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.
Hearing the empowerment-based message that I was worth defending and that I had the right to make noise and set boundaries was literally life-changing. I had always considered myself a peacemaker and, thanks to an exceptionally challenging adolescence, I was very skilled at de-escalating others. Setting boundaries and asking for what I needed in relationships? Not so much. Over the years that passed, these messages and skills helped me process much of my personal history of trauma, including a (previous) emotionally and sexually abusive relationship in the U.S., and the daily lived experience of gender-based harassment while traveling in India.
My struggles to process through these experiences inspired me to reach out to others. I started assisting in the Self-Defense program in early 2011. In late 2011-2012, alongside my dissertation research in India, I started blogging about travel safety for female-bodied persons. I engaged in conversations with other female travelers as well as Indian women, bonding in our shared experiences. I assisted in a Self-Defense program in Delhi taught by our colleague Senpai Pooja Agrawal (of Seido Noida, India). And when I returned in Spring 2012, I started the gradual process of training to become a Self-Defense instructor at Thousand Waves. I continued as an occasional instructor as I continued in my Ph.D. program. Realizing eventually that Self-Defense is where my heart is, I started making the transition to finish my Ph.D. program so that I could begin in this new career direction.
Nearly a month ago, I transitioned to a full-time position at Thousand Waves. Not only do I have more time to devote to teaching self-defense and teaching kids’ karate (not to mention administrative support for Thousand Waves), but I have time to better support our Violence Prevention/Self Defense program through outreach. Through my former/current life as a Ph.D. candidate, my first major project is to help us reach out to women and LGBTQ students at colleges and universities throughout the city of Chicago.
I’ve been reaching out to various departments and divisions at colleges and universities to offer our Empowerment-based Self–Defense programming. A few weeks ago we completed a program for Loyola University’s Panhellenic Council—we reached over 80 women as part of Loyola’s recruitment event and it was a thrilling success. Other programs for local colleges and universities are being planned as we speak (though there’s always room for more—if you know someone interested, let us know!).
I’m excited about these new directions and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this invaluable work.