Chronicle of Higher Education – 1978

By Staff Writer


self-defense education 1978As Karen neared her house, she realized she was being followed. Instead of going to her own door, she hurried to that of a notoriously hot-tempered neighbor and broke his front window. Just as her assailant knocked her to the ground, the neighbor stormed outside and frightened him away.

Waiting for the subway late one night in a deserted station, Lynne was approached by two men. She began flagrantly picking her nose. The two became disgusted and left.

Karen and Lynne (not their real names) are graduates of an unusual self-defense course offered at Stanford University that stresses psychological ploys and other preventive measures to avoid rapes. Their teacher, Matt Thomas, an expert and former instructor in karate, developed the course in 1972 after a female student, who had a black belt in karate, was raped by an unarmed assailant. Believing they had taught her an “art form, rather than self-defense,”

Mr. Thomas became “very upset with traditional martial arts, which may get women hurt on the streets.” He subsequently pored over police records, analyzing assaults on 3,000 women to determine when and where most attacks happened, who were likely assailants, and how often and under what circumstances rape victims were seriously injured or killed.

Since then, he has taught a common-sense approach to self-defense to more than 1,000 women at Harvard, Radcliffe, Wellesley, and Stanford. Twenty of them, like Karen and Lynne, have successfully avoided attack.

self-defense education eye strike 1978Kay was grabbed from behind as she entered the entrance hail of her dormitory and was pushed violently against a wall. As her assailant began to talk with her, she delivered a well-aimed punch to his throat. When police arrived ten minutes later, he was still unconscious.

“Physical means should be avoided if they can, but if you have to fight, fight to win,” says Mr. Thomas. Dressed in heavily padded clothing, he plays a self-styled “model mugger.” Students are encouraged to fight “full power” and not to pull their punches. They don’t pass the course until they’ve pummeled the instructor into “submission” on at least 10 separate occasions. Mr. Thomas teaches them to go for such highly vulnerable areas as the throat, groin, temples, eyes, and kneecaps. A properly executed punch can incapacitate an attacker almost immediately, he says. “It has to — I don’t know of too many women, unless they’ve trained as sprinters, who can outrun the average man.”

self-defense education fighting back 1978Every effort is made to simulate in class the conditions under which most women are assaulted. The “classroom” may be a parking lot, a stairway, or a bedroom. Students are “attacked” in the dark, without benefit of warm up, and while wearing ordinary street clothes. They learn to fight in close quarters and from the ground (40 percent of women are knocked down before they even realize they are being attacked). Mr. Thomas teaches them to “curl up in a little ball and just use their feet.” Possibly the most difficult aspect of the course, Mr. Thomas says, is overcoming a woman’s inhibitions about striking out. “Women have been taught to be nice, to never be physically aggressive, and to never be involved in physical struggle. They have problems with fighting to win, with knocking a man unconscious. They need to learn to kick the mugger when he is down. In class, at first, the women freeze up, become immobilized, and flail wildly. By the time they’ve completed the course, they’ve been ‘attacked’ about 50 times. The last 10 or 20, they don’t make any mistakes.”


For current information regarding Model Mugging Self Defense: or 800-590-4687.


Original article in Chronicle of Higher Education; May 30, 1978, page 41; download file size is 1.22 MB

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