Stanford Campus Report – 1978

Students Beat Their Teacher Physically to Pass Matt Thomas’ Class

By Staff Writer

Students have to heat their teacher physically to pass Matt Thomas’ class at Stanford. Not once, but repeatedly.

Thomas is no masochist. He’s a carefully padded “model mugger” in a women’s self-defense class offered by the Stanford Workshops on Social and Political Issues (SWOPSI).

His basic points are simple use your wits and common sense to avoid an assault whenever possible. But if someone grabs you, strike back hard and fast. Don’t pull your punches and don’t hesitate to kick a man when he’s down.

self-defense stanford universityThomas combines book reading, discussions, and graphic demonstrations to drive these lessons home. “Women’s first reactions to ‘model mugging’ are fear, terror, immobilization, and wild flailing.” But these mistakes are made in class.

“By the time they’re finished, they’ve been ‘assaulted’ 50 times, but the last 10 or 20 they don’t make mistakes class.

“Failing a chemistry course may be traumatic, but nowhere near so as failing a self-defense course on the street,” he says.

Thomas has taught more than 1,000 women in self-defense at Harvard, Radcliffe, Wellesley, and Stanford. Several have become teachers in turn.

20 Grads Avoid Violence

To date, 20 women graduates have perceived potentially dangerous situations and avoided violence entirely.

The latest example, in Palo Alto, occurred when a man knocked at the door of a former student and said she’d won a $5,000 cash prize. She looked at him through her recently installed peephole and refused to open the door. He refused to talk further and left. She called police, who picked the man up. He had three prior arrests for rape and was armed with a knife.

Six women were assaulted: Four used psychological ploys to avoid rape.

One woman was followed home by her assailant. Instead of going to her own door, where assaults often occur, she broke the window of her most belligerent neighbor, just as her assailant started to rush ‘her. When the neighbor emerged yelling, the assailant fled.

Another woman was surrounded, by a young gang in Cambridge while waiting for her friend. When the friend arrived, the two pretended to be lesbians. The youths threw bottles but did not assault them.

A fourth woman was approached by two youths in a deserted subway hallway. She started picking her nose flagrantly and the youths left.

Two Knock Out Assailants

Two women who had to fight knocked out their assailants with their first strike.

One was coming home from a party when she was grabbed from the rear, dropped into a doorway and slammed against the wall. When her assailant started to talk with her, she used an open hand strike to the throat. He was still unconscious when police arrived 10 minutes later. She broke down, cried, and shook afterward, but she had stopped the assault.

Another was grabbed in an icy parking lot. She fell to the ground. As her assailant approached, she kicked him in the groin. He was still disabled when the Harvard police arrived 15 minutes later. She likewise cried and shook. She had taken the course two years earlier and had had no further practice.

Thomas stresses a highly practical, everyday approach in self-defense training.

Black Belt Assaulted

stanford self-defense

Lisa Steinkamp, fighting from the ground, strikes back full Force on her instructor, going repeatedly for a knockout blow to the temple. Thomas wears highly padded headgear.

His interest was triggered six years age when a woman black belt in karate was raped by an unarmed assailant. She apologized to her teacher and to Thomas, her senior instructor, for disgracing her training.

“I felt we had disgraced her by teaching her an art and not self-defense,” Thomas recalls. He investigated the records of 2,700 assaults on women and designed his course accordingly:

  • “Most women get assaulted in dim light. I teach them to fight in the dark,”
  • “Since they normally aren’t wearing loose fitting clothes or walking barefoot on specially treated floors, I teach in street clothes and shoes, in a variety of settings, without warmups.
  • “Ninety percent of karate is taught standing up, but almost 40% of the assaulted women were already knocked to the ground before realizing they were being attacked. So I teach kicking and punching up from the ground, fallen-dog style Kung Fu.
  • “Most importantly, in karate sparring, women hold their punches to prevent injury to their opponent and try not to strike vital areas like the eyes, throat, temples, knees, and groin. These are the very areas a woman must strike unless she has developed crushing power. They are the only areas I train them to strike, and I react accordingly, providing instant feedback.
  • “Men are used to the struggle involved in contact sports. Women must be reconditioned to struggle, fight, and continue fighting until they win. This has been most difficult, because women have been conditioned not to win.
  • “Women need to knock an assailant out rather than just injuring him. Kicking the model mugger when he is down is the hardest psychological barrier to overcome.
  • “Most martial arts don’t explain how even in submission there are opportunities to strike back and win, or to submit and endure. There are times to fight and times to endure. A woman should know how to distinguish between these times.
  • “Most martial arts ignore locks, burglar alarms, and firearms: These all have their place.”
  • “Women can prevent assaults by being wary — not paranoid, but aware, I don’t want a little self-confidence to be endangered by bravado. Even I don’t walk the streets of San Francisco alone at night.”

While Thomas was a medical student at Harvard his lover was raped at Stanford and brutally beaten afterwards. “She was a pacifist to the nth degree,” he notes. “My duty was confirmed to prevent this.”

Some feminists oppose Thomas, believing that men should not teach women self-defense. He has continually trained women instructors to take his place.


Original article in Stanford Campus Report; download file size is 1.49 MB

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