Image Magazine – 1985

Self-Defense with Extra Punch

In a Course Called Model Mugging, Women Learn to Fight Back with Full Force.

Innovations by Gregg Levoy


The Model Mugger and would-be victim in action: Letting the survival instinct come through.

In Model Mugging there are no holds barred. This series of self-defense classes, offered at Stanford and other spots in the Bay Area, teaches women how to go all – out against an assailant. They learn to hit, jab, kick and claw off an unarmed but well – padded attacker – the Model Mugger – with all their might.

The intensive classes were developed by San Franciscan Matt Thomas, a former martial arts instructor. He decided to create his own self-defense course fifteen years ago, after one of his black-belt karate students was attacked and raped by an unarmed assailant. The woman felt that she had disgraced the martial arts, but Thomas felt it was the other way around: Her martial arts training had let her down.

Thomas concluded that many self-defense courses – including the martial arts – set students up with a potentially dangerous contradiction: They come out knowing how to fight, but deep down are still conditioned not to.

The central philosophy in Thomas’s Model Mugging classes is that the way to deprogram women from being passive when attacked is to teach them how to fight with full force. For the body to react with its natural survival instincts, says Thomas, the mind must allow those instincts to come through. Self-defense is not just knowing how to protect yourself, but being willing to take action. The classes are a composite of consciousness-raising, psychological training and fourteen styles of martial arts.

“If you’re lucky,” Thomas tells his students, “your assailant will be pressing assault charges against you.”

Thomas, who holds black belts in judo, karate and kendo, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford, studied police files when he began to develop his Model Mugging classes. According to national statistics, he found, 80 percent of the attacks on women are by unarmed assailants – attackers who, with proper training, can be fought off. The key to survival, Thomas concluded, may lie either in dissuading an attacker or in using full power, full contact fighting to disable him and get away.

In 40 percent of assaults, a woman is knocked to the ground before she knows what hit her – yet 90 percent of martial arts training is from a standing position. So, Thomas decided to gear a substantial portion of his instruction to techniques that can be used for fighting from the ground.

In real attacks, victims have no time to stretch or warm up or change into loose-fitting clothes – part of most training programs – and the scene of an attack is usually not well – lit or comfortably padded, like most martial arts studios. Thomas therefore simulates actual conditions in his classes. The students wear street clothes – even come to class having had a few drinks – and the classes are held on a variety of surfaces: mats, wood, grass, carpets, concrete.

The most visually striking aspect of Thomas’s training is the suit worn by the attacker, the Model Mugger. The special padding for each outfit weighs 60 pounds, made from $1,000 worth of fiberglass, foam, nylon and Ensolite. Wearing the thick protective head and body gear, the Model Muggers are more or less protected from ending up in a pile of broken bones and bleeding gashes as they do their work as attackers.

The women are also furnished with protection – helmets, elbow and knee pads. Also in the interest of safety, students at the beginning are not knocked to the ground with full force, Thomas says, and, although the class is admittedly rough and tumble, he adds, “It’s still safer than football, hockey, lacrosse or ballet.”

Every woman is mugged some 30 times during the training, each time with progressively more force. In the process she is taught not only fighting techniques, but helped to become aware of her survival instincts and how best to use the adrenalin that is there at her service. ‘

“Women push this instinct down and just hope they never have to use it,” says one instructor. “We help them awaken to it.”

Thomas argues that self-esteem, knowing exactly why you should be around tomorrow, is the preamble to protecting your constitution. If you don’t like yourself in an immediate, urgent way, you’ll have a very hard time defending yourself, especially in an emergency.

To make his point, he quotes Napoleon: “War is one-quarter materiel and three-quarter spirit.” The class devotes a substantial amount of time to the psychology of attack, including ways to talk an attacker out of his intentions. Throughout, Thomas emphasizes, a woman under attack should wait for an opening before she responds. “Take your time. You have options. Wait for your moment,” he says continually during the sessions.

Model Mugging “should be a required course for all freshman women,” says one Stanford University coed who took it through a campus organization. “It’s so much better than Western Civ.”

“It’s completely contrary to Western Civ,” interjects another student.

Just how uncivilized is Model Mugging? “All my life, I was told I mustn’t hurt anyone,” says Polly Firestone, who took the class at Stanford this spring. “This gets me in touch with that place in me that isn’t conditioned away from protecting myself – that place in me that sometimes wants to bite somebody.”

“We’re just not wired to fight,” says Jane Winter white, a psychologist and family/marriage counselor from Los Gatos who has taken the course with some of her clients. “So the beginning classes are a little shocking and sickening. You sweat. You’re nauseated. You’re angry and scared. And there’s a certain fear that comes with realizing you’re powerful enough to kill somebody, and it comes with the actual experience of taking a man down.”

“It’s a blitzkrieg,” says instructor Danielle Evans, describing the final weeks of the class. “We’re changing women’s thinking from being the victim to being the attacker. A huntress is the image I like to use. It’s awesome to see that fury in women.”

Critics claim that the training is a bit too war-like. The course was cancelled at the Aikido West martial arts school in Redwood City because it was deemed too violent, said to overstep the bounds of what, in the martial arts, is called “appropriate action” – responding to a situation with only as much force as is necessary to prevent the escalation of violence.

Instructor Evans points out that the escalation of violence is a matter of viewpoint. She says all-out fighting is a way of making sure a mugger doesn’t try to do “something worse” to you. On both a physical and ethical continuum, she believes, it is better to knock someone out than be raped, or possibly killed.

Thomas says that his classes, which consist of sixteen hours of instruction and cost $120, give his students what they want. “The women don’t go around provoking people, abusing their new-found strength,” Thomas says. “But they are able – 90 percent of them by the time the class are through – to knock out an attacker in the first five seconds of an assault.”

Gregg Levoy has written for Playboy, Parents’ Magazine and New Age Journal.


IMAGE Magazine – December 22, 1985

Original article in Image Magazine – pages 9 to 10: download file size is .975 MB

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