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Confronting The Fear

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We are all taught that women have few or no options when it comes to sexual assault. And we are taught contradictory, racist, wrong, and useless nformation about those options we supposedly do have; lie back and enjoy it, don't struggle, don't make him mad, don't go out alone, dont go out at all, be afraid of black men, strangers, the man in the bushes, he didn't mean to, but you were drunk, it's not a big deal, it didnt happen, get over it. . . I have gone over and over my past assaults wondering whatlmissed.whyldidntrun.whylwasn'tsomewhere or someone else. If you, like me, are a survivor of rape, incest, or assault and you are aiive to read this articte today, you did the right thing. Period. I am not here to criticize past action or in-action. I am here to ask what it would take for ai of usto real ly beabletofight back. And for the first time in my life I have found part of the answer. There is aselfdefensecourseforwomeninAnnArborandafew other cities around the country called Model Mugging. Thisclassteaches women, regardlessof ourphysical strength, size, orexperiencetofight back against an assailant who wants to rape or kill us and to beat them unconscious. This class introduced me to both the ability and the will to protect mysetf physically against assault. And it gave me a powerful glimpse of the worid we can look forward to. Model Mugging (MM) was started in 1972, in San Francisco, by martial artist Matt Thomas and further developed by martial artists Danielle Evans and Julia Toribio. The class focuses on the particular way in which women are attacked; while men fighting men tend to stand and throw punches, men attacking women tend to engulf them and throw them to the ground.Thecourseemphasizesthe strength ofwomen's bodies, which is usually in the legs and hips, by emphasizing ground fighting and kicking techniques. The course lasts five days, six hours a day which is spread over two weekends. The length of the course is important because Model Mugging trains women by incorporating the techniques into body memory. This means that ifastud ent ever needstodef end herself she will not haveto think "now, how did that kicking position work?" but her body will simply react. There are two instructors, a female coach and a male instructor who wears a huge pacided "mugger" suit with a giant heimet. The suit, developed after eanV MM graduates actually knocked out their instructor, protects the instructors' vital áreas to allo w the women tofight f uil force. Many women have never known their own strength or ability to hit or kick someone full force, and let me teil you it's an amazing feeling. In class, we practiced defending ourselves against assault in realistic scenarios: walking by someone in a park, verbal harassment that escalates to physical assault, assault by acquaintances and being pinned to a bed or floor. At first we leamed specific moves, for example, just practicing an effective knee to the groin. As the class progressed and we became more skilled the fights became spontaneous, often we were completely surprised on the mat by the "mugger's" approach or technique. I 'm not going to lie to you. Taking this class is scary . The assailants are extremely realistic. The aim is to train women in an adrenaline state that often initiates a freeze response. That way, if the techniques are ever needed in real life, the woman has already had the experience of being startled and freezing up and fighting past that fear. Here is a story: I am lying on a mat in an aerobics room in Dexter. I have brought a lot of bravado to this class, but all of my fears of being too strong or too together for this exercise have fled. Each step, each escalation of this class has been difficult. Fromchoreographed fights to unplanned assaults. From silent to verbally abusive assailants. Now we are practicing what is called a reversal. The mugger has you pinned to the ground in the beginning of the fight. This is Everywoman's fear of someone breaking into her bedroom at night or her tent when she'scamping alone. And thisisareenactment of many of the assaults in my past. I don't think I can handle this. Earlier we were shown the drill, the padded instructor will come lie on top of me and I will do two short moves to unbalance him and throw him off. It is dayüght, I am su rroundedby supporters and Iknow that this situation is pretend. But not only do I not fight back, I have no concept of even having arms and hands to fight with. I am frozen and I can't open my eyes. "OK, l'vescrewedthisup," ltokJmyself."lf this were real life I would be raped now. I knew I couldn't do this. Icant do this. Icant do thisJwon't come back to class tomorrow." I hear my female instructor's votee at my shoulder, "Open your eyes, Katy. Breathe. Open ycxjr ey es." I start to sob. At fitst I think that the crying means it's all over for me but it has unleashed me from my frozen state.The women in my classgatheraround me. (If you're all reading this, l'm sorry but I have no idea what you said.) I just remember sobbing and no one walked away and no one toW me I snould go home and not come back and everyone lovingly acknowledged my terror and my grief. A wellspring of fear, anger and will rises from my belly as I walk back to the mat and the padded assailant. I am ready. It is going to take every ounce of courage and rage I have but am not going to go through this again. I bite nis arm and he sits up to pull it away. I use his momentary lack of balance by sliding myfootuptomyhipand pushing off of the floortothrow him to the ground. I move closer to him and slam my knee into his groin and then roll over onto my side and quickly kick him hard in theface three orfourtimes. The instructor rolls over, signifying a knock-out blow has been delivered. And I am standing and free. Just as powerful as fighting was watching other wonnen fight. Women with long histories of emotional and physical abuse and women with none. Women of all ages. Tiny women and large women. I saw a woman who thought she just could never hurt anyone, even if her life was in danger, kicking and shouting until an assailant twice her size is fetal and still on the floor. I watch women frozen with fear and whimpering like children reach into themserves and pull out the tiercé face and claws of a warrior, kicking a man so hard he flies ten f eet across a room. Our arms and hands fly out asfistsand scissorsand pull into protect ourheadsand stomachs; and ourarms hokJ each otherin comfort and belief. As each woman practicesa mugging on the mat, the rest of us cheer and coach her from the sidelines. Model Mugging graduates who have been assaulted in real life report hearing their classmates and instructors cheering them in their heads. And we are not just giving support, each woman I watch fight for her Bfe is a gift to me. How many times have I watched movies or televisión or read in novéis or the newspaper of a woman giving up, a woman lying down, or twisting her ankle, or pleading for her life or shrieking ineffectively? I have now added many images of all kinds of women, including me, saying "NO" and backing it up. Scores of MM graduates have successfully used the techniquestophysically deferid themselves.Countless more have used the experience and will gained in the class to de-escalate and ward off attacks. In fact, the course actually overtrains women. Most graduates report knocking out assailants quickly and easily . Think about it. Men who rape women have seen the same movies and televisión we have. They are so unprepared for us to protect ourselves. Model Mugging has radically changed my life. On the third day of class I drive home exhausted, physically and emotional ly spent I pull i n to t he d ark bam, the only parking space lefl in front of our farmhouse. (We live on the west side, very close tothe scène of Christine Gailbreath's murder, very far away from any neighbors.) I jump out of the car and hurry towards the house, shoulders hunched, keys clutched. Halfway up the driveway I realizethatam not af raid anymore. Imagine, women, the power of thatamnofafracanymore. This is not about denial, I am aware, listening and keeping my eyes open. But I am no kxiger sick in my gut with anger and fear and inadequacy. For a long time I stay outside alone, my body tall and confident, laughing and singing and looking at the stars. WHAT YOU CAN DO Local Model Mugging classes are scheduled for Jan., 1 995. Cdl 741 -4088 for more inf ormation. Read "HerWits About Her," acollection of truestories tokJ by women and giris who successfully defended themsetves against rape and assault. Go to a Model Mugging Graduation to get a glimpse of what the class is like. The last day of class is open to friends and supporters. If you're Mealing from incest, child sexual abuse, or rape there are many resources in the Ann Arbor area. You can cali these places to talk about your experiences and to get referrals to support groups and therapistsforsurvivors: Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), 936-3333; Safehouse, 995.5444; Assault Crisis Center, 483-727& am indebted to the bunders of Model Mugging, my instructors, and myclassmates forsome of the concepta and all of the experiences discussed in this article.