Take That! Model Mugging 101

by Allison Ryan '05

Despite the prevalence of violence against women, only five percent of women take a self-defense course, according to statistics promoted by Zero Hour Self Defense, the organization that offers a Model Mugging crash course to women of The Claremont Colleges. As a recent graduate of the course, I have to say it was both more terrifying and empowering than I could have anticipated.

Students meet two or three times during the semester for 10 hours of lecture and another 10 of physical application. The lecture covers classifications of rapists, trends among victims, ways to avoid being seen as a target, a few handy tips for evil-proofing your life, and a horrifying barrage of the facts (statistics) of being a woman. I left with the sensation that the social contract had broken down and we were living once again in the philosophic nightmare of a war of all against all. I was edgy and afraid the whole week between classes. I couldn’t wait to do something about it.

Seven students and two instructors, Mark and Adrienne, met in the Scripps gym. First, each woman explained why she was taking the course. My classmates described a fairly constant fear, understanding of the statistics, preoccupation with danger or distrust of men/strangers. Knowing how personally invested every other woman was, I felt childish admitting that, despite my short-term paranoia, I still felt basically safe. The real reason I had signed up was to invalidate my parent’s excuse for worrying about where I was on the weekends.

It wasn’t long before I realized just how naive I had been. What could I really do if I were in the awful position of victim-to-be? I didn’t want to think about it, but I did want to learn.

The fight techniques Mark and Adrienne teach look nothing like traditional martial arts. Adrienne explains that the idea behind our unique “ready stance” is not to look threatening, but to avoid provoking further violence. We bend our knees, put our weight into the balls of our feet, and keep our hands open and in front of our waists. This posture allows a woman to continue to negotiate while keeping her intentions and weapons (hands) hidden. When the fight gets serious, we drop into the kick position: on the ground, on one side, leg in the air. From the ground, a woman can use her strongest muscles to kick her assailant’s knees, groin, and head as they come into range. It is very violent, and many women shrink at the idea of causing so much harm, particularly since their weapons are their bodies. I really wish I could just scream “No!” and scare my attacker away. Mark and Adrienne tell us again and again: you don’t know whether this guy wants to kill you, and you can’t give him a chance. Somehow self-preservation isn’t as strong for me as the thought: “If I let this guy get away, he would just do the same thing to my little sisters, my mom, and my friends.”

The feelings and the violence still didn’t fit together for me until I actually experienced a mock attack-the unique characteristic of this course. Mark has a suit made of thick black padding that transforms him from Mark, our friend and teacher, into the EBG: Evil Bad Guy. It covers his whole body, so that we can practice our techniques full-force without fear of hurting him. The helmet is huge–two to three times the size of an average human head. This creature insults, swears at, grabs, and pins each woman, one at a time. It is terrifying. Waiting for my turn, I wonder if I am strong enough, if I will use the right combinations, if I might give too much away before I get a chance to strike.

As each woman takes her turn as an attack victim, everyone else stands at the side of the mat to cheer on the defendant. We scream “Eyes!” “Head!” “Groin!” to remind the defender, and “No!” with every kick at the attacker. But when it’s my turn, I can’t understand their words. I find the targets and kick until the whistle blows. When I stand up, I’m exhausted; my heart is racing, I’m breathing shallowly, and the terrifying figure is still. I’ve got the jitters, but I know I’m safe.

At the graduation ceremony, friends and families watch our final fights. They expect a traditional martial arts-style give-and- take, and it frightens them to see their daughter, sister, or friend turn into a screaming, kicking ball of directed anger, apparently over-reacting because this is only a scenario, not a “real” attack. Adrienne and Mark make the point that the system only works full-force; a simple walk-through of the techniques will not teach a woman to break through the freeze response or know the strength of her body.

By graduation, I felt contident that I could control the outcome of an attack. Deciding not to be a victim is empowering, without a doubt. I still feel jumpy most of the time, but this feeling will subside. And finally, I am happy to be part of one statistic: most women who take a self-defense course never have to use it.