Radiance Magazine – 1990

Full Force:

Model Mugging Teaches Women to Fight Back

By Mary Tesoro

It`s grim. Law enforcement and rape crisis center estimates tell us that one in every three U.S. women will be assaulted sometime in her life. Recent national studies conclude that one-quarter of today’s female college students have already been the victim of rape or attempted rape. An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 women are beaten to death annually. Neither age, size, dress, race, religion nor looks determines who will be assaulted. Rape survivors range in age from two months to 97 years old, and come from all walks of life. No woman is naturally immune.

It is not news that violence against women has been a fact of life throughout recorded history. What is new is that increasing numbers of women are challenging the concept of living in fear: They’re learning to fight back, and they’re winning!

elbow-to-face_radiance-magazineIn this spirit, over 7,000 women across the nation, of all ages and physical capabilities, have graduated from Model Mugging, a unique sell-defense training for women. This is the only sell-defense class I’d ever have my wife or daughter take,” says police Captain Don Fuselier of Carmel, California. For many graduates, the intensive live-session course does more than provide long-term, effective self-protection skills: it offers a training ground for life-changing experience.

Benefits are immediately and dramatically apparent in the lives of women who have taken the course, whether or not they have ever been assaulted. Graduates say the training allows them to face their deepest fears and release long-held anger in a safe environment.

“The sense of power and self-confidence that a woman achieves from this training generalizes to other areas of her life unrelated to sexual assault,” explains clinical psychologist Sharon Rippner. “She generally becomes more effective and less afraid in all aspects of daily life, thus being willing to grow and meet new challenges.”

Model Mugging is not a typical self-defense course. Rather than training women to be dependent on having objects, such as keys, mace or weapons, at their disposal in the moment of attack, this course teaches effective use of the one weapon always available: a woman’s own body. Training does not rely on practice with imaginary assailants or punching bags. Students experience what real attacks feel like, and they learn to fight back – and win.

A highly skilled female/male team with extensive training and experience in counseling, martial arts, crisis intervention and group facilitation leads the women through the training in a supportive environment.

Students learn simple, effective techniques and are then allowed to practice them in full force against a male instructor armored with $1,400 worth of specialized state-of-the-art equipment. Beginning as a sitting-duck target so that women can have the experience of actually hitting someone in the face or groin, the Model Mugger provides more and more realistic attacks as the course goes on. By graduation, he is staging full attacks, but to no avail: for by that time, each woman is capable of instinctively knocking him out in seconds. And the body remembers. All of the graduates who have fought in real-life attacks alter taking the course have disabled or knocked out their assailants within seconds. While it`s anyone`s guess how long the skills remain in the body, women have successfully knocked out assailants up to eight years after graduating from the program.

State-dependent learning theory provides clues to the long-term body memory graduates have experienced. “Basically, we set up an adrenaline state for the body to train in. The body is rewarded for effective technique (knockout blow) because the attack ends,” explains Model Mugging founder Matt Thomas. “Later, if the adrenaline state is aroused in an attack, the body remembers.”

Women are traditionally socialized to freeze, flail or faint in an adrenaline state. Because this is a learned response, it can be reconditioned. “We teach women to channel adrenaline, the body`s natural response to fear and danger, into effective, reflexive, full-contact fighting skills,” says instructor Danielle Evans.

Socialization to believe that we can`t deal with fearful situations, or that were not strong enough to protect ourselves, has painfully debilitating ramifications for women`s lives. Living with the reality and fear of assault, coupled with a belief in one`s own helplessness, levies a deep toll on self-esteem.

The beginning course teaches women how to knock out a single, unarmed assailant. Upper-level courses teach defense against multiple assailants and weapons. None of the courses tell women they have to fight. “This course isn’t about leaving every encounter with an attacker`s body lying in the dust,” says instructor Sheryl Doran. “We don`t have a mandate that graduates must fight.” Judith Roth, another instructor, agrees: “Model Mugging is about giving women choices. Many women have died or had their lives destroyed because they didn’t have the option of fighting back.” Many women who enter the program are survivors of rape, incest, molestation, battery or attempted murder. The training enables such women to expedite recovery, often by years; to regain strength and dignity; and to claim true power – the ability to direct their own lives. Many women report present and past emotional trauma healed in ways unobtainable in traditional psychotherapy or psychiatric care alone.

Model Mugging is not by any means, a man-hating course. In fact, it was founded by a man. Persevering through 46 serious injuries and many hard years of research and development to perfect the technique and the training gear, advanced martial artist Matt Thomas originated the course in 1972. Responding to the brutal rape of a female black belt colleague, Thomas was inspired to use his extensive training to create a course specifically for women. “After studying 3,000 assault records, I realized that men attack women quite differently from the way they attack each other,” he explains.” and this is not normally addressed in traditional martial arts.” In a sexual assault, the woman invariably ends up on the ground, yet traditional self-defense and martial arts teach primarily standing skills.

Thomas says many women enter the program reluctant to tap into their anger, raise their voices or use their power to fight hack. “This is a form of internalized oppression. l want to share the importance of women honoring their ability to fight oppressive tradition, for it is due to such courage on the part of my mother that l am alive today,” he shares. “When my Japanese mother was disowned by her family for falling in love with a foreigner, and when she suffered the further disgrace of being abandoned, with her child, by my father, she had the tremendous courage to go against tradition and keep on living. Tradition dictated that she should walk with me into the ocean. But she didn’t.”

“Cultural conditioning and social reinforcement make it difficult, if not impossible, for most women to acknowledge or express anger. However, suppressed anger is the most significant obstacle to effective self-defense. In unarmed, untrained combat, it usually the angrier combatant who wins. A rapist is expressing anger (inappropriately). Tapping into their own anger puts women directly in touch with incredible power to fight back and win.”

Asked about the participation of large women in Model Mugging classes, Thomas replies. “While our health concerns cover many areas, I have never seen largeness as a health issue. We’ve trained many women weighing more than 200 pounds. They have been very effective and powerful fighters. Their greatest obstacle has been overcoming psychological limitations that they couldn’t move fast enough or kick hard enough, an obstacle that many small women also face.”

Thomas says that media consultants have told him not to use large instructors because of the image they project. “But what matters to me in an instructor is that she can do the job and inspire other women. And all of our instructors, large and small, do that.”

“Being half Japanese and half Russian, I have been the victim

of prejudice in both Japan and the United States, and I’m opposed to prejudice in any form,” he states firmly.” I look at the person, not the age, size, race or anything else. What matters is the individual.”

Other specially selected men have undergone training to join Thomas in becoming Model Muggers. “It`s demanding work.” said Model Mugger Joquin Brant in an interview with People magazine. “Imagine doing aerobics in a furnace.

Why would anyone in his right mind subject himself to wearing a 30 to 40-pound suit that can reach temperatures of up to 107 degrees inside and can drain as many as seven pounds of vital body fluids in one session? “Love and respect for human beings, combined with the awareness of the injustice of women’s oppression and a desire to make a difference in the world: “All these things motivate me,” explains Tom Elliott, who left his job as a caretaker in a monastery to do Model Mugging full-time. “The rewards are tremendous: being able to participate in a process that is constructive and healing for women. This course has changed my life in unimaginable ways.”

Model Mugger Jim Elliott (no relation to Tom Elliott), who works as an X-ray technician, agrees. “It`s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. As demanding as it is physically, the verbal attacks have been the hardest part for me. It`s important for the muggers to learn to spew realistic verbal garbage, because so many women are subdued by it in real life – but it broke my heart when I first had to do it, I went home after a class and burst into tears. I then wrote the first poem of my life.

“The men who act as Model Muggers,’ says Thomas Gabriel, who has a woman friend who took the training.” are living up to the best that a man can be in these times: reaching out to help, not rescue, his sisters in their efforts to reclaim their own power.”

Long-time instructor Julio Toribio decided to become a Model Mugger after his mother-in-law was stabbed to death on her front porch. “I wanted to teach other women to do what she couldn’t do: Fight back and win.”

Knowing when and how to fight back can mean the difference between life and death. Assaults have too often proven fatal to the woman with no recourse but submission. Model Mugging offers women the tools to make their own choices. Sometimes just having a choice can change your life. In the words of graduate Linda Perkins, I broke away from lifelong feelings of helplessness, invisibility, fear, distrust, anger and powerlessness. I am, for the first time in my life, at peace with myself and the universe.”

Mary Tesoro is a freelance writer, martial artist and Model Mugging instructor. She edits and publishes the Model Mugging News out of San Luis Obispo, California


Three Women’s Stories

By Mary Tesoro

Sylvia, it’s me…A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” he growled. “And don`t tell; no one would believe you anyway.” Pinned and petrified, Sylvia Thompson felt herself reel into the past, becoming the 12-year-old child who had been raped by an adult neighbor. Except that this time, it was only a mock attack. With the support of instructors and classmates, Thompson was about to change her body memory and her life.

“Just relax!” he ordered, as he moved back slightly.


Sylvia defends herself.

“Now! There’s your opening!” coached instructor Sheryl Doran. “I felt frozen,” recounts Thompson. “When I screamed “No, stop!” I was shocked to hear the terrified voice of a 12-year-old. Thompson then jammed her fingers into the assailant’s eyes and began kicking him squarely and powerfully, with the entire class cheering wildly as she fought the 12-year-old’s battle to a victorious knockout.

“After I knocked him out, the tears came hard,” she recalls, “but they were followed by a feeling of exhilaration and confidence, knowing I had faced my worst memory and won. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life.”

“When I first read about Model Mugging in The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.” explains Thompson, “I knew I needed to take the class, so I enrolled the same day. I was afraid I might not be able to fight, or that my memories would be so overwhelming that I couldn’t face them. Instead, I was given enough support to face them and move through them. When I needed to cry, there were arms to hold me. When I felt too scared to fight, there were voices cheering me on. When I needed to talk, everyone listened. When I couldn’t talk, my silence was respected.”

Thompson found that being a large woman made no difference in the physical training or in bonding with the group. “I was treated with the same respect and support offered to all the students. Some of the movements were modified for my size, but others were actually easier for me. Although I hadn’t exercised for eight years prior to Model Mugging, because of my size, my legs were actually much stronger than the other women in my class.”

Thompson now describes herself as a strong and confident woman. I’ve learned how to set boundaries and say no when I need to and yes when I want to. I feel very safe in the world now. I’ve discovered that true power comes when you can use your anger as a weapon against your attacker rather than a weapon against yourself.”

Thompson’s advice for other large women? “Remember, it’s not the size of the fight, it’s the woman!” “And,” she adds with a chuckle, “it doesn’t hurt to have a little weight behind it!”


Delores Estrada, another Model Mugging graduate, agrees. “Learn to love your hips,” she says. “This program teaches that the hips are the most valued weapon any woman has. That’s where the largest and most powerful muscles in the body are.”

Though Estrada grew up with a negative body image, things have changed a lot for her in the past two years. “When I first read an article about Model Mugging, I worried about the physical aspects of the program. I was never a physically active child, and I was definitely not an active 36-year-old,” she recalls. “Further, I was not in touch with my body at all, due to being an incest survivor. I was so used to numbing parts of my body that having to concentrate on them in class was a new experience for me.”


Delores reclaims her power.

“Sharing things with a’ group was another great fear I had,” she recalls. Estrada could barely look at her classmates on the first day of class, let alone articulate the details of her tragic childhood, “As a child, I was attacked day and night – as many as 20 times a month for approximately seven years,” she explains, “My mother, who probably wouldn`t have protected me anyway, was dead. There was no hope, no end in sight. For protection, I disowned my body, disguised my feelings and negated all emotions. When I went to the Model Mugging class, I had such a great fear of men that it took all my courage just to look Tom, the male instructor, in the eyes.” She adds, “He was patient and understanding – were good buddies now. I also eventually saw that I was able to do the physical part of the class just like everyone else.”

“When I told my story in class, the story I had sworn I’d keep secret until the day I died, a healing process began. As memories surfaced, pain came back so strong I had to escape, but I learned to reclaim my body and fight. I kicked powerfully and ferociously. I then began having real feelings. I began to come, alive. I had my first experience of my body as strong and useful. With the encouragement and support of my instructors and classmates, I not only made it through the course, I gained a new family and I learned what love and trust are. They say that giving birth is painful, but afterwards there is joy. During the last class, I felt honest to goodness joy,”

After taking the basics course, Estrada went on to take the intermediate and advanced (weapons defense) courses. She says there were other large women in all of her classes. “The instructors, class assistants and other students treated us no differently than anyone else. Physical size or looks were never the focus. l do think, though, that a large woman can have even more power behind her kicks.”

Estrada describes her previous self as a “closed in, nonfeeling, nonsmiling woman with no self-esteem, who dressed in dark, shabby clothes and tried to be as unnoticeable as possible.” She calls it no less than a miracle that she has a new self-concept. “I’ve learned that I’m worth fighting for. Standing tall with my head high and looking people in the eyes comes more naturally to me now, l know that l am a valuable person. Pride in myself has me dressing better and helps me to be more outgoing and social. I even joined a gym, where I proudly lift weights. I see myself as a physically solid woman of power.”

Another insight: “I’ve learned that it wasn’t always” my body that needed food, but the child within that needed nourishment. She’s getting it now, and my once-hated body has become a friend.”

A change in self-image is one of many side effects of the training program. “Most of the women I see have spent years wanting their thighs to disappear, their hips to melt away. They feel nothing for their bodies but contempt and disgust,” says Geneen Roth, author of Breaking Free and Feeding the Hungry Heart, who leads seminars around the country to help people break free from dieting and bingeing addictions. “Model Mugging teaches us something we all need to learn: Women’s bodies are not decorations; they are strong, they are powerful and, when violated, they can be deadly.”

Roth praises the course; “It teaches women to use their natural wisdom, strength and instinct. I learned to respect my body as an instrument of power. This body I had been carrying around with me for 54 years, this body that had gained and lost over 500 pounds, this body that I had once hated and abused, this body was my ally. This body could save my life.”


When Mary McCuistion first saw Model Mugging on television, she was captivated by the power displayed by women’s bodies. “I watched, horrified and fascinated, as this huge, insect-like mugger crawled over a woman who was simulating sleep. An instructor kneeled by her head, coaching her over and over to relax and wait for the opening. The mugger inched his way down her torso; I was stunned as he appeared to pull on her shirt. “Now! Explode!’ cried the instructor, and like lightning the woman curled tightly into a ball and began delivering powerful kicks to the mugger’s head and torso. Finally he lay still, simulating knockout. Then she ran to where the other women were cheering her on from the sidelines. I watched as they hugged and laughed and cried with her. What a feeling of victory and celebration!”

Moved by what she saw, McCuistion enrolled in the course. “I was afraid, but there comes a time when all the reasons for not doing something become less important than wanting something better for yourself.” she says. “The first day we started by sitting in a circle and talking about why we were there, I was relieved when other women shared intimate stories about their backgrounds, as I had experienced multiple sexual assaults in my childhood.”

“I was concerned about the physical demands of the class, but generally, I was able to do everything that everyone else did,” McCuistion recalls. “The class progressed very slowly, was taught very professionally and I was never pushed beyond my physical limits. I never had the chance to panic – another concern of mine. When I felt nervous before a fight, I got support and channeled the fear and fought even harder.”

“In the third of five classes, I asked the male instructor to portray my perpetrator. The fight was amazing to me because I experienced it on so many levels – as a child, as an adult, as a bystander. Physically, I finished the fight with no problems whatsoever. Emotionally, I realized, I had further work to do on convincing myself that I was worth fighting for.”

McCuistion says she was not an active child, and with the exception of some dancing in college, had been sedentary most of her adult life. “I had some concerns that my size and weight would he an issue for me in Model Mugging, or that others would think it an issue. There were no other large women in the class I took, but all of the women were so supportive. The staff spoke about my body only in terms of how strong and powerful I was. I was challenged to think of myself as a big, strong woman, a foreign concept prior to this course. I began to feel that my large legs were good for something!”

McCuistion says that after almost a year, the benefits of her experience in the class have become deeply ingrained in her. “l know I have choices now,” she says. “I have a sense of how an assault might progress, what openings to look for and what options I have to fight or not to fight. Model Mugging provided a forum to face my fears in a supportive environment. Not only have I learned to defend myself from a potentially life-threatening assault, I now feel powerful enough emotionally to deal with all the little day-to-day violations.”

“I don`t ever need to feel like a victim again,” says McCuistion. “That`s a good feeling.”


For further information on Model Mugging, contact your local telephone directory for the chapter nearest you, or write or call Model Mugging, (800) 590-4687.


Original article in Radiance Magazine – 1990 – download file size is 2.07 MB

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