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by Kate Williams
Geneviève Henry—Genie to the many people she’s worked with and befriended over the years—is one of The Safety Team’s dedicated volunteers. Originally from Quebec City, she now resides in Burlington Vermont along with her husband and their four children. She is a certified childbirth educator, labor and postpartum doula, and massage therapist. She is also an adjunct professor of French at Champlain College and a second-degree brown belt of Kempo Jujitsu, a self-defense–based martial art.
Genie found The Safety Team back in 2015, after her then fourteen-year-old daughter was mugged. This scary event highlighted the need for her daughter to know how to defend herself, not only from muggings but from other situations teenaged girls often face. A simple Google search for self-defense classes in Burlington led Genie straight to The Safety Team.
Both she and her daughter attended a Level One workshop. They greatly enjoyed not only the lessons they were learning but the camaraderie among the group leaders. They quickly signed up for the Level Two workshop. It was there they realized that they really liked hitting the pads and wanted more. They asked some of The Safety Team members for training recommendations and were pointed to Martial Way, a dojo that focuses on self-defense–based martial arts.
Even though they were receiving formal training, they still signed up for the Level Three workshop. After, both she and her daughter decided that they wanted to do more, so they joined The Safety Team as volunteers. They started out holding pads for other participants during the workshops. Eventually, her daughter worked as an intern with The Safety Team before heading off to college. These days, Genie can be found leading instructional parts of the training and is working toward becoming a fully certified Safety Team presenter.
Genie loves working with the small groups, saying how great it is to see people grow during the workshops and how she “likes to see the tiger roar out of them.” She also appreciates how the information presented in the workshops is based on the latest research. She loves the skits that The Safety Team do, feeling it brings a sense of humor and fun to serious topics. She finds great inspiration in the women of The Safety Team, many of whom are black belts and brown belts in addition to being trauma-informed professionals.
Genie encourages anyone thinking about participating in one of The Safety Team’s workshops to give it a try. She says that there is no special training needed and they can adapt the workshops to anyone’s particular needs/situation. She also encourages everyone to bring a friend, as the classes can be less intimidating that way. She also believes that just coming to a workshop means you are supporting the empowerment of women and the program, because every penny goes directly back into getting the information out there. Everyone is a volunteer at The Safety Team!
Genie’s desire to empower women is reflected in her day jobs as well. She works to empower pregnant women to have the birth journey they want, teaching that their consent must be given before the birth team performs any procedure. She also wants to develop a self-defense class offered entirely in French for women at Champlain College who want to both further their knowledge of the language and stay safe in all situations.
Her father was known to tell his three daughters, “If you think you’re gonna be in a fight, always hit first.” While she’s not sure how wise that advice is, it’s always stuck with her. These days, she knows that even if she doesn’t get that first hit in, she can block, parry, kick, and yes hit, with the best of them.
Genie’s dedication to the empowerment of women flows through all her endeavors, be they in the dojo, at a workshop, or in her professional life. Her sense of humor and kindness cuts through what can be difficult subjects and makes the information fun and relatable. She’s an invaluable member of The Safety Team, and we look forward to being able to present more workshops with her in the future.
Taking a self-defense class is scary. But the confidence that you learn there? It is your superpower. Get it, girl.
By Kate Williams
I first came to martial arts in December 2016. It was my first time participating in a sport, as I spent most of my high school years focused on dance and drama. More than that, it was the first time I participated in something that could be considered “violent.” I was hitting and kicking things; granted, these things were hand-held pads. Still, I couldn’t get my mother’s voice out of my head: we don’t hit. And that was exactly what I was learning how to do: hit, and hit hard.
I think for most of us as women, it is a key refrain that often keeps us from participating in “violent” sports like martial arts. We are taught early on not to hit, not to hurt. We are taught to nurture and care for, not harm. And you know what? These are all good things! We should all strive to care for others, to not harm others. It should be a basic fact of life that every human being innately treats others with respect, dignity, and compassion.
While it is the reality we each want and strive to make real, it is not the reality in which we live.
Still, it can be overwhelming and scary to walk into a room with a bunch of people you don’t know and then be placed in front of a hand pad and be told to hit it. How? As women, most of us have never been taught the right way to hold our hands in a fist (thumb outside your fingers). We’ve never been told that you use the first two knuckles of your hand to do the hitting, as they’re stronger and more stable. The difference between a roundhouse punch, an uppercut, and a cross-jab aren’t things we were taught. We certainly weren’t told that you should use the momentum from your hips and torso to get a stronger punch.
It’s all scary, and it’s all overwhelming. We’ve spent our lives being told that women just don’t have good upper body strength. We’re told that having muscles is unattractive. And we’re told that fighting isn’t ladylike. Good girls do not get into brawls on the playground.
I remember being in my first or second martial arts class. I was working with one of the teachers, learning how to hit the pad. At a certain point, I noticed that some of the upper ranks – all men – were absolutely wailing on each other. They weren’t holding back, at all. My first thought was, dear god, don’t let them near me. My second thought was, if they’re not holding back, why am I? Because I’m a girl? Screw that! I resolved in that moment to never hold back on my hits or kicks when I was paired with someone who was well-trained enough to handle the intensity.
I’ll be honest. Even though I stopped holding back, my hits and kicks were still pretty weak at first. But over the years, they’ve gotten a lot stronger. When the sensei says you have a mean roundhouse punch, it means he doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of it.
I’ve learned something else as I’ve progressed through the ranks at my dojo. Knowing how to defend yourself – heck, knowing you have options – is extremely empowering. I know that not everything I’ve learned will work against every attacker. But what I have learned is there is always something you can do. Always. Even if it’s simply being able to give the police an accurate description after the fact, you can do something.
Learning self-defense is scary, because you have to admit to yourself that someday you may need to use it. Moreover, most of us don’t actually want to hurt anyone. Why would we want to inflict pain on someone else? What kind of terrible person would we be?
It’s a tough thing to wrap your head around. How did I get past it? In the end, I decided that I had the right to exist. I have the right to walk down the street in broad daylight and not be actively followed by a strange guy. Seriously, this happened to me. He was following me home. In broad daylight, on a well-traveled street. Know what I did? I pulled myself up, stood strong and tall, looked directly at him, and said in a very loud voice, “CAN I HELP YOU WITH SOMETHING?” He paused for a moment, decided I wasn’t worth it, and continued off in a different direction.
What I did was self-defense. I didn’t hit or kick anyone, but I defended myself. And my useless beagle, who just stood there the entire time, daydreaming. He was a sweet boy, but no guard dog.
What my martial art and self-defense classes gave me was confidence. In the end, that is one of the most powerful and nonviolent things a woman can possess. So yes, taking a self-defense class is scary. But the confidence that you learn there? It is your superpower. Get it, girl.
TRAUMA RECOVERY AND VIOLENCE PREVENTION
Our Innovative Trauma Recovery Program is Featured on a podcast: Couples Therapy in Seven Words!
By Christine DiBlasio, Ph.D.
I remember the first time that I had to give a professional public presentation, many years ago. I lost a lot of sleep beforehand, and spent a great deal of time preparing and practicing. Of course, after I finished the presentation, I decided to research how to actually give an effective speech. This research taught me a few things, but what I remember most was a quote that went something like: “The number one fear for most people is public speaking. Fear of death is number two. So if you actually die while you are speaking, you will have moved down the fear hierarchy.”
Small consolation, to be sure.
I have given many public presentations, speeches and interviews since that time—and still feel a mix of excitement and nervousness every time.
Today was no exception; I was thrilled to be interviewed on Dr. Bruce Chalmer’s and Judy Alexander’s podcast: Couples Therapy in Seven Words. I was excited to share information about the non-profit organization that I helped co-found: The Safety Team. Our podcast topic: women’s empowerment as it relates to trauma, trauma recovery, communication, affirmative consent, violence prevention, and relationships.
Here is just a little background information about the Safety Team (follow this link for more):
The Safety team is a non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment, well-being, resiliency and safety of women. The Safety Team’s instructors consist of 7 professional women–all of whom have careers that expose them to the realities of violence against women (clinical psychology, law enforcement, education, forensic toxicology, physical therapy, higher education, community outreach). As such, each team member brings valuable, diverse, and complementary expertise to our trainings, as we collectively understand the complicated nature and profound impact of violence against women. Additionally, members have extensive martial arts experience, with five members having black belts and two with brown belts in a variety of martial arts styles. Together, as a team, we offer comprehensive and dynamic ESD programs that are uncommon in Vermont and Northern New England.
The Safety Team’s empowerment self-defense programs focus not only on violence prevention, and risk reduction—but also on healing. All of our programs are well grounded in neurobiology, are trauma informed, and help reduce the risk of violence as well as promote healing from previous violence. Our Therapeutic Empowerment Self-Defense program is a brand new, innovative, highly specialized and individualized program for survivors of interpersonal violence.
Topics that we covered in this podcast included:
- The impact of interpersonal violence and trauma-both on the individual and her partner.
- Communication, including communication about affirmative consent–check out this video, “Tea and Consent,” that illustrates the concepts.
- What makes Empowerment Self-Defense different? Follow this link for a description.
- Our innovative Therapeutic Empowerment Self-Defense Program that is specifically designed for survivors of interpersonal violence/sexual assault. This program offers an integrated mind-body approach to trauma recovery and healing while enhancing victim’s feelings of safety, personal power, and community connection.
- A listener question that brought up issues of “trauma activation” and its impact on intimacy.
In addition to her work on the Safety Team, Dr. DiBlasio is a licensed psychologist and the Director of Stone House Associates (www.stonehouseassociates), an outpatient mental health practice in Vermont.
This is Christine here. The photo is of my cat Pebs, who is a physical distancing failure. I love her anyway.
First off, I hope you all are doing as well as can be expected.
Second, I just wanted to share a COVID-19 observation, loosely related to the Safety Team.
Like many of you, I have been working at home, and trying to get outside to walk as often as possible. I have NEVER seen so many people out walking before. There is literally 'walking traffic'!
If you have attended one of our workshops, you likely heard us mention “the sidewalk challenge”. This is in reference to the observation that I (and other women) have made when walking and are approached by someone else from the opposite direction, sharing the same path.
As a smaller woman, I have noticed that people—most often men—expect me to move aside, without really seeing me. (There is no judgement here—just an observation. I believe that we have all been socialized to act in a certain way, with women frequently socialized to step aside.)
In our workshops, we suggest that women practice “walking like a person with power” aka “walk like a boss”; I do this frequently and find that it is both an effective way to work on building my own confidence and physical presence while challenging the assumption that I should always move aside for others. It works.
My recent observation when I am out walking is incredible. Not only are people moving aside when they see me, but they are literally RUNNING to get far away from me. Somehow, we are finally seeing each other more.
Make of that what you will, but we are now visible. I am grateful that people are practicing physical distancing and taking this crisis seriously.
Be well, and keep walking like a boss!
Walk Virtual hugs to all. xoxo