New Woman Magazine – July 1989


By Steve Keeva

Fear of assault is on every woman’s mind, but a new type of self-defence course in the US is turning feminine fear into a powerful force.

ANN LIES ON A LARGE, BLUE MAT, her head on a pillow and her eyes closed. Suddenly a huge figure approaches and stops, standing over her. He kneels at her feet, then lies down on top of her, breathing heavily. Her eyes open but she doesn’t move. In a soft whisper he tells her in humiliating detail what he is going to do to her. Then he gets up.

elbow to faceIn one motion he turns her over and spreads her legs. She remains silent, waiting. Then she lifts herself up onto her elbows. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the man shouts.

“I want to watch:’ she tells him. This seems to appease him for a moment and he releases her left ankle to unzip his trousers. Jan sees her chance. She rolls onto her right side, brings her leg back and places a kick squarely below her attacker’s left eye. As he falls backward, flailing, she kicks again, this time to the groin. The attacker groans with pain as he collapses, overcome by a power he never expected. With three sharp axe kicks to the head, Jan knocks him out cold.

The man Jan “knocked out” is not a real rapist but he is trained to act like one. Although he wears thick padding from head to toe, he knows how to recognise a knockout blow and when to go down. He is part of a course called Model Mugging, a unique self-defence program offered in 13 cities throughout the United States and now poised to go international. The organisation defines its purpose as “stopping the chain of violence against women” by making women aware of their power and teaching them how to use it.

Alarming Statistics

“When I first heard about it, the thought of taking Model Mugging scared me to death:’ Jan says. “I saw a film of a woman being attacked in a class and I thought there was no way I could ever fight like she did. I also knew that there must be a reason it affected me so strongly. I knew I had to do it.”

Unfortunately, we live in the kind of world that makes Model Mugging necessary.

A recent Australia-wide survey showed that 95 per cent of women questioned were afraid or cautious when walking alone after dark. Commissioned by 60 Minutes, the poll indicated that 63 per cent of women no longer leave their homes after nightfall unless they have to. When women do have to walk alone at night, 58 per cent avoid eye contact with men they walk past and six percent feel so afraid they carry a weapon.

The truly alarming statistics, however, concern the number of women who have been attacked or felt threatened by men:

• Seven per cent have been physically attacked
• 25 per cent have been flashed at by a man
• 30 per cent have been followed by a man
• 40 per cent have been sworn at by men as they walked alone at night.

In an average Model Mugging class of 15 students, nearly half the women have been victims of violence, of those who have not, many live with fear every day of their lives. And it’s no wonder. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that about one million women are raped every year in America, although only one in 13 reports the crime. Other figures put the likelihood of an American woman being raped during her lifetime at one in three.

Women who come to Model Mugging are tired of feeling helpless, tired of wondering how they would react if the moment of truth came and their bodies and souls were on the line. The course helps answer that question by giving them options.

Model Mugging consists of five four-hour sessions, during which students are attacked repeatedly in lifelike scenarios by “muggers” who model the behaviour of actual criminal assailants. Students learn to kick, jab, bite and punch to devastating effect. And they talk; about feelings of fear and helplessness and about the memories that the scenes of violence bring up.

A female instructor acts as an ally, a source of strength and inspiration to students, both in combat and in the growth process that can lead through the painful memories and, difficult feelings to understanding and, ultimately, to release from fear.

In the first class muggers go relatively easy, soon progressing to attacks of great intensity. But students find even the early assaults to be frightening. That’s why they’re effective.

“Students in the class are put into the actual adrenalin state that you would be in if you were assaulted’ says Lisa Gaeta, co-director of Model Mugging in Los Angeles. Lisa explains that learning in this state of heightened awareness instills “muscle memory, a far more profound kind of learning than the ordinary cognitive or rote type. “What normally happens when a woman is attacked is that her conscious mind shuts off and the subconscious takes over:’ she says. “Usually it just freezes because it doesn’t know what to do. But we train the subconscious mind to react, so that when the conscious goes away, it can take control.”

Subconscious Learning

The story of an office worker who was knocked out by a falling filing cabinet shows how well Model Mugging works on the subconscious level. When an ambulance man arrived and began inspecting her knees and feet for broken hones, she rolled onto her side and delivered a side-thrust kick to the man’s chest — while still unconscious. When she regained consciousness in the hospital, a colleague told her what she had done.

“We try to stress that it’s not our belief that men are the enemy we believe that violence is the enemy.”

Another Model Mugging technique helps reinforce this deep learning. As each student gets her turn to fight off a mugger, fellow students shout out their support in a torrent of suggestions (bite! elbow! eyes!”) punctuated by the word “No!’ The no, as it is commonly called, serves almost as a mantra, a chant, centering attention on the issue at hand — namely, power and the refusal to accept helplessness as a fact of life.

“It’s the key to all the unconscious learning” says Al Potash, Lisa’s husband and co-director of Model Mugging in Los Angeles. “No is the trigger for everything you do in the class. When you yell it out, your body reacts and begins to fight. When you go blank, you yell ‘No!’ and it brings you back to that fighting stat&’ Indeed, most women who have been attacked since taking the class have reported hearing a chorus of NO, NO, NO, spurring them on as they fought.

Karate Beginnings

Model Mugging was founded in 1971 by Matthew Thomas, a martial artist with black belts in Judo, Karate and Kendo. His initial motivation for creating the course was a personal one. A fellow karate student and friend, herself a black-belt, was beaten and raped one night after class. “She was attacked from behind and thrown to the ground:” Thomas recalls. “She tried resisting, but although she could break boards, she was not trained to fight full-contact, nor was she trained to fight from the ground and to take blows. And this was a woman who was held up as the model of what a woman karate student could be.”

Thomas’s friend felt she had let down her teacher or sensei. The sensei agreed, but Thomas saw it differently. He felt that the discipline had let his friend down and he said as much. This enraged the sensei, who asked Thomas to leave the class. He left, saddened but determined to find a self-defence technique that worked for women in the real world.

First, he put a microscope to that world, combing through thousands of police files to determine exactly what happens when women are assaulted. He began to detect a pattern. “I learned that 40 per cent of the time women were knocked to the ground before they even realised they were being attacked:’ he says. “Nearly all the rest end up on the ground, because that’s where rapes happen. The problem is that 90 per cent of martial arts are taught with the participants squared off, in the standing position.”

The technique developed is geared to fighting from the ground.

The technique developed is geared to fighting from the ground.

This finding complemented Thomas’s second key finding, that women’s greatest strength is in their lower bodies. For women, facing a male assailant in the standing position was bound to be disastrous, since men have an overwhelming superiority in upper body strength.

Based on this research, Thomas developed a technique geared to fighting from the ground. At first he taught the technique in the traditional way, stopping short of actual contact.

But the results were disappointing, so he tried something new. He modeled the behaviour of an assailant and let his students fight him with all their might. This worked. Women learned how much physical power they had and they learned to use it effectively. But Thomas kept getting knocked out. The solution was the “padded suit”, a Model Mugging original that has evolved into a super-protective, patented design that makes its wearer look like a cross between a grid-iron player and the Michelin man.

Women as Warriors

It didn’t take Thomas long to realise that women had all the power they needed to protect themselves, regardless of their size or the size of their assailants. “When we teach women to be warriors, we teach them to unleash what they already have inside them;’ he says. “The most dangerous thing in the world is a mother of any species protecting her young. We try to get women to feel that power. If they don’t have children, we tell them to protect the child inside them. That’s something everyone has.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that some men feel threatened when their partners tap into this source of power. “In many cases the women go through a re-evaluation;’ Potash says. “They start to ask themselves, ‘If I’m willing to stand up for myself in the physical context, what about other parts of my life?’ And so that assertiveness tends to spill over”

“We try to stress that it’s not our belief that men are the enemy,” adds Lisa. “We believe that violence is the enemy; male or female really has nothing to do with it. Still, some men have problems with the program. It’s something new and they’re not used to it. But more often men are supportive, they accept the changes the women go through and realise they are for the better.”

If there is any debate over whether those changes really are for the better, it is not among Model Mugging graduates. The graduation itself is a celebration of new-found power and confidence acted out in mugging after mugging before a crowd of cheering family and friends. “When women let go of their fear and anger, they realise that it was taking up so much of their creative energy,” says Thomas. “They start to feel joyful.”

Part of that joy comes from discovering new options. “I can remember walking down the street after taking the course;’ says Jane Maki, a 1986 graduate. “Two men were walking toward me. In the past I would have been terrified, knowing that if they went after me I was dead meat. But for the first time ever I realised that I had options, that I wasn’t simply at their mercy. I was no longer a victim.”

Model Mugging stresses fighting should be seen as a last resort. Here are some suggestions for how to defuse a confrontation before it escalates to physical violence.

Tips to Avoid Assault

  1. Trust your instincts. If you see a suspicious – looking character eyeing you — beware. Don’t make excuses for him (“he probably only looks that way because he’s poor”). We all have a sixth sense that tells us when someone means us harm; listen to it.
  2. If you’re assaulted on the street and bystanders do not offer help, look at one person and say, “You, call the police — now!” People often want to help but just don’t know what to do. Help them help you.
  3. If you are being assaulted, don’t yell “Help!” Often people won’t come when they hear that word. Instead, try yelling “Fire!” That will get people out.
  4. People may be reluctant to interfere in what may be domestic problems. If you are assaulted, a good way to alert bystanders to the gravity of the situation is to shout “This man is not my husband”. This one is good for children, too (“This man is not my daddy!” or “This woman is not my mummy!”).
  5. Be aware of your surroundings and let any suspicious characters know that you know they’re there. Keep your head up and look alert. Looking down at your feet makes you appear more vulnerable.
  6. Yell “NO!” This can be a big help for two reasons. First, most people freeze and stop breathing when they’re gripped with fear, which interferes with normal functioning. By yelling “NO!” you break the freeze response and you’ll have to inhale afterward, so you’ll get the air you need. Also, simply yelling “NO!” will often scare away an assailant who is looking for a passive victim.
  7. Do something disgusting. It may sound funny, but picking your nose can be a good way of repulsing a would-be assailant. One New York resident suggests carrying a tablet of Alka Seltzer at all times. That way, if someone is bothering you, you can bite off a piece and start foaming at the mouth immediately. That may do the trick!
  8. (See Crime Prevention)

One Woman’s Success Story

When Barbara Chamberlain was 20,’ she was gang raped. The incident was a set-up, planned by a young man she was going out with, who thought he’d introduce Barbra to some of his “friends”. She was virgin at the time and as a result of the rape she became pregnant.

She had wanted to be a veterinarian but had to abandon her plans. The physical and emotional damage was too profound for her to return to university and besides, she had a baby on the way. When the child was born, she put her up for adoption. Then she tried to get on with her life.

It wasn’t easy. Years later, after intermittent periods of psychotherapy, Barbara got tired of living in constant fear and started to look for an effective self-defence course. When she saw a segment on Model Mugging on a vision show, she felt she had found what was looking for. She signed up immediately.

I thought I could handle it without any problem’ she said. “Then, the first time I was attacked, I just fell to the floor and lay there, crying hysterically. It brought back a lot of anger that psychiatry never touched.”

But Barbara learned to turn anger into power. She went on to finish the course and three months later she used what she had learned.

One day, while walking across a parking lot in Hollywood, she saw a man beating up a woman. “Two men were standing nearby not doing a thing,” she says. “So I walked up to the guy and said, “you can stop that now, I think she’s had enough.” He just swore at me and starting hitting the woman’s face against the bonnet of the car.

“That’s when I told him that I was going to call the police and an ambulance. Well, he just lunged at me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me between two cars. I went into automatic pilot and dropped to the ground. Then I kicked his knee and he screamed. Then he grabbed my hand as I pulled him down, I kicked him in the crotch, then I kicked his in the face.”

Within seconds the man was on the ground, unconscious. Barbara says it feels good to know that she can now protect herself but adds that Model Mugging gave her more than that. “It made me realise that my life is just as valuable as anyone’s,” she says, I have a lot more confidence now. I look like a stronger person, not someone who can be pushed around.”

Profile of a Model Mugger

Toma Rosenzweig has been a “mugger” with Model Mugging of Los Angeles for nearly five years. His dedication is legendary and course graduates speak of him with obvious affection.

model mugger“Here is Toma, this big thug who is willing to get the living daylights knocked out of him so that we can feel strong,” says graduate Jane Maki. “That really moved me.C

The physical description is apt. At 169 cm (six feet) tall and weighing 109 kg (17 stone) Rosenzweig says that he is taller and heavier than the average rapist (according to FBI profiles). With a black belt in Aikido, he is also better trained.

Rosenzweig says he believes Model Mugging really can make a difference in stopping violence against women. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t”: he says. (That’s easy to believe when you consider that temperatures inside the mugger’s suit usually hover around 40°C and that muggers stay in the suit for hours at a time.) But at first it wasn’t entirely clear that he was well suited for the job.

“To make the assaults realistic, we have the muggers say some pretty crude things to the women,” says Lisa Gaeta. “The first time Toma had to speak as a mugger, he said “Spread your legs, bitch… please.”

Over time, Rosenzweig got the hang of it. “The thing is, you have to take on the part of the very thing you’re fighting’ he says. “I’m supposed to help these women and here I am tearing them down. At times, I’ve ended up crying in the suit. Still, he says, “the brutal language is necessary.” Indeed, one woman who was attacked after taking Model Mugging claimed she was unaffected by her assailant’s verbal assault. “It was no problem,” she said. “I’d heard it all before — in class.”

At 49, Rosenzweig is the old man of muggerdom. He still has the strength and endurance to do the work but he’s considering retiring soon. He won’t give up Model Mugging altogether, though. “There is no life after Model Mugging:’ he says. “It’s a wonderful program. I’ll stay with it in some other capacity.”

What the Statistics Show…

Nearly 8000 people have taken the Model Mugging course since it began in 1971. They ranged in age from 11 to 75 years. According to founder Matt Thomas, reports from graduates paint the following statistical picture:

200 women have had confrontations in which they used their Model Mugging training.

  • In 120 instances women used psychological means to fend off and attacker. “This is very important to me,” Thomas says, “I don’t want to just tech women to beat people up. Fighting should be the last resort.”
  • 40 women used physical means against an attacker. Of these, 28 knocked out their assailants and 12 disabled them.
  • Two women chose not to fight. They made this decision because their assailants had weapons and they determined that resisting would reduce their chances of survival. Both were raped and both survived.
  • One woman knocked out and assailant fully eight years after taking the course. “We liken it to riding a bicycle or learning to swim,” Thomas says. “One you learn, it’s there.”
  • “Some people say we’re too violent, too warlike,” Thomas says. “My response to that is that women have not resisted and they’ve been raped, beaten, mutilated and murdered. If there’s anything worth going to war over, it’s your life.”


Original article in New Woman Magazine, July 1989 – pages 75 to 78; download file size is 2.08 MB

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