A summary of the evidence supporting Empowerment Self-Defense as violence prevention on college campuses (and one study about bystander intervention)
10.05.16 by Amy Jones
Empowerment self-defense is the umbrella term for the approach to self-defense that we teach at Thousand Waves. Other “empowerment self-defense” (or ESD) programs include IMPACT Chicago (and other IMPACT chapters), the programs that the Center for Anti-Violence Education runs in Brooklyn, the programs run by sister school Sun Dragon Martial Arts & Self-Defense in Austin, Texas, Hand to Hand Kajukenbo Self-Defense in Oakland, and many others across the country. Basically, it’s the idea that self-defense should help participants live with more confidence and less fear by helping them identify and strengthen their self-defense skills, giving them accurate information about violence, and supporting them in making choices that make sense for their life.
We teachers of ESD have felt strongly for years that it’s a great way to empower our participants to reduce violence in their own lives and communities. While there have been articles on the efficacy of self-defense generally in the academic literature for quite a while, it has only been in the past few years that we’ve started to see academic studies that look carefully at empowerment self-defense courses specifically.
10.05.16 by Amy Jones
Recently, I had a conversation with Andrea Stein, Violence Recovery Project Coordinator at Howard Brown Health Center. Andrea works with LGBT folks who are affected by intimate partner violence, and she was concerned that our self-defense programming would be inappropriate for someone in an physically abusive relationship. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share what I told her – which are the ways self-defense training can help people in abusive relationships.
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:
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.
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.
06.24.16 by Amy Jones
Welcome to the Thousand Waves Self-Defense & Violence Prevention blog! Lots of martial arts schools have self-defense programs; fewer of them have a program that is robust enough to support a blog. For many of them, self-defense is “martial arts lite,” with instructors who mostly consider ‘self-defense’ to be an introduction to their martial art.
Thousand Waves understands self-defense to be a completely different, if closely related, endeavor. If you take an introductory trial karate class at Thousand Waves, you’ll hopefully have fun, you’ll get a good workout, and you’ll be introduced to the fundamentals of the art – but one class will not help you much in reducing violence in your life. For one thing, you won’t have mastered any of the techniques. For another, fighting techniques are really only useful in a relatively small subset of violent encounters, especially violence against women, which is often committed by perpetrators that the victim isn’t willing to harm (since most violence against women isn’t perpetrated by strangers).
This reality was understood by our founders and their colleagues some thirty years ago, and is still understood by us today. So empowerment-based self-defense was born, and continues to evolve. There’s a lot there, and we’ll use this blog to explore many aspects of it: the history, the application, and the theory behind it all. What do you want to read about? Tell us in the comments!
This blog will also serve as the archive for our newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter and you’ll get all-new content quarterly, plus reminders about upcoming programs, etc. Or RSS or subscribe to the blog, and you’ll get the newsletter articles as well as blog posts as they’re published. I hope you’ll find this to be a useful resource.
06.22.16 by Amy Jones
We have a strong roster of self-defense offerings for young people this summer. While some of our 12-hour intensive courses are open to adults of all ages and teens 12 and up, this summer we have several offerings just for teens, and one for younger kids. Online registration is now open for all of these courses and workshops.
06.22.16 by Amy Jones
Did you know that Thousand Waves Self-Defense has a Twitter account? We tweet under the (very creative) name @TWSelfDefense. The handle has been around for a while, but it’s been dormant. Now it’s not! Follow us for interesting re-tweets, brilliant* yet short musings on empowerment-based self-defense, and soon, announcements of new blog posts.
06.22.16 by Amy Jones
One aspect of my job is explaining, to organizations, private groups, and individuals, what our self-defense trainings are all about. Some days it feels like an uphill battle, because “self-defense” in the popular imagination has a very narrow definition, and our approach is very broad. So I’m always trying to think of better ways to explain why only about a third of the time in our trainings are dedicated to learning physical, defensive skills. The above equation* is my latest attempt.
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.