by Kate Williams
For the last three years, The Safety Team has been on the periphery of my life. I first heard about The Safety Team three years ago, when I was researching self-defense classes. They were the first to pop up, and as I went down the list of presenters, I noticed something: they all trained at the same dojo. Recognizing that as a positive referral, I promptly joined that dojo.
About a month after I started classes, one of the Safety Team presenters offered a six-week self-defense class for women after my normal Kempo class. I stayed for it and was glad I did. I learned valuable techniques that were geared specifically to women and the unique situations we often face in the world today.
As much as I approved of their mission statement, at the time, I wasn’t in a place where I could volunteer. I was self-employed and often working evening shifts and didn’t have the time I felt necessary to do volunteer work justice. But they were always on my radar. As I moved up in the ranks at my dojo, I met more of The Safety Team’s presenters and watched several of my classmates become volunteers. But for me, it still wasn’t the right time.
Cut to 2019. Things shifted in my life and I finally found myself able to offer my services to them. It was with a fair amount of excitement and a few nerves that I signed up to help with The Safety Team’s workshops. I admit to being in awe of the intelligent and highly trained women who ran The Safety Team. I felt at the same time the opportunity to deepen my knowledge-base and an incredible anxiety that I might accidentally do or say the exact wrong thing at the wrong moment.
Thankfully, The Safety Team offered a training for volunteers interested in helping with the workshops. In these trainings, I learned about things like the reactionary gap, basic hits and kicks, and how to teach them. I also learned common mistakes that people make when first learning these techniques, and how to correct them so they remained safe.
Just one week after attending my first training session, I attended my first Safety Team workshop. As the training started, we went around and introduced ourselves. For many of the attendees, it was their first time attending anything like this and they were both excited and nervous. I understood perfectly; I felt the same thing!
The first half of the workshop consisted of a presentation. Because The Safety Team teaches empowerment self-defense, there was a lot of information to cover before anyone ever hit or kicked a pad. Attendees learned about affirmative consent (only yes means yes), defending versus defeating, fight/flight/freeze, and prevention and proactive risk reduction. All of this was presented in such a way as to help women understand that they had it in them to do something if they found themselves in an unwelcome situation. But most importantly, the first and last message was always:
100% of the responsibility for an attack is on the attacker.
While the first part of the workshop was about information, the second part was about action. As we stood in a circle, we learned about the reactionary gap, pre-assault cues, the defensive stance, and different hits and kicks. Because this was a level one workshop, they taught three strikes (palm heel, elbow/forearm, edge fist) and two kicks (instep/shoelace and the knee). We learned about the appropriate targets for each and about the “grab-and-go” technique. Experienced pad holders coached the attendees through hitting and kicking the pads safely.
We also learned in the second half that using our voice was just as important as defending ourselves physically. They told us that 60% of attacks could be deterred by using either our voice or physical boundaries like the defensive position. But if we used both our voice and physical boundaries, then our chance of success rose to 80%! We practiced using our voice with phrases like, “No!” “I don’t know you!” and “Back off!” Then, we practiced saying them in both the defensive stance and while we were striking.
The very last move we were taught was the Super Cool Ground Move. And it really was cool. It was simple and basic, but a highly effective way of teaching women just how strong we really are. What was it? Come to a training and find out! (Click here for upcoming classes)
As a first-time volunteer, I was a little nervous going in. I wasn’t quite sure what I should do or say, or how best to lend my services. But I got over that quickly. Everyone at the Safety Team was so kind and welcoming, and before long I was helping and encouraging attendees and shouting “No!” along with everyone else. While my Kempo Jiujitsu training helped me understand the hits and kicks quickly, I realized early on that having a martial arts background wasn’t necessary to be a volunteer. All I needed was a passion for empowering women.
All too often, in self-defense trainings, women are bombarded with scary statistics, then told to react with an uncomfortable level of violence. Safety Team workshops aren’t like that at all! While some of the information was sobering, most of it was empowering. It was fun and humorous. Everyone there understood what it’s like being a woman today and the things we’ve done to keep ourselves safe. These workshops encouraged and empowered us to maintain our own bodily autonomy and showed us safe, effective methods of getting out of sticky situations. There was no doom and gloom. There was humor, encouragement, understanding . . . and cookies.
I had so much fun at this first workshop, and from what I could tell the participants did, too. It was two and a half hours of women learning strength, empowerment, safety, and courage. It was a community coming together to share in the possibility of what we could do. It was positive, uplifting, and inspiring.
We, as women, have such tremendous strength. All too often, we’re taught to ignore it and push it aside, and it’s so insidiously done that we aren’t aware of it. When women come together to share what we know and support each other in what we’ve been through, our potential is incredible.
I am looking forward to the next time I’m able to volunteer at a workshop. And the next, and the next. I can’t wait to see the realization of power dawn on the participants’ faces and to watch the next round of participants embody their potential.