Tanglewood Edition – June 1999

Model Mugging

By Carol E. Vaughn
Photos by Kim Coffman

In her nightmare, a sinister-looking man in black chases her. His dagger pierces her back, and the wind whips her face as she runs. When she awakens, she’s drenched in sweat, head to toe.

elbow to the side of the head

Certified personal trainer Michelle Kaimann demonstrates a self-defense move against Saul Soliz, a make-believe mugger in a 60 pound protective suit.

“That Dream has tormented me all my life,” relates Alice Ruiz Serna, a recovering victim of sexual child abuse. Therapists are familiar with the recurring theme of the dream – it`s one common to victims. In January, Serna finally beat the menacing man who has plagued her throughout her 43 years. After taking Model Mugging, a self-defense empowerment course for women, she had the nightmare one last time. In that final version, she yelled “Back off” at her perpetrator. Assuming a power stance, she was in control, “Immediately he 8 began to melt,” she remembers “just like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. l woke up from the most joyful experience of my life.”

As a graduate of the 20-hour martial arts-based self-defense program taught by Houstonian Michelle Kaimann, a multiple black-belt in martial arts, Serna is so sold on Model Mugging that she’s offered to be Kaimann’s assistant.

Developed by Matt Thomas, a Los Angeles – based martial arts expert who studied 3,000 rape cases before designing the course, Model Mugging has recently been introduced to Texas via Houston. Kaimann, who holds monthly seminars at Chancellors Health and Racquet Club, is a certified personal trainer who teaches aerobics and Neuromuscular Integrative Action, a course incorporating holistic fitness, dance and martial arts. She stumbled upon Model Mugging by picking up Thomas’s book at a local bookstore.

Curious about the program, she called Thomas, arranged training and now manages the program in Texas. In February, the two were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

From left: Michelle Kaimann, “mugger” Gordon Woll, and developer of the program Matt Thomas want women to be able to defend themselves.

From left: Michelle Kaimann, “mugger” Gordon Woll, and developer of the program Matt Thomas want women to be able to defend themselves.

Thomas developed the program 27 years ago after one of his female black-belt martial arts co-students was raped. “All the martial arts we taught didn’t save her,” he says. No stranger to harm’s way himself, Thomas grew up a biracial child in a Japanese orphanage after World War II. After being repeatedly sexually assaulted by older boys, he developed his own defense using kicking and homemade weapons to ward off the attackers.

Every time I teach women to defend themselves, I heal myself he admits. Of the 50,000 women he has trained, 147 are known to have been attacked and defeated their assailants, with 86 total knockouts. Many Model Mugging students are victims of sexual abuse or incest. Others are women worried about survival in an increasingly violent society. During each session, Kaimann offers free training to a victim or staff member of the Houston Area Women’s Center.

The approach uses a combination of self-awareness, yelling, stance and several proven moves that can incapacitate or even knock out assailants. Several times during training and upon completion of the course, each woman is put to a test against a powerful mugger.

kick from ground

Jessica Blanche practices her moves on Saul Soliz as Alice Serna, Katy Gooden and Leigh Ann Divine cheer her on.

The mugger dons a 60-pound, $1,600 padded suit designed by Thomas, which is added to the mugger’s average weight of 180 pounds. The mugger represents the real thing, according to Kaimann, who admits the suit’ design plays an equally important role in protecting the make-believe mugger from her students’ powerful blows.

The course, which is taught at several levels, allows the less aggressive student to enroll in a four hour Saturday workshop to review the self-defense techniques in slow motion, minus the human contact. But the recommended course of action is a high-energy 20-hour basic weekend workshop that culminates in a program attended by students’ families and friends. There, graduates match their new found abilities against the “mugger,” Houston kick boxer Saul Soliz.


For more information about Model Mugging, call 800-590-4687.

Original article in Tanglewood Edition – Profile, June 1999; download file size is 1.1 MB.

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