Teaching Empowerment Self Defense

pool noodlesI taught my first empowerment self defense class last Saturday, on International Women’s Self Defense Day.

It exhilarated me. A group of women, most of whom I didn’t know, listening to what I said, trying everything, asking good questions, and interested in more. It was everything I wanted an introductory workshop to be.

So now I’m officially a self defense instructor. And, for that matter, an empowerment instructor, because I believe that learning the basics of self defense shows women how powerful they are. Given general misogyny, the political climate, and the challenges facing the world, we need all the powerful women we can get.

I had eleven students, ranging from their 20s to their 60s. One had previously taken the Impact class, which is an intense program that uses attackers clad in heavily padded suits so that you can strike them full force. (I highly recommend it.)

Some had done contact sports. But most had no background in self defense or other activities with a lot of physical contact.

I started them out with fake sword fighting, using pool noodles for the “swords” (hence the picture illustrating this post). It may seem silly, but what’s interesting is that people really enjoy doing it. It turns out that most women like to engage in play fighting, find it fun to try to hit each other. Martial artists know how much fun this is, but the average person doesn’t.

The advantage of the pool noodle is that you’re not going to hurt anyone if you hit them. Also, it makes people giggle when they fight with them.

In my opinion, starting a self defense class with something that makes people laugh is a good thing. Defending oneself is serious business, and all of us are too well-aware of the dangers out there. But being serious can make us stiff and stressed.

Once everyone was relaxed and cheerful, I showed them a strong stance, with their hands up, and started getting them to yell “No.” Learning to be loud and to say no are important parts of self defense.

Then we got around to some fighting techniques: a palm heel strike to the nose or throat (easier than a punch and just as strong), a knee strike to the groin, one way to prevent someone from getting their hands around your neck. I had pads for them to strike for the palm heel and knee strikes.

Their strikes were powerful.

We also did some exercises in setting boundaries, some physical, some just talking. One of the key things in self defense is to make boundaries clear from the beginning.

Two hours is only long enough to introduce people to these concepts, but these women took in a lot. I’d teach the same things over an eight-week class, mixing them up a little differently and repeating the striking moves every class, so that everyone would get more confident in their moves. I’d add in a few more techniques and come up with some more games and talk exercises, but what I showed people is the essence of what a good self defense class is about.

I had a great time. I think most of them did, too.

I’m going to be doing more workshops like these, including some at science fiction conventions. The science fiction community, like many others, has had problems with sexual harassment. It’s also been targeted by some people who have objections to work by women and people of color ¾ witness the rabid puppies who tried to game the Hugo awards a few years back. Some of those people have shown up at conventions with a desire to cause trouble. Usually they’re all talk, but it’s good to know we have other tools if we need them.

Self defense won’t fix all the problems of violence in our society. But it’s a tool. And women who know they can take care of themselves are more likely to take on other challenges.

I call the class Empower Yourself, because I’m just the guide. Women are already powerful. They just need to recognize it.

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