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.



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!


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.”

Great article in the Washingtonian about ESD

11.08.16 by Amy Jones

The Washingtonian, a magazine for residents of the Washington, DC area, has an excellent article about Empowerment Self-Defense.  Go read it!

We’ve Been Teaching Women to Defend Themselves All Wrong

TW Self-Defense Team Adds 2nd Full-Time Employee

10.05.16 by Erin Epperson

Erin Epperson has been part of the Violence Prevention/Self-Defense program either as a teacher or as an assistant since 2011. Earlier this year, she attained her national certification as a self-defense instructor.  Erin is pictured above teaching at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School.

I find myself nowadays to be a wearer of many hats at Thousand Waves. Last fall, I came on staff as a karate teacher in the kids’ program. As of this past summer I came on as a part-time grants writer. It’s been an exciting challenge putting my Ph.D. writing talents to use for a new purpose, to reach out to potential funders to forge these new relationships and share with others the successes of our programming. I also find myself contributing in other areas of the organization I hadn’t expected—front desk and other administrative duties, events planning and management. And most importantly, there is the self-defense teaching—the reason I do what I do! This year we have more programs than we’ve had in years, including the grant-funded self-defense series for LGBTQ homeless and insecurely-housed youth. There’s never a dull day!
I was first drawn to Empowerment-Self Defense through my experiences as a female grad student traveling in India for study and research. I realized only after returning from my first trip how unsafe experiences of harassment had made me feel. I enrolled in Thousand Waves’ 12-hr Self-Defense Intensive Spring 2010 in preparation for a return study abroad trip.

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