Friday, December 12, 2008

I sent out the following letter today...thought I'd reprint it here in case someone reading this blog knows someone who would be interested.

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you because you either are a good man, or know some good men, or both. Impact Bay Area, a wonderful self-defense training course for women, needs more suited instructors. (They also just certified their first female "suit," so if you are a strong woman, you might want to consider that.) I thought I’d write up a little more description of the job in hopes that you would forward this along to whomever you think might be good for the job.

Impact was started by some male martial artists after a female colleague, a black belt in karate, was attacked and raped outside their dojo. Despite her skills, she did not know how to deal with a street fight, and they decided to create a program that would enable women to deal with real-life assailants who were not playing by the rules. (At the time the program was called BAMM--Bay Area Model Mugging.)

They did a lot of research with police, crime victims, and perpetrators to determine the most common ways women are usually attacked, on the street and in their homes. They interviewed survivors and asked “What did you do to get out of this situation?” They also spent a lot of time developing the padded suit that the “mugger” wears, to ensure safety for the instructor wearing it and the student striking it. Each suit costs about $1,500.00 dollars and has been carefully engineered so that the women can use full-impact strikes, and the instructor can remain safe.

To become a “suit” requires some training, even if you already have a martial arts background. That is because the education offered by Impact is emotional as well as physical. The model muggings are scary for the women students and that is by design. Their aim is to teach the skills while the student is in an adrenalized state, so that in the event of a real assault, the body memory and muscle memory will come flooding back.

Some of the women who take classes at Impact have already experienced some degree of assault, ranging from verbal harassment to full-on rape. There are also survivors of childhood sexual abuse who show up in class. Often, they are triggered by the just the sight of the mugger in his full suit. Sometimes women students have flashbacks while they are fighting. The female whistle instructor and the two assistants are there to help the women through those emotional speed bumps.

Impact also helps women learn to set verbal boundaries, and then to recognize when those boundaries are being ignored or crossed. The “suit” is also called upon to be an improviser, playing a variety of obnoxious characters, some of them dangerous, others simply misguided. Learning to create characters and enter into scenarios is part of the work. Another part is having the maturity to have good psychic and emotional boundaries, to make a separation between the bad guy you play when the helmet is on and the good guy instructor that you really are..

A suited instructor should also have some notion of bio-mechanics, be comfortable in his body, be reasonably fit, and perhaps have some kind of background in a physical discipline, whether dance or yoga or martial arts or sports. (They do not need to be a professional in any of these disciplines, and they don’t have to be Superman.)

The Basics class for women takes 25 hours. When I took it, the class was spread over four consecutive Sunday afternoons, six hours each time. That felt intense. Last weekend, I volunteer-assisted at a class where they taught the whole thing in one weekend, a long Friday afternoon and all-day Saturday and Sunday. That was incredibly intense! By the end everyone was exhausted, but the transformations of the women in the class in just three days were astounding. One woman, a survivor of rape said, “I’ve been a victim all my life. Now, for the first time, I see what it might be like to live as a fighter.”

The job of being a male suited instructor at Impact is a paid one, not volunteer. I don’t know how much the pay is. I believe the training is free, but I am not 100% sure of that. I have also heard that there is a self-defense class for men who want to learn how to protect themselves from muggers on the street—one of the male instructors in my Basics class had come into the work that way.

The shortest time anyone has completed all the training and become certified to become a suited instructor is four months. It is not a full-time gig. The training takes place in such a way that you keep your day job. It is exhausting, sweaty, satisfying work. Many of the men enter into it because a close friend or relative has been assaulted and they felt helpless at the time. This is their way of preventing future assaults on other women. It is both a vocation and a labor of love.

The web site is They are in need of more suited instructors.

Thanks for passing this on,


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