“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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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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How (and Why) Thousand Waves Started Teaching Men and Boys

07.26.17 by Nancy Lanoue

Nancy Lanoue is one of the founders of Thousand Waves and began the self-defense program here.  She is currently one of two head instructors of the karate program, and continues to advise on curricular issues in the self-defense program.

A Little History

After training two years in a small women-only dojo in New York City, I switched styles, started over, and trained from white to black belt at a large, mixed gender dojo with significant numbers of women, but none in key leadership positions. When I got my black belt, I moved to Chicago and opened an explicitly feminist dojo for women only in a women’s gym. I envisioned it as a place where women who would never have felt comfortable in my teacher’s dojo could train and empower themselves. Five years later, I opened the dojo to children, both girls and boys. Eventually, one of our male teenagers “outgrew” our kids program and had to leave to study with one of my senior students who had opened an affiliated co-ed branch. My partner and I took this loss hard, and started searching for a new space that could accommodate both women and men. In 1995, we moved into our current space and began inviting men to join our martial arts program.

I had studied self-defense at my first dojo and the classes I took (and later taught) there were for women only. When I switched to Seido, it offered and I studied self-defense in a co-ed self-defense program that taught hard core physical skills, similar in some ways to what Krav Maga offers today. A few years later, two other women and I started a self-defense organization called SAFE, and until we went bankrupt a few years later, SAFE offered women-only workshops and courses; LGBT workshops and courses; co-ed workshops and courses, and workplace and school programs that were sometimes gender-specific and other times mixed.

Since I’ve been in Chicago, I have always worked with both women and men as self-defense students. The three teachers I have trained and hired as directors of our self-defense/violence prevention work have all been women, but we have had men in our instructor corps since around 2000 when the first of our male students reached black belt. Incidentally, from the beginning, our male population has included significant numbers of gay men; and today they are a major leadership group at our Center.

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Trib article about non-physical self-defense

06.27.17 by Amy Jones

The Chicago Tribune has 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.



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.

Our work at NorthShore University Health System

04.25.17 by Amy Jones

At the end of 2016, we were approached by the Learning and Development team at NorthShore University Health System.  They wanted us to create an in-person de-escalation training to supplement the online training they had already offered to their staff working in their high-risk areas, starting with the Emergency Departments.

It’s no wonder they were concerned – OSHA has identified healthcare facilities (along with social service agencies) as the workplaces that experience the highest level of workplace violence.   Workplace violence accounts for as many as 10% of serious workplace violence injuries in the healthcare industry (it’s closer to 3% in other large industries).   OSHA recommends both self-defense training and de-escalation training for healthcare staff.  This is a little bit of a head-scratcher for us at Thousand Waves, since we see de-escalation as part of self-defense.  Nonetheless, we were happy to work with NorthShore to develop training.

In December, we did a pilot session with staff from Learning and Development and stakeholders in the Emergency Department, and throughout the month of February, we rolled out the training to the first of 4 hospitals in the NorthShore system.  The trainings begin with a reminder of the content of the online modules, and some basic practice scenarios.  Then, working with professional actors who portray the escalated patients, staff participants role play common situations and practice the verbal and positioning skills of de-escalation.  Next, participants learn non-injurious emergency physical self-defense skills  they can use to keep themselves safe until Public Safety personnel arrive.  Finally, staff are encouraged to report incidents and access help to allow them to heal in the aftermath of violence.

All staff fill out evaluations at the end of each 2-hour training, and feedback has been very positive.  We look forward to continuing to work with NorthShore to deliver this programming to other hospitals.

Meet the Trainees

04.25.17 by Amy Jones

I am incredibly pleased to introduce to you our 6 self-defense teacher trainees.  These individuals – all training members here at Thousand Waves  —  have all committed to an intensive 10-session, 20-hour classroom series.  Once they finish their classroom sessions, they will begin assisting and teaching sections in our onsite and outreach workshops and 12-hour courses.  Once they’ve taught the full 12-hour course, they will be considered full instructors.

Speaking personally, I am humbled by this trainee group’s commitment to the teacher training, and to supporting Thousand Waves.  They are a great bunch of people, and we’re extremely lucky to be adding them to our teaching ranks.

Without further ado, I give you the trainees, with some of their own words regarding why they’ve embarked upon this path:

Cyrus Sethna:  “During my time in the Peace Corps, I used my prior training of ten years in Chinese martial arts to integrate self-defense classes into my project. The impact that these classes had on confidence, self-esteem, and general fitness in my target population was astounding.

Since becoming a part of the TW family, I have fallen in love with the community. Our open, warm, and nurturing culture at the dojo has afforded me incalculable opportunities for personal growth.  I look forward to sharing these empowering lessons, furthering the TW mission, and contributing to a more peaceful, harmonious, and loving world through my contributions as a self-defense instructor.”

David Thill: “Simply put, I believe this is a useful and important set of skills for people to have, not only to defend themselves but to gain confidence.  I see it as an opportunity to provide a service, expand my community outreach skills, and learn from the individuals with whom we work.  Plus, I am passionate about teaching and working with underrepresented groups.”

Jackie Seijo:  “Everyone wishes that self-defense wasn’t necessary but right now, unfortunately, it is.  I’ve always wanted to feel like I would know what to do in a situation like that and I’ve always loved teaching – so why not combine them!  I want to teach something that can truly make a difference.”

Mario Cruz: “As a victim of previous attacks (mostly borne of homophobia), I am particularly interested in self-defense courses, and overall capacity-building initiatives.”

Reese Minshew: “First, I am deeply concerned by the recent spike in hate crimes in the U.S., and am committed to working toward providing people from at-risk communities with tools to protect themselves and each other from violence. Second, I’m a mental health clinician who focuses on treating trauma-related symptoms, and have observed the profoundly empowering effect of self-defense training on people who have experienced violence. And, third, I was first introduced to martial arts through a course in self-defense, and studying martial arts has had a strong positive impact on my life. I am excited about the prospect of sharing this discipline with others, and grateful for the fantastic opportunity to be so comprehensively trained in these teaching skills.”

Robin Billadeau: “The world is really terrifying these days, and I’m looking for a way that I can help my community. It’s really easy to feel totally helpless, and it’s really easy to feel like I have nothing much to contribute. However, I saw a lot of people (mostly women and queer people) curious about self-defense in the aftermath of the election and I just thought ‘Well, heck, that’s something I CAN do to help people deal with what’s coming.’”

Self-Defense in Thousand Waves’ Next Strategic Plan

04.25.17 by Ryan Libel

The end of 2016 marked the end of the period covered by Thousand Waves’ last strategic plan – we are proud of our many accomplishments! During the last half of last year, we assembled a strategic planning team and turned our attention toward creating a new plan for 2017-2019. As we worked, it became clear that one of the key areas in which Thousand Waves is positioned to grow is in the realm of Self-Defense/Violence Prevention work.


But how to grow? Two main factors influenced our thinking – one is the phenomenal work of program head Amy Jones and the team in delivering a grant-funded series of programs to LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness in 2015 and 2016. That program allowed us to partner with key organizations already serving a constituency we knew to be at heightened risk of experiencing violence. The other factor is our own experience and the growing body of social science research that demonstrates the best outcomes for Empowerment Self-Defense programs when they can be delivered in multiple sessions over time. While it takes considerable resources to deliver multi-session programs, we’re sure it’s the most effective.

So our plan is to design a multi-year outreach project involving strategic partnerships with organizations that can help us deliver our life-changing programs to the people who can best benefit from them. We will establish goals for this pro-bono service delivery that will allow us to impact as many people as possible as deeply as possible, funding the work with the generosity of supporters like you and through initiatives like our annual Spirit Challenge fundraiser.

Ramping up our service delivery will require more trained instructors than we currently have available to teach. Training professional instructors to deliver our Empowerment Model of Self-Defense is not an overnight task, so the Self-Defense teacher training itself is a big part of our Strategic Plan. We’re currently training six new instructors, all of whom are on track to be class-room ready by the end of the year. I hope you’ll take a moment to read more about them!

Thank you for your interest in and ongoing support of our work, and I look forward to sharing more about our strategic initiatives and successes in the months and years to come.

Love Our Approach? Support Our Work!

04.25.17 by Erin Epperson

Once a year, the Thousand Waves community comes together for our Spirit Challenge Fundraiser. Adults, teens, parents and child members, alums, self-defense graduates, and friends of our organization raise funds so we can continue to deliver our violence prevention programs all over the city,  provide scholarships for all of our programs, and run our Adapted Seido Karate program for children with disabilities, and. This year, our Spirit Challenge fundraising goal is $125,000, and a huge portion of that goes to our self-defense program – can you donate $25 to support our work?

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely benefited from one of our self-defense trainings.  A $25 donation is enough to support a community member who wants to attend one of our onsite single-session workshops.  Did you know that we waive that fee upon request?  Of course, our 12-hour trainings cost more.  If it’s within your budget, a $200 donation will support a participant in one of our 12-hour trainings.  Can you help someone else learn self-defense?

If you’ve been in one of our workshops or courses, you know that  we teach the skills of conflict resolution and verbal peace-making from the get-go. We teach that in a troubled world it is imperative to examine the origins of violence, both in others and ourselves, and work, in whatever ways we can, small and large, to mitigate it.  We also teach people to protect themselves in emergency situations.  When you’re working towards peacemaking, you know that you can’t do it by yourself.  We want people to feel safe, strong, and respected so that they can in turn be peacemakers in their own communities.  Can you help us?

We work with teens to give them strategies against bullying. We partner with organizations all over the city of Chicago serving victims of domestic violence, homeless and insecurely housed youth, LGBTQ organizations, immigrants and refugees, college-aged women, and others across the spectrum of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.  The full fee for a 3-hour program in the community is $600.  When organizations can’t afford our full fees, we offer them a scholarship.  A $300 donation will enable us to give a 50% scholarship to a cash-strapped organization that is doing good work.  Can you be a part of that?

So far this year, we’ve already served over 600 people in 22 different programs. We’ve been especially happy to provide free bystander intervention trainings in response to heightened community demand.  We’ve offered 3 of these programs to date, with 2 more on the calendar for the rest of 2017.  Even when we do charge for our self-defense programs, we don’t begin to recover our costs.   We’re on track to have a record-breaking year, and we can only continue to support this level of service delivery with your help.   Fully half of this year’s Spirit Challenge Fundraiser will support the Violence Prevention and Self-Defense program.    Show your support now!

Thank you for your support of Thousand Waves!