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I haven't blogged here in a while. I still want to get back to the 'invitation' conversation; I plan to post soon a revised and expanded list of things I think there might be broad agreement about, and I hope to do a separate post as well taking up some of the questions that didn't quite fit in the conversation as initially defined -- questions such as, "What's the point of this conversation?" and "Why not just put up one or more of the traditional creeds?"

So, where have I been? I'll start answering that question now, and keep answering it in subsequent posts.

I spent the weekend of my birthday (which I'd forgotten that I share with Li Tim Oi -- even cooler than sharing a birthday with Ann B. Davis of The Brady Bunch and Søren Kirkegaard) on something very important: IMPACT Personal Safety training, better known in some circles as "model mugging."

IMPACT empowers women, men, and kids to discern whether there's a threat to their safety, and if there is, to use their voice and their body to protect themselves. It's sometimes called "model mugging" because the training includes very realistic playing out of scenarios with a "model mugger" -- a man wearing head-to-toe protection who plays the role of a potential attacker, including dialogue such as what you might hear from an attacker.

I went expecting a very effective self-defense course. I got much, much more than that. I hardly know how to describe it.

I'll start with saying that it was physically intense. IMPACT offers courses that meet once a week over several weeks. For scheduling reasons, I took a class that happened entirely over a single weekend -- 4-9 p.m. Friday, 10-7 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sunday. I haven't been to a gym in about five years. Also, much of my body is held together with a surgical equivalent of something better than chewing gum, scotch tape, and popsicle sticks. But IMPACT says that they're for people with all levels of physical ability (and disability), and they're not kidding. I didn't need any adaptation of the usual techniques they teach. After the weekend, I needed significant quantities of Naproxen (Aleve). During it, I didn't. Adrenaline is far, far more effective, and I had plenty of that.

Adrenaline plays a central role in IMPACT. Those "model mugging" situations are done realistically enough that they get adrenaline coursing through your veins consistently and in significant amounts. This is a very, very helpful thing. For starters, the way our brains work, we tend to remember things most strongly that happened when we were in a similar emotional state. If I go through my self-defense class feeling my usual mix of day-to-day emotions, and then a situation arises -- say, I wake up in the middle of the night to find that a man has broken into my house and is threatening me with a weapon -- I'm going to find it exceedingly difficult to remember whatever it was I learned in the calm, clear light of my self-defense class. But what I've learned while feeling fear, adrenaline pumping, I'm going to remember when I'm in a similar biological and emotional state.

The IMPACT class was very effective on that level. They show you very simple things to do that don't require a great deal of physical strength, you practice them, and then you practice them in one of those adrenaline-inducing "model mugging" situations. That's very effective.

But there's more to it than that.

I think the most effective and most empowering part of IMPACT -- and why I don't think that individual lessons with them, as much as I respect the instructors, would be anywhere near as effective as a class -- is what you experience going through it in a group.

As you may have gathered, there's a lot in an IMPACT class -- in being attacked by a man who uses his full strength to attack, and who will yell (or whisper, which is often worse) obscene, sexist, homophobic, and all other insulting, degrading, and wounding kinds of speech that people use to sap their target's strength and courage -- that could be traumatic and disempowering. But IMPACT isn't any of those things. That's partly because the instructors are there for all participants, including and especially when what's going on evokes a traumatic past. When you're being 'modelly mugged,' the lead instructor is there beside you, reminding you what you learned and what to do. Now, whenever my adrenaline level goes up, I automatically hear my lead instructor's voice in my ear: "Breathe. You can do this." When a man is attacking me, I've been there before, and I hear the same voice in my memory. I know that voice will come with me when I need to use what I learned.

But that's not the only voice that will come with me. It's probably not even the most important voice that comes with me.

The assisting instructors, to be sure, said a number of things important to me. But I also went through this class with other women. They told their stories, and those will stay with me -- especially now, in quiet moment when I reflect on what it means to be community, to be supported, to be vulnerable, to be courageous. But their voices will be with me too when I'm in one of those adrenaline-flowing situations. Every time I was attacked in class, I wasn't alone. The instructors were with me, and the other women there were also with me -- shouting encouragement, shouting instructions, shouting anger, shouting cheers. Before taking the IMPACT class, I had been attacked and had felt alone. I think now, even or especially if I am attacked again, I will not feel alone. I'll hear the voices of the women who journeyed through this weekend with me. They also faced attackers -- past, present, 'model,' and metaphorical -- and they faced mine with me. They shouted "NO" with me, and huddled before and after these experiences. Their stories are theirs to tell, and they are powerful stories indeed, but that weekend they became a part of my story too, in a chapter in which I learned more deeply and fully what real, life-giving power is, and how it can be shared.

I can't recommend the experience highly enough. In three days, I went from being afraid of being attacked to knowing that I have the physical, emotional, and spiritual resources to survive an attack with my sense of connection to those close to me, to community, and to God intact. I know because I was attacked -- at least a dozen times in three days -- and I was never alone, I never was at a loss for what to do, and I saw the love of God in some of the darkest places in human experience. I feel more empowered as a woman and better equipped as a pastor as a result.

If IMPACT is in your area, and especially if you're a priest or a parent, a counselor or a survivor, a woman or in any population that feels vulnerable, give them a call.

May 19, 2007 in Life and Whatnot | Permalink


I'm so glad you had that experience, Dylan. What a blessing.
Hugs x

Posted by: Kathryn | May 20, 2007 8:56:19 AM

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