Health for Life – Spring 1986

Removing the Nightmare from the Night

Written by Staff Writer

Late in the evening, a woman walks along a dark street. A man lunges from the shadows, throwing her roughly to the ground. She is pinned beneath the weight of his body. Five seconds later it is all over. The man is unconscious; the woman stands over him.

knee to head 1986Afterwards, the woman may not even remember exactly what she did, She may be a little surprised to find that defeating a rapist was easier in the street than it was in class.

That’s the way self-defense instructor Matt Thomas wants it to be. Thomas created Model Mugging, his innovative self-defense program, because he felt strongly that women were poorly equipped to cope with the threat posed to them in our society.

According to police files, one in 10 women is sexually assaulted. Women Against Rape puts the figure at one in three. By anyone’s estimate, violence against women is epidemic and, Thomas feels, largely avoidable.

Non-Traditional Approach

Until now, a woman’s only recourse was to join a martial arts class. The problem was that few women stayed in a class long enough to perfect the skills (according to Thomas, karate classes are 90% male after the first three months) and secondly, that the skills themselves are not practical.

after class model mugging instructorsMartial artists are trained not to connect,” Thomas says. “And they’re trained to avoid the really vulnerable areas. All the areas we focus on – knees, groin, throat, back of head, face are illegal in karate.”

Model Mugging is a practical system, and an effective one: guerrilla warfare declared against the rapist. Explosive and unrestrained, it does not depend on strength or technical skill. It focuses on a specific scenario, the one which, according to statistics, a woman is most likely to someday confront: fighting a single, unarmed attacker, on the ground.

A student lies on the floor of the classroom: in bed, asleep. Suddenly she is jolted awake by the weight of a man’s body pinning her to the mattress. “Don’t move,” he snarls. “One sound and you’re dead.” The dark room erupts in a chorus of battle cries, as the other students cheer in support: “Fight! Fight!” “He can’t do this!” “Kill him!”

The woman’s face hardens in defiance: “NO!” she roars, plunging her fingers into the man’s eyes. The mugger recoils in pain. With a sudden motion, the woman rocks her hips to one side, forcing her attacker to compensate. Instantly she reverses her weight, catching him off balance and spilling him to the floor.

In quick succession, she lands solid kicks to his groin and head. The mugger signals. She has scored a knockout. Elapsed time: eight seconds.

“Women don’t realize how much power they have,” Thomas says. “The average woman can kick with a force of 600 foot-pounds.” (That’s what you’d feel if someone held a 600-lb. weight one foot above your nose and let go.) “We unleash their power and target it at vital zones.”

For the women, the training is a bit like walking into their own worst nightmare. They face simulated attacks by the heavily-padded assailant or “’mugger,” against whom they apply defense techniques they have been taught.

Support within the group is tremendous. Still, first muggings can be traumatic. Some women cry; others become ill. All experience the sense of violation, with the fear and anger it generates.

That is the whole idea according to Thomas, who maintains that power comes from facing fear.

Instructor Danielle Evens: “Women have a natural reaction to an attack: their adrenalin rushes. It’s the same thing football players use to win games. We need to take that and use it. Trainers like Danielle are the guardian angels in this nightmare. They teach the students to channel their fear into a focused rush of energy. Fear becomes rage. Rage becomes action. As “mugger” Curtis Fujii explains: “Eventually, they forget their old habits and inhibitions and replace them with new habits, which are simply: ’BAM! You’re down!’”

Fear to Victory

Model Mugging is a case study in mental training. The theory is simple enough: Thomas knows every stressful situation he can lead his students through is another weapon removed from the rapist’s arsenal.

“Nighttime is one of the most aesthetic times-a whole different world of color, sound, smells. It’s a shame this is denied to women.” - Matt Thomas, Model Mugging

“Nighttime is one of the most aesthetic times-a whole different world of color, sound, smells. It’s a shame this is denied to women.”
– Matt Thomas, Model Mugging

And so, like a team of benevolent demons, his Model Muggers strive for a realistic element of fear. Through physical violence, verbal threats and obscenities, they deliberately make the model experience as visceral as possible. And always, always at the heart of this darkness lies victory for the woman.” The idea is to teach them to win. To start out, we practically put our face in front of their foot,” Thomas says. “Gradually we make it harder. They learn to win – they expect to win.” Taking control of fear, focusing the adrenalin, fighting, expecting to win, winning. Each woman performs the scenario dozens of times, the experience multiplied tenfold as she watches her classmates. In time, her response becomes automatic.” When they’re confronted on the street, their mind goes blank,” Thomas says, “and they just act.”

And act decisively. By the last class, the women respond with astonishing ferocity and power, defeating the most aggressive attacks. As Julio, another Model Mugger says, “I can tell you, the blows come right from their center.”

The program’s success speaks for itself. Of sixty women who have faced attacks since completing the course, forty escaped using one of the non-physical strategies they were taught. Two women chose not to fight because their attacker was armed. The 18 who fought, however, all knocked out their attacker in the first five seconds.

You can feel electricity in the air: in each confrontation, every cry of defiance, every blow that lands squarely on target. One instructor explains: “What goes on is the transformation from being a victim to being not an aggressor, but a fighter.”

Model Mugging has long been what Thomas calls a “local grassroots program” in the San Francisco area.

He has recently brought it to Los Angeles, and hopes to expand to other cities. For more information about Model Mugging, call (800) 590-4687.


Original article in  Health for Life, Spring 1986 – pages 12 to 13; download file size is 1.38 MB

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