Non-Physical self-defense

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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Excerpts from Apprentice Essays on The Gift of Fear

07.26.17 by Jackie Seijo and Cyrus Sethna

Jackie and Cyrus are an apprentices in the self-defense teacher training program. For their final written assignment, they were asked to read and respond to The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. This is excerpted from reflections they wrote as part of their preparation to be self-defense teachers.


Generally speaking, I very much agree with what De Becker has to say about safety. In fact, I not only read The Gift of Fear within a few days of buying it, I also bought another one of his books called Fear Less and even spent a little time researching how one might gain employment at Gavin De Becker and Associates. To me, a lot of what he says just seems to be common sense –but so much so that people tend to forget it. At times, De Becker’s “I’m the expert” attitude borders on unkind.

But, truly, he stresses these ideas to empower us, as individuals in society, to take charge of our own safety rather than believing that the police or the government is going to take care of everything and protect us from all harm. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Literally the TSA has never prevented a hijacking of an aircraft; passengers have. I think what he has to say is a wake-up call and whether or not we listen is now our choice.

Of course, there are problems. De Becker really only talks about violence from stranger to stranger and barely mentions domestic violence or the kind of violence most people experience from their loved ones/friends, which is so much more common. He does include significant information comparing the number of deaths in war to the amount of women who will be killed by their boyfriends or husbands. I felt that this was extremely effective. Is it the most effective way to fight domestic violence? No. But, at least he mentions it, and maybe others will become aware as a result of this book (or a self-defense class). If it is possible to ease this fear of “stranger danger,” we can use the rest of our brain power on other, more frequent kinds of violence that need our attention.

I recommend this reading to anybody who wants to learn more about the value of listening to instincts. No, it’s not the end-all be-all, but I think it can be very effective.

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Trib article about non-physical self-defense

06.27.17 by Amy Jones

Over the summer, the Chicago Tribune published an article (dated June 25, 2017) about a woman who used her wits, communication skills, and some strategic positioning positions (what we would call the Think, Yell, and Run fingers) to escape a man who sexually assaulted her.  Of course, to hear the Trib tell it, “her ordeal eventually ended early Thursday when a ‘good Samaritan’ Uber driver came to the woman’s rescue as she ran from her attacker [. . .].”  Reading further, though, it’s clear that the woman had called the Uber driver from the perpetrator’s bathroom, so it sounds to me like she saved herself.

My intent is not to cast aspersions on the Uber driver, at all — I’m very glad he helped her in the final phase of her escape.  Still, it’s a little irritating that the article highlights his ‘good Samaritan-hood’ of responding to a fare, but doesn’t frame the woman’s own actions — which, according to the article, include a) calling an Uber once it became clear that the assailant was ignoring her wish to go home, b) setting a clear verbal boundary during the assault, c) noticing that it wasn’t working and switching strategies to stalling by insisting the perpetrator use a condom, and d) escaping his grab attempt — as self-defense.  In other words, it’d be nice if the Trib gave the survivor a little more credit for her own self-protective actions.  Still, I applaud the Tribune for publishing the article, and including the survivor’s actions in the narrative.


Great post about facing sexual harassment — and triumphing

05.16.17 by Amy Jones

Our friends at IMPACT Chicago have just posted a great article written by Tabitha Olson, one of the amazing assistants in our self-defense program.   In the article, Tabitha writes about two recent incidents of sexual harassment she experienced, and how she was able to face them down.  It’s not the first time she’s written about how her self-defense skills have aided her — she’s also the author of The Power of Posture.  I’m delighted that Tabitha has become more active in the self-defense program here, even though I hate the incidents that motivated it.  Kind of like the way I love the work I do, even as my greatest hope is that one day my work will become unnecessary.

Since that happy day hasn’t yet arrived, I’ll take the opportunity to remind you about our May workshop, just for women and girls ages 15 and up.  It’s this Sunday, May 21st, from 1:30 – 3:30 PM, and the fee is sliding scale between $20 and $40.  If $20 presents a financial barrier, just contact us at and we’ll waive the fee.



Verbal Self-Defense in The Princess Bride

09.07.16 by Amy Jones

As a teen and even young adult, The Princess Bride was one of my favorite movies, so much so that even today I know most of the lines. It’s a classic fairy tale — nothing resembling feminism in it, but if you’re willing to overlook the more or less complete lack of women’s empowerment (and 20-year-old me barely even noticed, which probably deserves its own post), it’s a lot of fun.

I haven’t seen it in years, but for some reason was thinking about it the other day as I rode into work.
Specifically, it occurred to me that the 45 seconds linked here constitute a lovely example of verbal self-defense. Our hero (Wesley) is the next thing to bed-ridden.  He’s been mostly dead all day. He is definitely not capable of defending himself physically, and the villain (Prince Humperdink) knows it. All seems lost. Then, using the Yell finger of safety, Wesley makes Prince Humperdink question what he thinks he knows, and convinces him to surrender. Our hero doesn’t even lie, even though –as we tell our students — it’s totally fair game to do so in the name of safety. He just tells a truth, and using his tone and choice of words, manages to imply a different truth.
The music swells as our Wesley laboriously/dramatically stands. The command is given, the sword is dropped, and the villain is vanquished.


Check it out:


Self-Defense and Pokemon Go!

08.11.16 by Amy Jones

Pokemon GO! is all the rage these days.  I admit, I’m a fan.  I’m currently level 16, Team Instinct — because as a self-defense instructor I feel a certain loyalty to instincts, plus I like underdogs.  I’m starting to notice the safety warnings proliferating, too — some level-headed, some a little strident.  The always-excellent KidPower has a nice article about playing as a family.

I can see why people have safety concerns — well-intentioned people have been railing about the safety issues of walking around ‘buried in your phone’ for years now, and hunting Pokemon requires a certain attention to be paid to one’s device, at the same time as it encourages you to walk around.

The self-defense principles we teach are, of course, relevant:   recognize when you are taking risks, and do what you can to mitigate those risks.  Being around people and light, in areas that you’re familiar with, is safest.  Having an ally (close friend, family member, romantic partner) with you is also a good safety strategy.

The safety concerns break down into a few categories:

Watch Where You’re Going!

Well, yes.  This is always a good idea, and that doesn’t change because Pokemon GO came along.  When I’m walking down the street looking for Pokemon, I try to keep a 5-and-5 pace — I’ll watch the screen for 5 paces, and then look up at my surroundings for 5 paces.  Of course, when I come to intersections, I pay attention for as long as it takes to get across the street.   It is an absorbing game, and I can see how someone could come to grief by not paying attention.

The last few updates show that the game creators are thinking about this, too — when the game loads, in addition to the warning that has always been part of the game’s load screen, (“Remember to be alert at all times.  Stay aware of your surroundings,”)  you’ll now get one of several warnings:  “Do not trespass while playing Pokemon GO,” “Do not enter dangerous areas while playing Pokemon GO,” and “Do not play Pokemon GO while driving,” that you have to acknowledge in the game itself.  I was skeptical that people actually tried to play while driving, but as of the latest update, if the game detects that your speed has increased, it tells you again not to play while driving, and prompts you to acknowledge that you’re a passenger.  People — don’t Pokemon and Drive.  Distracted driving is pretty much always a bad idea.

Don’t Go To That Dangerous Place!

In addition to general “don’t go into dark alleys to find a PokeStop” types of warnings (pro-tip:  PokeStops don’t tend to be in dark alleys), there’s the story of the unsuspecting players who were attracted to a PokeStop with a lure on it and then robbed.  This was in fact reported as news in O’Fallon, Missouri, but Snopes says it was mis-reported.  This is really a variation of the “watch where you’re going” advice, with the extra spice of imagining ne’er-do-wells lying in wait (a variation endlessly popular in urban legends, it seems).

One of the better ideas I’ve seen is to play Pokemon GO with friends — that way, you can appoint someone to pay closer attention to surroundings and practice broad awareness, while others pay more attention to the game.  When Pokemon appear, they appear for all players, so this “team up” tactic works well.

Pokemon Go Will Steal Your Personal Information!

This is something that I’ve heard talked about amongst security-conscious users.  There was a kerfluffle with the game asking to access all of your Google Profile information in the account creation process, though the company claims that was an error.  Not being at Niantic (the game’s parent company) or having knowledge of the data they collect, I can’t really speak authoritatively (or even especially knowledgeably) about this.  I will say that the company doesn’t strike me as any more or less sinister than Google, Facebook, Instagram (which is also Facebook), or any of the various large software companies that are becoming ever-more savvy about datamining techniques.  My rule of thumb is to be judicious about what I allow to be captured digitally about me, and to be resigned to the reality that the price I pay for using modern technology is knowing that my data may (inevitably will, at some point) become available to the highest bidder.   If you’re worried, one tactic I’ve heard is to create a dummy Google account with minimal personal information, and use that as your login for the game.

Staying Safe on Mexico City’s Public Transit

06.25.16 by Amy Jones

One of our training members at Thousand Waves recently related this a tale of successful self-defense  to us.  At the time of the incident, she was a second-degree black belt, but the skills she used to avert a potentially violent (and certainly unpleasant) altercation were all non-physical self-defense techniques.  Here’s the story:

I am pretty sure I averted a robbery last night in the Mexico City metro. My family and I were about as ridiculously conspicuous as could be, the only people dressed in formal wear on the train platform (we are here for my partner, D, to officiate at a wedding and were on our way there). A group of three people standing about 10 feet away from us went from speaking quietly with one another to one person tilting their head towards D, and then moved to within 2 feet of us on an otherwise not-crowded platform. I told him and my son to move down as the train arrived, so we could just get on another car (hoping this was all in my head and would just be over once we moved), so as the train arrived, we moved down about 20 feet to get on one car down. The three people ran to get on the same car as us (neither car was crowded when the train arrived) and split up, entering the car behind us through both doors and sitting spread out from one another across the car. I made very solid, uncomfortably long and serious eye contact with the individual sitting nearest to me (while I stood with my back against the doors). Scanning the train, I also saw that a train security officer was in our car. I made eye contact with him as well. When we left the train, I was prepared to make noise, and the security officer held up the train, making eye contact again with D and me (I nodded and said in Spanish that we were okay) before the train pulled off with the three people still on it.

I’ll never know whether they intended to rob or otherwise harm us, and I am fine with that. It was an uncomfortable situation where my first benefit-of-the-doubt assessment revealed that something was not right about the situation, and I acted upon that assessment. We’ve ridden the metro several times since then with increased awareness and have encountered nothing but grace from our fellow riders. Thank you to everyone who has taught and practiced self-defense with me for helping me manage this situation, whatever it was, and helping me develop tools to make myself and others around me safe in the places where I want to be.