in those times.  All through high school, when I would see bullying, whoever the victim, I would intervene. I liked the feeling of helping someone who couldn’t help themselves. It’s probably why I became a police officer and certainly why I became a lawyer. I wish I had someone who would’ve helped me. As I had more and more encounters, I learned that I did not need to engage in a physical altercation to intervene. My appearance, coupled with some strong words of deterrence was enough. This was very effective and has become my strategy for self-defense.

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Self-Defense and Bystander Intervention Workshops at Thousand Waves

04.25.17 by Amy Jones

Starting In December of 2016, Thousand Waves has been offering free 3-hour community workshops entitled “Self-Defense and Bystander Intervention.”  To date, we’ve offered three workshops, and more than 75 people have participated.  We’re excited to announce two more of these workshops, on Sunday, July 9, and Saturday, October 7.  Both workshops are from 1:30 – 4:30 PM, and are open to people of all genders ages 15 and up.  Registration is open now!

The workshop teaches the same basic skills as our standard Five Fingers of Self-Defense workshops, but with expanded content that specifically addresses intervening when someone else is the target of harassment or violence.  Alongside role play practice using verbal assertiveness to interrupt harassment and prevent physical violence, workshop participants practice delivering physical strikes designed to be effective against larger, stronger assailants.  The techniques use “natural weapons” – the heels of the palm and the foot, the side of the fist – that are easy to learn and naturally strong; students are trained to target vulnerable areas on an assailant’s body.  “Taking out the knee creates mechanical compliance,” says Becky Kidd, by way of example.  “If you injure the knee, they’re not running after you.  They can’t.”  Becky has been the instructor or co-instructor for all 3 workshops.

In cases of identity-based harassment, students are coached to first consider the environment and their own safety, and to consider various options for intervening –by calling authorities, allying with the intended target, or directly confronting the attacker.

Thousand Waves was moved to offer this workshop, and to offer it for free, because of an increase in inquiries following the November 9th election.  “People are concerned,” says staff instructor Erin Epperson, Ph.D.  “They want to know what to do if they see someone being targeted for harassment.”  Erin cites a Southern Poverty Law Center report of more than 400 incidents of hate-based harassment in the weeks following the election.

Self-Defense and Bystander Intervention since the 2016 Election

11.23.16 by Amy Jones

The results of the recent presidential election have elicited strong emotions from many of us. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking reports of hate-based intimidation and harassment and as of this writing has counted 701 since the election. The good news is that the incidents do seem to be decreasing.
While there are a few incidents directed at Trump supporters (SPLC counts 27), the vast majority are targeting members of the immigrant and minority communities. I should note that the “Trump supporters” count from the SPLC is likely an under-representation given that many of the reports are self-reports, and Trump supporters are less likely to report incidents to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As a non-profit dedicated to violence prevention, Thousand Waves stands strongly alongside those who are targeted for violence for any reason.

Responding If You’re Targeted
Every situation is different, but it’s telling to me that most of the incidents reported to the SPLC occurred at a K-12 school. The report only lists locations, but presumably schoolchildren are both targets and assailants for many of these incidents. Some of the anecdotal incidents in the report are that of graffiti, which could come from adults or children, of course. Graffiti is an especially maddening form of low-level violence, because of its anonymity. There’s not much you can do except clean it up.

For those incidents that do happen in person, one of the truisms of self-defense is, “if you’re being targeted because you’re seen as weak, get bigger; if you’re being targeted because you’re seen as strong, get smaller.” In the verbal sections of our self-defense trainings, we talk about boundary-setting and de-escalation as basic self-defense skills that exist on a spectrum. Boundary-setting is on one side (“getting bigger,”) and de-escalation on the other (“getting smaller”). If children are being targeted, it’s a pretty sure bet that assailants are targeting those they identify as weak, which means that setting strong boundaries is called for.

On the other hand, if the person who is targeting you seems highly escalated to the point that they are no longer rational, de-escalation may be a more useful skill – though usually you’ll need to use some boundary setting as well, once they’re calm enough to hear you.
If you’re interested in resources for kids and how you can help kids, KidPower is a great resource. In addition to plenty of great advice on helping kids feel safe, they recently published a blog post on affirming respect, safety, and confidence for all that I heartily recommend.

Being an Ally
Many of the requests that are coming into Thousand Waves in the days since the election are coming from people who are concerned for their friends and loved ones who may be targeted. They want to know what they can do to help others. The safety pin has emerged as a symbol of unity; the idea (it began in the UK after the Brexit vote) being that wearing a safety pin is way of designating oneself as “safe.” I see this as a nice gesture for an ally to take, and one that implies a willingness to intervene. Intervention (using one’s self-defense skills on behalf of others) is one of the skills we teach in our self-defense trainings. It isn’t truly different from the boundary-setting or de-escalation skills we teach, it’s merely applying those skills on behalf of others, including those who aren’t present (as in when someone makes a racist statement, believing that it’s ok because nobody of color is around).
It takes courage to speak up against hateful speech, or speech that robs individuals of dignity, but it’s important work. When intervening, we always stress that one should think of their own safety first – you don’t help others by getting hurt yourself, no matter how good your intentions. But if it does feel safe, we strongly encourage people to say something when they witness racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, or statements that attack someone’s identity.

What can you say? Here are some examples of lines we practice with students:

  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “I don’t see why that’s supposed to be funny. Can you explain it?”

Obviously these lines apply to different situations. The first (“Is there anything I can do to help?”) is a great way of addressing a situation where you’re not sure what’s going on, and it also puts the control in the hands of the person who is being targeted, letting them decide if they want assistance. The second (“I don’t see why that’s supposed to be funny”) is a fairly gentle way of calling out a racist (or homophobic, etc) joke and letting people discover on their own why it’s offensive.

Allies and Building Bridges
The final point I want to make is about building bridges. The one thing that the election showed us is that we are a nation deeply divided. Finding common ground, and moving from a place that assumes positive intent even when the impact is incredibly hurtful, has got to be our first step.
Coming together is not a step that everyone is ready to take. Some of us are still too hurt to be able to think about reaching out. If that describes you, it isn’t your job to find common cause with someone who is hurting you. I hope you’ll channel your energy into protecting yourself and your loved ones.
If you are privileged enough to have the emotional energy to reach out, I hope you will – that you’ll work both to find common cause with those who disagree and also to fight for justice and dignity for those who are threatened. Both are the acts of allies.

At Thousand Waves, we do what we can to foster peacemaking through empowerment. In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

On Intervention, the Bystander Effect, and Overcoming it

06.22.16 by Amy Jones

When I lived in Texas, I used to sometimes go out two-stepping with my friends. It was Texas; it seemed like the thing to do (plus it’s fun). One night, after tearing up the dance floor for a few hours, I was walking home with two friends. We came upon a couple arguing, loudly. For a few minutes we just watched, hoping the power of the witness would convince the young man to stop yelling at the young woman. It didn’t.

Finally, one of my friends walked up to the woman and said, “Do you want help?” She did, and folded her body into my friend gratefully. It turns out she wanted to go home, and the man with her held her ID and credit card and wasn’t relinquishing them. We convinced him to reconsider, called her a cab, and made sure she was on her way home before leaving.

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