San Francisco Examiner – 1989

‘Muggers’ Who Help Save Lives

By Leslie Goldberg of the Examiner Staff

Self-Defense Models Teach Women to Survive

”A Knife? A Psycho? A Deserted Area?” said a stunned police officer to 41-year-old Linda Simeone, who had been attacked by a deranged ex-boyfriend. “Lady, we should be taking you out of here in a body bag.”

Simeone didn’t expect it as she and her troubled ex-boyfriend walked on a deserted dock in Long Beach. But when he pulled a hunting knife with a 5-inch blade from his shirt, she knew what to do.

“I immediately dropped to the ground, extended my left leg and kicked him in the groin,” says Simeone. “It was completely automatic.”

Automatic because Simeone, an administrative assistant for Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, was a graduate of a controversial women’s self-defense program, Model Mugging. It had been a year to the day that she’d signed on for the intense and grueling course, doing battle over and over again with a fully padded “mugger,” etching in her muscle memory the Model Mugging moves – a combination of No-mercy martial arts attacks and down-and-dirty street fighting.

But the well-placed kick was only the beginning of her struggle. Not only did Simeone block a stab to her stomach with both hands and deliver an elbow punch to his jaw, the 140-pound woman kept her 200-pound attacker from cutting her throat by grabbing the blade of the knife with her bare hand.

“I had to figure it was my hand or my life,” she says. “If you’re in that situation, you say, ‘To hell with the pain”

Eventually Simeone succeeded in kicking the knife from his hand and finally into the water. Stunned, her attacker stopped, walked over to the edge of the dock and looked for the weapon. Simeone kicked him into the water and ran away.


Model Mugging instructor Sheryl Doran applies an eye strike to a heavily ‘padded mugger’.

Muggers Who Teach Women to Survive

She says, “Model Mugging saved my life,” (click here for Simeone’s full story).

A nationwide program, Model Mugging has been around for 17 years, teaching women in five sessions how to deliver knock-out blows. Out of 6,000 to 7,000 graduates, 39 have reported that they were assaulted since taking the class. According to Model Mugging, out of the 37 who chose to fight back, all succeeded in staving off the attack. Twenty-five managed to knock out their assailants. The two who chose not to fight because their assailants had weapons were raped, but survived.

While Model Mugging is only one of dozens of self-defense courses, what sets it apart is its high-intensity, no-pulled-punches training. Adrenaline runs high as students learn survival against martial arts-trained “muggers.” A lot of self-defense classes are like learning to swim on dry land. Model Mugging students jump in up to their necks. They learn to sink or swim.

The Model Mugging program has gotten a thumbs-up vote from some law enforcement officials, including Carmel Police Lt. Don Fuselier, who says, “I heartily recommend it to any woman concerned about her personal safety.”

San Francisco Police Department spokesman Jerry Senkir, while not familiar specifically with Model Mugging, says, “Any self-defense program that makes a woman more aware of her surroundings and gives her some techniques so that she can be more confident in dealing with an assault situation, I’d say was a good thing.”

“It’s a great program,” says Lynda Frattaroli of the San Francisco Rape Treatment Center. But not for the recently assaulted, she adds, ”It’s just too scary to think about somebody hurting you. lt’s too close to home.”

Even the untraumatized might not want to undergo this program called by some the “Outward Bound of Self-Defense.” During the 24-hour course, “muggers” grab the female students, sometimes forcing them to the ground. These assailants, who look like monsters in their $1,400 protective suits, will pin the women, even lying on top of them. Abusive, often obscene language is usually part of the staged attack. Women are expected to fight back with all their might. As one former student said, “You do get knocked around quite a bit.”

And for some, the biggest knock of all is the price of Model Mugging: $350.

Culture of violence

For East Bay artist Cori Couture, $350 was a small price to pay. Only days after she moved into her new Oakland home police informed her that four assaults had occurred on her block in the last six months. “For me I decided it was either take the course or lock myself up in my house,” she says. “Three hundred and fifty dollars was the price of my freedom.”

The wave of violence is not limited to Oakland or inner-city areas: Ilene Misheloff was apparently abducted in Dublin, Michaela Garecht in Hayward and Amber Swartz-Garcia in Pinole. The national statistics on crime are just as unsettling:

  • The U.S. homicide rate has doubled since the early ’60s.
  • Overall serious crime, including homicide, rape, robbery and assault, has nearly quadrupled since 1960.
  • Rape crisis centers say that one in every three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
  • More rapists are using weapons than ever before.

“Almost every woman I know has been sexually assaulted at some point,” says Joquin Brant of San Francisco. A martial arts expert, Brant decided to become a “mugger” for Model Mugging when his girlfriend was kidnapped off the street in San Francisco.

“The guy was a little drunk,” he says. “She managed to jump out of the car. She was real lucky.”

Many of the women who sign up for the course have not been so lucky. Some are child abuse survivors. Some are adult assault survivors. Some have been raped. During Model Mugging courses, some students re-live the assaults.

A Graduation

Tears spill down Mary’s face as two Model Muggers, her “father” and her “uncle,” abusively confront her. “I’m really (mad) at you for what happened,” she says with more pain than real anger.

As her uncle ‘lunges for her, Mary, who is an incest survivor, delivers a quick kick to the groin. He crumples to the floor. Her father moves toward her and Mary screams through, her tears and points at the uncle, “You want that to happen to you too?”

Mary’s classmates, some 17 other women, cheer her on and join in the boisterous Model Mugging chant, “No!” “No!” “No!” “911!”

Just watching a Model Mugging graduation /demonstration in Redwood City is tough, though inspiring. A few audience members fight back their own tears watching violent encounter after violent encounter, each smeared with filthy language. During the demonstration, two counselors stand by, in case any audience members “need to talk.” Model Mugging staffers advise parents to take small children out of the room if they become frightened.

“What you’re seeing is very real to life, but you also see women winning.” says Sheryl Doran, head instructor for Bay Area Model Mugging. “We’re expanding the idea of what we (women) can do,” says Doran.

The attacks are as real as possible without actually injuring the student. Special care is taken so that arms and shoulders aren’t wrenched and backs aren’t twisted. Watching the women defend themselves with all-out punches to the’ groin, the head and knee, one worries more about the muggers.

“Don’t think about us,” says a mugger, removing his huge padded helmet. “Watch these strong, brave, wonderful women.”

Arms and legs fly, women and muggers tumble into a blur of energy against the background of frantic cheering. Time after time, women pop up victorious, as the “muggers” lie outstretched on the padded floor of the Aikido studio.


Sheryl Doran lands an instep kick to the groin during a demonstration.

The founder of Model Mugging, Matt Thomas of San Jose, has been knocked out 20 times and suffered five back injuries, including a cracked vertebra. The sophisticated protective suit now used for Model Mugging began as a pillow and a hockey mask.

Thomas no longer does the mugging, having turned the job over to 20 or so “muggers” located I at the various Model Mugging branches across the country. In addition to martial arts training, the muggers have completed a course in counseling skills.

“I believe that old Japanese saying, ‘When the cause is noble, for every one warrior who falls, two will rise to take his place,” Thomas says.

The seed of Model Mugging was planted 17 years ago when one of Thomas’ fellow karate students, a black belt, was brutally attacked and raped. She had been unable to use any karate on her assailant.

The head of the school said that the woman had “shamed the dojo.” Instead, “I felt that her martial art had failed her; that we all had failed her,” says Thomas.

To try to understand what had happened, Thomas studied the police reports of more than 3,000 assaults on women and discovered that, in most cases, the woman had first been thrown to the ground.

“Most martial arts were developed for men fighting men standing up,” says Thomas. “The techniques don’t really relate well to women.” Also, most martial arts don’t allow full-impact punches or punches to the eyes, throat, groin or knees – precisely the areas women need to target if they are fighting for their lives,” he explains.

“Women deserve and need defense skills specific to the type of attacks they receive,” he says. Allowing full impact, Model Mugging teaches students to fight from the ground as well as standing. Women learn to kick to counter men’s superior upper-body strength. The foul language used in the simulated attacks desensitizes women, should they ever encounter the real thing.

What It’s Like

Model Mugging has been taught to girls as young as 11; the oldest student was 73. Although they must be vigorous, women don’t have to be in top physical condition to take the class. At times, the simulated attacks have been modified for the older student or student with physical problems. “We encourage people to come to the class even if they’re sick,” says Doran. “An assailant isn’t going to wait until you’re well.”

BAMM-InstructorsThe beginning Model Mugging course teaches how to deal with one unarmed assailant. More advanced classes cover multiple assailants and attackers with weapons.

Of course if there’s a weapon it’s a very dangerous situation,” says Doran. “Model Mugging doesn’t say you have to do this or that. It’s designed to give women options.”

“During the first class, women learn to yell from the stomach. Basic moves are taught very slowly and gently.

“A lot of our teaching focuses on conflict avoidance,” says Doran. “We cover awareness training and verbal defense techniques.” (See accompanying story.)

Each class is taught with male “muggers” and female instructors. Many of the instructors have backgrounds in both martial arts and rape crisis counseling. The emphasis is on creating a “supportive atmosphere,” says Doran. “This is a place where it’s OK to express any feeling.”

One Model Mugging graduate, a rape survivor, was so traumatized she couldn’t even speak during the first class .”The women who have been assaulted usually have more fear and more flashbacks, but they also usually make the most progress,” says the instructor.

It’s not just assault survivors who have a pervasive sense of vulnerability when they come into the class. “As a woman, though never raped or sexually molested, I have – like most women – lived in fear of assault my whole life,” writes one Model Mugging graduate. “This fear has not been debilitating, but it has been restricting.”

Women are also concerned about hurting someone else, says Doran. “That’s a barrier to cross,” she says. “We feel it’s better to cross it in class, instead of on the street.”

Many of the students say that the confidence from knowing how to protect themselves spills over into other areas of their lives; graduates say they’re more willing to take risks in their careers and artistic pursuits, says Matt Thomas.

For incest survivor Mary, Model Mugging has been a major healing force in her life. She says that since taking the class, she no longer chooses unsafe places to live or unsuitable jobs that “re-enforce my failure image.”

“It’s strange, as soon as I started to defend myself, everything was different,” she says. “It’s the minute you decide to quit participating, the minute you quit being a victim.”

Model Mugging Student – “I was raped at knife point,” says Teri, still breathless from the exhibition. “I’ve had to regain my identity. I had to fight to find me again. It hurts, but it feels good. I’m not afraid anymore.”


Original article in San Francisco Examiner Feb 12, 19 pages E-1 to E-4; download file size is 3.1 MB.

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