IMPACT is a self defense strategy I studied a few years ago which had a profound – well, impact on me. While I was taking the 5-week course, I blogged about my experiences.
The posts continue chronologically:
Hey, Guess what? I can match your strength!
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
When Brains Are Absent, Shoot With the Truth
Going Into Week #3 of IMPACT
The Facts and Fictions of Physical Strength and Ruby Slippers
Happily Ever After (With Me On My Feet, and Him On The Ground, Uncounscious)
If He Runs the Red Light
No Other Course, No Other Way
After graduating, I volunteered as an assistant coach. I worked on a course taught by an Israeli team of coaches to Muslim women in East Jerusalem. There are two pieces I wrote about that particular course, which were also hosted on the blog of El Halev, the organization which provided the training.
Further thoughts about IMPACT:
Fighting Giant Worldsuck. The Way That Works
Lord Voldemort as The Ultimate IMPACT Mugger
Powerful Women Make An Impact
Here’s What’s Okay, Here’s What’s Not
Hey, guess what? I can MATCH your strength! Yup! What you heard!
“Does anything hurt?” the instructor asks kindly.
“No,” I reply, trembling slightly.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I say, not entirely sure if I mean it.
Before I have time to breathe, I am grabbed from behind by a man who is twice my size and in full armor. His arms are strong, locked around my chest.
“HANDS!” yells the instructor. I raise my hands slightly, but I can only move my forearms because my upper arms are trapped beneath his.
“WAIST!” yells the instructor. I shove my hips backward at the man holding me. He staggers slightly but his grip remains firm. I have gained an inch of space, just enough to slip my arm out of his grasp and slap him hard in the –
“GROIN!” yells the instructor.
The man releases me as his hands drop to his groin, which is supposedly throbbing painfully. I turn around, hands raised, prepared to protect, prepared to punch hard.
I punch him in the face.
Again? Yep. Because my knee is right there. It’s an easy target, and my legs are strong, so I can hit hard.
Because, having been hit in the groin twice, the man has bent over and his head is hanging conveniently next to my knee. I knee him in the head. He falls over onto his back, arms at his helmet, the sign that, were he without his padded armor, he would have been unconscious.
Step 1: HANDS. When I raise my hands, I open up my lungs so I can continue breathing. The instructor explained that when a person locks his arms around another’s chest, they can cause them to stop breathing. And if you stop breathing, you lose, and the goal is not to lose. The goal is to win.
Step 2: WAIST. The waist is probably the strongest part of a woman’s body, and when it is thrust backward into you, you’re going to jump back. At the beginning of class, during warm ups, the instructor made us shout, “I LOVE MY WAIST!” Because it is important to know where you are strong, and like it.
Step 3: GROIN. Well, as we know, that’s a fairly obvious weakness in a man. It’s position is perfect, opposite the woman’s waist: The woman’s strength versus the man’s weakness. Of course she’ll win, if you look at it that way.
Step 4: HEAD! Another weakness in a man. Nobody like being punched in the nose, or the jaw, or the eyes, or the head. It hurts. A lot. Might even make you cry, or bleed.
In IMPACT we learn to match a woman’s strengths to a man’s weaknesses. Usually, in everyday life, they are matched the other way; a man’s strengths to a woman’s weaknesses – which leads us to believe the common stereotype that men are stronger than women. The truth is, men are stronger in the upper body. Women are stronger in the lower body. So when a man and a woman arm wrestle, of course he’s going to win – upper body strength! But what if they were “leg wrestling”? Lower body strength. The woman would probably win.
Now, you might say, “That’s not fair!” It’s not fair to match one person’s strength against the other’s weakness. But may I calmly point out that SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS NOT FAIR either. If someone is trying to rape you, you’re allowed to play dirty.
Yesterday’s meeting started off with a verbal exercise: we had to shout “no!” while gradually increasing the force and volume of the word. Then we did a second exercise in which we had to increase the force but lower the volume. It’s a strange concept, but it’s possible.
I was standing across from my partner, saying “no!” with a sort of venomous power in the softest voice I could use to remain audible, and I imagined myself in a threatening situation, trying to say the same “no!” I was saying to her. I couldn’t see it happening. I thought I wouldn’t have the guts to do it. I wouldn’t have the guts to be intimidating.
Then we practiced another technique: the elbow to the face (which is particularly useful when someone grabs you by the shoulder from behind). My first try was sort of lame, and I forgot to shout. The instructor told me to try it again, so I did. The attacker grabbed my shoulder. I looked around and threw my elbow backward to his face, shouted “NO!” and turned to face him.
I felt a sudden heat in my eyes, like I was glaring at him with all the force I had just thrown into his face.
I realized practicing is different from the real thing, because when you’re practicing you know it’s not real, so you won’t try as hard. But when there is an attacker – even if he’s an instructor posing as an attacker – he’s actually scary, and everyone’s watching, and you don’t want to lose, you can’t lose, you have to get away from him, and you have to use all your strength in order to do that. So you do.
And you intimidate him.
5pm. I had been at work for three hours. We were busy wrapping freshly embroidered towels and tying ribbons around them.
A man entered the shop – I should say strutted into the shop, because that was what he was doing. His black hair was sleek and spiked at the front. His skin was dark and he wore jeans much lower than they should have been and an extra large size sneer. He approached the counter as if he has blaring rap music in his ears and asked, “What can you give me for…Henna?”
Henna? We don’t sell henna. I looked at him skeptically. His quick thinking had not been very effective.
“Towel, bathrobe, anything,” he added, speaking more loudly than was necessary. He had “HITTING ON YOU” written on his forehead in large, friendly letters. Or, at least, that’s how I like to think of it.
“A towel or a bathrobe?” I asked calmly, looking him in the eye, something he did not have the courage to do after more than a minute.
“Bathrobe, how much is that?” he said. His hips swayed with every word he said. He was gross. Really gross.
“It depends on what size,” I replied.
“The smallest one.” I really should put an exclamation point after all of his sentences to emphasize how loudly he was speaking.
“For you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. In my mind, I smirked. Contradiction. This man was not using his brain in the slightest.
“219,” I said without hesitation.
Now that I had answered his question clearly and left no loopholes, the conversation had died and he did not have any more material.
“Thanks,” he said, turning around and walking out of the store.
I turned to the girl who was working on the shift with me and said, “I dealt with that well, right?”
She nodded. “I guess that course you’re taking helps.”
I don’t know how I would have dealt with him before Impact, but I know I did it right yesterday. He was trying to make me feel uncomfortable, but I held my ground, kept my cool, and gave him straight, blunt answers. I don’t know what he intended to do, what he thought he was going to achieve – excuse me, did I say thought? – but whatever it was, he didn’t get the chance.
We practiced verbal battles in Impact, and one of the most important things we learned was to just say no and not leave any questions. Just say it clearly. Simply. Almost always the attacker would walk away and mutter something like, “Whoa, that one’s crazy paranoid!” And for a moment it’s tempting to believe he’s right. Maybe you are being paranoid, maybe you are crazy. But then I thought, no, I’m not paranoid. If it was unnecessary to fight back I would not have done it. He’s just a sore loser. HE’S A SORE LOSER. There’s nothing wrong with me standing up for myself. He’s the one with a screw loose.
1) I am afraid.
My fear controls my life.
It decides what I wear
Where I go
And who goes with me.
2) I am still afraid.
I think I know how to defend myself,
But I am small
Fear paralyzes my mind.
I can not run away.
3) I am awake.
I can sense the danger
But again, my mind is lost.
I am still afraid.
I run away.
4) I am here.
My instincts protect me.
My body and my voice
Will fight for my freedom.
I can win.
I am strong.
5) I am not afraid.
For as long as I’ve been alive, I have believed that women are not as strong as men. As much as I tried to deny it, deep down I believed it. I believed what the world told me: that men can control women, that women are not strong enough to win. I have believed that it is not safe for a woman to be alone. I have believed that women should fear men, because there is always a chance of them raping you.
It’s not really my fault. That’s what people told me. No one ever argued with it. Everyone seemed to take it for granted that men rule the world and women just have to tiptoe around them and try not to aggravate them.
No one ever told me that I’m strong.
People encouraged me, yes. People helped me develop my “strengths” and my talents. People helped me believe in myself and build self confidence. But no one ever said I’m physically strong. I’m a girl, I’m not supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to be dainty and weak, to rely on a man so he can control me.
But here’s the truth: I am strong. Yesterday I felt strong, when I fought to protect myself in Impact. I can hit hard. I can shout out loud. I can show confidence and power. But I never believed it until I felt it in my body. Strength can not be taught verbally – it has to be felt. You have to reach for it. You have to want it, and find it, and feel it. It can not be acquired by studying. Even if a million people tell you you’re strong, you won’t believe them until you feel it yourself. It reminds of the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. Glinda could have sent Dorothy home on the spot, but she didn’t, because Dorothy had to learn to believe in herself (in other words, the story would not have been interesting if she had been sent home the moment she arrived in Munchkinland, but that’s not the point).
After I have experienced true physical strength, I’m never going to forget it. From this point on I can only get stronger. There is no reason why any man should be able to control me, because I have the option of refusing his control. I can say no. I can hurt him, and I can win. How? By being just as strong as he is. Maybe even stronger. And I’m not big. I’m barely 5.1″ and 115 pounds.
So here’s a little message to the women of the world: Take a shot at being physically strong. Try it on, see if you like it. First of all, know that it is possible. Know that there is no reason for you to be weak, helpless, or afraid. If you are, know that you have the choice to be strong and fearless.
If you don’t like it, by all means take your money back.
Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we want them to.
Sometimes people hurt us, and we let them, even though we don’t want them to.
Sometimes we look back on a moment months, years later, and wish we had a time machine so we could change the way things happened.
Though our instructors claimed the time machine was out of order, they did a very good job of immitating it. We had to choose a scenario involving someone familiar, in which we felt threatened or uncomfortable, or something we wished we could write a new ending for.
I chose a time when I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine. I was uncomfortable with the topic and told him I did not want to talk about it. He didn’t listen to me. He insisted on continuing with the conversation I really did not want to have. And for some reason, I went with it. The end result was me, covered in my own tears and shaking from crying so much, tring to force myself into an uneasy sleep.
So in last week’s class, I chose to relive that conversation. My instructor posed as my friend, and he said all the same things my friend did, almost word for word. At first I was uncomfortable. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it, and he didn’t listen. He insisted on it. He kept pushing me. But this time, when I said no, a dozen strong, female voices said it with me. No, shouted. I was not alone. I was not overreacting. I was right, and a whole roomfull of people were going to back me up. In the end, he was on the floor, out cold, and I was on my feet, strong, free, and victorious.
In my mind, I put the incident behind me. Because this time, I won. This time, I did it right.
In IMPACT we learn how to set clear boundaries. We learn to define what is ours and how to say how close people are allowed to get. If they cross the line, you have the right to object.
We also learn the power of our own boundaries. When you hold up your hands and shout, “BACK UP NOW!” no normal person is going to willingly approach you. They most certainly are not going to try to attack you.
When someone threatening oversteps my boundaries, it triggers something inside me, a signal that I now have their permission to fight back with all my might (which means they are either helplessly stupid or very, very drunk). I don’t even think about it. It’s an instinct – you take one step closer and you’ll be on the floor, Buddy.
MYTH: Women who take IMPACT will become violent and attack anyone.
FACT: Women who take IMPACT only attack when they are attacked first.
In IMPACT we learn to recognize who is an attacker AND who is not. Last night I was on the phone with my boyfriend, and I told him “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” There, I set my boundary. “Okay, we won’t talk about it anymore!” he replied, and a voice in my mind said, “AHA!” That is how a normal person who is NOT trying to rape you would respond.
Clear boundaries are hard to cross, and anyone who does has definitely got a screw loose.
To the women of the world: take IMPACT!
I came to this course knowing full well that I have the right to stand up for myself, with some background in martial arts and self defense. I got lots of tips from high school educators on how to be safe (i.e. carry pepper spray, take out your keys, etc.) But nothing ever came close to giving me the feeling I have now after Imapct. I am a different person. Well, not entirely; I’m still me, but a lot stronger and a thousand, if not a million times more confident.
I am not afraid.
IMPACT gave me a new set of instincts. Now I can say for certain that if someone surprises me and grabs me from behind, I won’t even bother trying to escape – I’ll punch them in the face without thinking about it. Instinctively. It’s in my muscles. My body has been reformatted to fit a self respecting woman who has the right to make her own decisions.
IMPACT taught me how to set clear boundaries. There are situations in life which we do not feel comfortable with. We don’t always know what to do about them, and often prefer to lie low and wait until they pass. However, there is an alternative. You can stop them. You can tell them to go away. You have the choice to remove yourself from the situation, or the situation from yourself, whichever works better.
IMPACT taught me how to say no. How to really say it, and mean it, and not regret it. I now understand better than I ever did that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to deny someone the right to come close, and you do not have to feel bad about it. It’s okay to tell your child they may not have a second piece of cake. It’s okay to tell your friend you do not want to go out with him. You can say no. It’s your prerogative. And it is also your right not to feel guilty about it.
IMPACT taught me how to shout. I never knew how to shout. I have spent years being told to be quiet, to be modest, to conceal myself and not show my feelings or speak too loudly. Now I know how to make noise, how to cry for help, how to intimidate someone and scare them. I know how to use my voice to add strength. I can show my feelings and use them to put more force into the kicks.
IMPACT taught me how to recognize what is a safe situation and what is not.
IMPACT taught me how to support another person who needs help, and how to ask for support when I need it.
IMPACT taught me that I am strong, that I can defend myself even without using violence.
IMPACT taught me that I do not have to be afraid.
Take IMPACT. Don’t hesitate. It’s hard, it takes a lot of bravery, but it’s worth every penny. There are courses all over the United States and Israel.
Go sign up. No day but today.
First, I’m going to name some big problems we have in the human race.
You with me? Good. These are big problems. Huge problems. Problems which can not be fought with protests and organizations. Worldwide problems originating in our own human survival instincts. These issues are going to exist for as long as humans exist, because it’s who we are, and how we survive. So let’s call them Giant problems. They’re our giants. Things so huge we can’t even see past their knees.
And here’s another one: Rape.
Why is rape set aside from the others? Rape is a giant, universal problem, claiming more and more victims every day. One in THREE women – those are the statistics! ONE IN THREE! So why am I mentioning it down here, and not up there with the rest of its giant friends?
Because rape can be fought.
With hits, kicks and screams. With an aggressive look in the eye. With a single word.
When I was in high school I swore to myself that I would be one of the two who did not experience sexual harassment of any kind. Now I can confidently say that I never will – as an IMPACT graduate, I’m insured for life. I know how to fight. I know what to do. And it’s not something I’ll ever forget.
Most – if not all – of the giant problems I stated above have some sort of idea at their basis. For instance, the idea that someone who is different is a threat (racism), or the idea that being fat is unhealthy (sizeism). In both of these cases the problem originates from a survival instinct but is fueled by a concept which has been so deeply implemented in our subconscious that we believe it to be pure, solid fact. In the case of rape, this idea is that men are stronger than women.
IMPACT battles this concept at its roots, shaking up humanity at its most basic, existential levels. Beyond proving without a doubt that women are equally strong in their bodies as men, Impact takes a step further to say: women do not have to tolerate sexual harassment. Women do not have to tolerate verbal abuse. A woman does not have to stand there quietly while someone hisses and whistles at her. She’s allowed to fight back. She’s allowed to stop him the instant she feels slightly uncomfortable. You don’t have to wait for him to hit you in order to tell him to go away and leave you the hell alone. All of these things seem so trivial – so blatantly obvious, we shouldn’t even have to think about them. And yet, the opposite is so deep within us, it has become our nature to tolerate harassment, abuse and disrespectful behavior.
So many women go through years unable to say the word “no” without feeling pangs of guilt. But Impact teaches us that it’s never too early to say no to something you do not want. You’re allowed to say no to the way someone looks at you. You’re allowed to say no to people you love. You’re allowed to say no in random, everyday situations. Heck, you’re allowed to say no in the middle of sex, and you don’t have to feel bad or apologize for it. No one has the right to force you to do anything, and no one has the right to cross your own personal boundaries. And if you don’t think you can stop them, you should learn how.
In IMPACT, you’ll learn the unbelievable strength of your own body. You’ll achieve what you and the rest of the world believe is totally impossible. You’ll meet guys who prove to you that not all men are the same, because those muggers are the sweetest guys ever. You’ll learn how to stand strong and defend what is yours, and feel good about it. In IMPACT, you’ll never shout alone.
(Sigh. I’ll never stop blogging about IMPACT.)
Yesterday I started a new course as an assistant. The course is for young teens, ages 12-15. This is my first teen course, and it is different from the women’s course.
*For those who are unfamiliar with IMPACT – it is a self-defense course for women, specially designed for rape prevention.
The girls amaze me, one by one, with the amount of courage they demosntrate on the mats. We present them with inconceivable challenges. We ask them to willingly turn their backs and allow an armored mugger to grab them from behind. Furthermore, we ask them to fight back when he does. And they do. Every one of them. They whine and they screech as teenage girls should, but they keep fighting until their attacker is out cold. And they don’t give up. It is inspiring and empowering to know that we have girls like that among us.
I gave up a lot to be in this course – mainly my sanity, because it means doing four thirteen-hour days in a row this week. I have considered dropping out of the course several times, but now that we’re half way done, I feel a responsibility to finish what I’ve started. In the spirit of these incredible girls, to abandon them on the path to strength would be to spit in their faces. I want to be there for them, to be there with them when they reach that moment when they feel their own power.
Many dilemmas arise when teaching self defense to teenage girls. The main question, especially when dealing with 12-year-olds fresh out of childhood, is how much material to give over this early on. On the one hand, we have a responsibility to prepare them for what’s out there. On the other hand, we have to tread carefully so we do not blur the line between sexuality – which is a stranger to many of them – and rape. Girls at age twelve are mainly trying to understand what’s going on with their own body parts. We can not discuss the details of a rape scene with someone who is not even faimiliar with the anatomy, and it is not fair to try. So in a way, teen courses are more challenging that adult courses. Although the material is less disturbing, the questions of the students are much more difficult to answer. During today’s class, I was asked, “But who would rape a twelve-year-old?”
Naturally, my association was a Harry Potter reference.
Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?
Dolores Umbridge: There is nothing out there, dear! Who do you imagine would want to attack children like yourself?
Harry Potter: I don’t know, maybe, Lord Voldemort!
– Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Because the answer to the girls’ question is, in fact, Lord Voldemort. He is the symbol of evil in the world – the reminder that there are terrible things out there which we must not ignore. It is easier to see the good in everyone than to confront the hatred in people’s hearts. It is our responsibility to give our children the knowledge that they may encounter evil, and in turn, the ability to protect themselves against it. Denying Lord Voldemort’s existence might make them happier for a year or two, but in the long run, we would be better off announcing to the world that he is back, that he has power, and to remind ourselves that we are a worthy match for him.
My new philosophy on life: Find the things that help you get high, then stay high all the time.
I am most certainly not speaking of substances. I’m talking about things you feel passionate about, things that make you tremble in awe, feel inspired, and go to sleep smiling. (Yeah, now we’re convinced. That doesn’t sound like drugs at all.)
Today was the last day of the teen IMPACT course here at El Halev. In contrast with the past three days where I felt emotionally and physically drained after each class, tonight I feel ecstatic.
I am bursting with pride in eleven amazing and powerful girls who finished this week’s course. This may sound strange, but I feel safer knowing we just put more strong girls out into the world.
It is so important that we understand about rape and sexual harassment. IMPACT is not about how to punch – it’s about learning that we have the right and the ability to fight back. If you want to learn how to punch, there are a million other ways you can do that (i.e. boxing, karate, taekwondo, get younger siblings, etc.). But nothing guarantees that you will punch back, in the heat of the moment, when something intimidating crosses your path. With IMPACT up my sleeve, I feel absolutely sure that I would fight. It’s in my body, in my blood. An instinct, as natural as swallowing.
P.S. The title of the post was inspired by the t-shirt the guest mugger wore this morning. It was bright purple. 20 points to Gryffindor.
Here’s What’s OK, Here’s What’s NOT
Yesterday, on the way to the airport, I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and clean the windows. The afternoon worker had evidently forgotten to show up for his shift, so there was a line of cars waiting for service, mine among them. While my brother and I sat in the car, two beggars entered the station: one chareidi (ultra-religious), the other Arab. The Arab beggar approached our car and offered his merchandise to me, asking me to help him.
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I said, shaking my head. Though truly, I was not obligated to apologize for it.
He offered me another object. “Take this,” he said.
“I don’t want to,” I replied.
He offered me something else, this time reaching inside the open window of my car.
Is it important to give charity? Yes.
Is it good to give money to beggars? Yes.
Is it okay to reach your hand inside the window of my car after I have already said no twice?
Not in the slightest.
“Take this. Help me.”
“No.” I insisted. He did not remove his hand.
“No,” I repeated, but my words fell on deaf ears. I recalled my IMPACT classes, where the instructor sometimes called out “He’s deaf!” to imply that sometimes, he is, and you should not hesitate to raise your voice. I raised my hand to stop him, looked directly into his eyes and said, louder this time, “No!”
He continued to ignore me.
So I gave it one more try. “I said NO!” I could go on all day and never get bored of saying that.
Under the weight of my shout, he caved and backed away, avoiding my gaze. I drove away wondering why one negative answer had not been enough for him.
“I really would prefer not to have to use IMPACT,” I told my sensei later in the evening. “I mean, shouldn’t everyone just be nice?”
She agreed with me. “The world needs to learn that when a woman says no, she means – no. Right now that is something they do not get.” Then she added, quoting somebody else whose name has slipped my mind, “But hopefully, if they see that there is a consequence to their behavior, maybe next time, they’ll think twice.”
People often mistakenly presume that teaching self-defense to women makes them violent. (These same people don’t seem to have any problem with training soldiers in the military, developing nuclear weapons, or watching violent programs on TV.) This assumption could not be further than the truth. People who study martial arts or self-defense do not seek out opportunities to use their techniques on innocent passersby. In fact, most will say that they would rather never have to use it at all.
Self-defense can not be seen as violence on its own; it is a response to violence which has already been started by someone else.
Besides, self-defense is only one of the aspects of IMPACT. Improving self-confidence, learning to set clear boundaries and effective communication between the sexes are of no less importance than the punching and kicking.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s face it: men and women are different. (*shocked silence*) We need to learn to speak their language as much as they need to learn to understand ours. Fighting about it in court will get us nowhere. But if we take the time to listen and learn from each other, then perhaps we can change the world, one person at a time.