Peninsula Magazine – 1990

Fear of Fighting

Women are discovering how to fight back

peninsula-magazine-coverBy Lisa Santandrea

A man wearing 40 pounds of protective gear whose head looks like a swollen pumpkin throws you to the ground and says he wants to rape you. While a dozen women stand around and cheer you on, you are forced to face fear, and face it alone.

This unique self-defense course is taught by a group called Model Mugging. Heavily padded martial arts experts play the role of mugger, and women are instructed in the psychology and tactics of street fighting.

“We can’t reach women self-defense in 24 hours,” says founder Matt Thomas, who grew up in San Jose and started the first class there 18 years ago, “but we can unleash what they already have.”

Thomas, a black-belt instructor in judo, kendo and karate, started Model Mugging when a black-belt student in his class was attacked and could not fight off the attack. Thomas felt that the methods taught in the martial arts were too clean for the streets.

The muggers in the class use language in a realistically brutal manner. Women are taught to fight while on the ground, where most women end up during an attack, to use their strong lower bodies against the man’s strong upper body and to aim for vulnerable points such as the eyes, head and groin.

Sheryl Hall Doran, Bay Area director of Model Mugging, says that the most important part of the program is not the fighting, but rather the change in attitude. “We want to create an arena for women to see each other as being quite courageous, as having a lot of spirit, as being quite strong instead of weak,” she says.

Of the 7,000 women who have taken the course, 120 have reported averting attack through psychological tactics; another 44 have been physically attacked – 28 women knocked out their assailants, 14 disabled them long enough to escape and two chose not to fight. This statistical success has helped garner national recognition and sold-out classes all over California.

After 14 years of injuries that included fractured ribs, cracked vertebrae and 20 knockouts, Thomas retired from his role as class attacker. “I received a total of over 50 injuries in developing the armor…the groin protector went through some severe evolution. Basically, every time I got hurt, the armor got bigger.”

But when the Redwood City chief of police wanted to see a demonstration, there was Thomas, donning the mugger’s uniform once again.

“When I look at the injuries I’ve had,” he says, “and then I hear of the stories of women preventing assault because of the training, then I say, OK, my injuries were worth it.”

For Current classes in the Bay Area Model Mugging: BAMM – Bay Area Model Mugging


Original article in Peninsula Magazine – May 1990 – download file size is 1.4 MB

Other Model Mugging Self Defense Articles