Confluence – 1994

Women’s Self-Defense:

The Magic of Model Mugging


Holistic Health Education and Networking for Mendocino County – Issue 29, March, 1994

Interview by Gayle Fillman

Matt Thomas of Southern California frequently visits the Mendocino Cultural Center dojo in Ukiah to teach his unique and widely acclaimed 20-hour physical self-defense method for women called Model Mugging. In this technique, Thomas dressed in special clothing and a Styrofoam helmet plays the role of a model “assailant” to be defeated by the “victim” in training.

In 22 years, Thomas says he’s trained over 5,000 women in physical self-defense against men, and his students have trained another 15,000. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful technique based on both Eastern and Western Martial Arts disciplines, taught by a mature man-woman team to young women in 20-hour weekend intensives.

Thomas says over 350 of his women students have prevented attacks on themselves as a result of his teaching, while 89 have had fights in which 87 of them triumphed in wins – 51 by knockout – where his graduates used physical means to deter an attack. “To me, that is truth in action,” says Thomas proudly.


Matt Thomas

Thomas and his martial art trainers teach integration of physical skills with mental discipline.

Many of their students are survivors of prior rape, incest, or assault. Frequently, they have transformed their lives after learning to take risks and succeed in Model Mugging training.

Interview below is with Gayle Fillman of the Mendocino Cultural Center and Matt Thomas of Model Mugging by Alan Young of Mendocino Country Confluence, MCC.

MCC: So, it’s not just about physical techniques after all? From what you have said, there are about 4 psychological defenses designed to ward off each physical attack. Now, in the actual training, does that mean that there’s more emphasis on psychological than physical factors?

Matt: The physical is only one-third of the fighting. One-third of class time is physical training. One-third is listening to Gayle, the female instructor, and myself; and one-third is the students themselves talking out loud to get in touch with their emotional states.

When a woman knows she can defeat an assailant, her body language communicates that. Even in a normal venue, communication is 55% body language. So when a predator is choosing a woman to attack on the street, they will get the message that this woman can and will defend herself, and most of the time they will simply go the other way.

Even with untrained women, the rapist completes his assault just 33% of the time, which means 66% of the time he doesn’t. That says that these guys are cowards. So if the woman resists, she has a very good chance of driving the guy off.

We try to deter an assault as much as possible, but if the physical action comes, what we’re trying to do is preserve the life of our student, the only life that’s she’s responsible for.

“If a man is attacking a woman and causing all this pain, he needs to be taught a lesson that what he is doing is not OK.” – Matt Thomas.

We don’t teach killing the assailant, I teach to knock an assailant out, to basically stop him from attacking you. When a man is attacking a woman, and is going to cause all this pain and stuff, in some sense he needs to be taught a lesson from the Universe, that it’s not OK to do this.

MCC: In reading the descriptions of Model Mugging, it seems that you take a lot of physical punishment in the process of teaching. Some people might see that and say, well, you really get your jollies by being whacked on by women.

Matt: I hate getting kicked in the groin. I’ve been kicked about half a million times, but I have three little boys who look like me, so I know our groin protectors do work. I’ve also been kicked in the head half a million times, and I hate that even worse, because I consider my brain the center of my intellect and a lot of other wonderful things.

But I choose to put forth physical effort and I will risk injury so that women can have their own freedom. And that’s a cause I believe in and that’s why I take the risks. If there were another way of doing this, I would love to get out of this suit.

MCC: Is teaching here in Mendocino County different from teaching in more mainstream places?

Matt: I find the sense of community here is wonderful. More people know each other here, more people care for each other; there are a lot of connections going on, so that people are more open, there’s more sharing. I mean it is really is a wonderful sense of community, a real joy. The other real joy is that here there is a real connection with the dojo, in other words I really, really respect Gayle Fillman, and the other great people here, so that there’s this harmony. So I love teaching here. It’s great to get out of L.A.

MCC: Well, more specifically, do the students of Mendocino County need something different from what they would need in L.A.? A different physical setting? A different cultural…

Gayle: You have to remember that every three minutes a woman is raped or there’s an attempted rape. A lot of women come in here who have been raped at the age of 14 or something, and felt unable to go to college because they were afraid to be out after dark by themselves, I mean right here in Ukiah. There hasn’t been a workshop in this dojo that hasn’t had a woman who has had something happen to them. Whether women live in the country or in the city, eight out of every 10 women are going to have something happen to them before they reach the age of 25.

But Model Mugging is the equalizer. After training, they can go out, and they can do things that they have blocked themselves from out of fear and isolation. When they leave here they feel comfortable and secure and less afraid and they can go out and live. We have kids that we train who are going off to college, to Davis, to UCLA, to Santa Cruz and to Oregon. When they go there, we want them to have the best tools they can have to help themselves.

Model Mugging teaches you to go for the two main spots on your assailant: the groin and the face.

Unlike what a lot of what I do here in the dojo, Model Mugging serves women conveniently on their time schedule. It takes 20 hours on a weekend, and after graduation they can go out and have the best tools to defend themselves.

Unlike in traditional martial arts disciplines, Model Mugging teaches you to go for the two main spots on your assailant: the groin and the face. We teach women to really get in there, to feel what that’s like, to experience what needs to be done. In this process, we intentionally over train the woman, so when she does finally do physically contact, she is very able to defend herself.

We also teach prevention and awareness to keep the person out of trouble in the first place. One of the things that happens when a woman comes in to me to take Model Mugging, going to out a different person. They’re standing up straighter, they take a stronger attitude.

MCC: Like Aikido, Model Mugging also draws on the attacker’s strength?

Gayle: It draws on your sense of the opponent’s energy, you can feel it there and you can go: “Back off – I don’t want any trouble from you.” You can get a real nice stance on it, you pick up your maiai, your hands go up, your eyes track him, you keep maiai. OK?

“If a man is already coming into our personal space with negative physical and verbal energy, we’re going to defend ourselves.” – Gayle Fillman

MCC: You keep maiai?

Gayle: Yeah, maiai is a “safe distance.” It’s what our body requires. To protect it, you do this. So when someone comes within that space, they’re invading. And if they’re already coming in with the force of negative physical and verbal energy, we’re going to defend ourselves.

MCC: Could you talk about experiences that people have had taking Model Mugging and then finding it effective in some unexpected way.

Matt: With Model Mugging you never know what to expect. Women have come up to me and said “l quit the business I was in for eight years and started my own business, and two years later I’m wildly successful and I owe it all to you.” I say, “No, no, no, you owe it all to yourself. Because again, you took the risks, you got the courage!”

A concert pianist said I found passion in my piano playing.” A photographer said, “I started taking risks in my photography.” And basically it’s those kinds of changes.

But I think one of the most wonderful stories is from a women who came up to me and she was obviously very pregnant, and she goes, “This is due to Model Mugging. Eight years ago my former husband beat me in the belly when I was pregnant and killed my child. I divorced him and I married another man and we tried over and over again to get pregnant and it didn’t work, so we gave up. But a month after taking Model Mugging to prevent future attacks, I’m pregnant.” And I said “Maybe it was coincidence” And she says, “No, my body finally knew it was safe.” That’s a shift, that’s a change.

“I don’t enjoy being kicked in the groin, but I will risk injury so that women can have their own freedom.” – Matt Thomas

Then we had another woman who was knocked out by a falling file cabinet at work. We don’t teach how to defend against that, (chuckles). She was totally unconscious and the paramedics were checking her. When they got down to her legs, the minute they touched her legs, she rolled onto her side into the “kick position” and kicked the paramedic in the chest and knocked the wind out of him, and sent him back. And her co-worker said, “No, she’s taken Model Mugging, don’t play with her legs!” This is how it gets into the body.

We’ve had women attribute all kinds of wonderful things due to Model Mugging: weight loss, remission of nightmares and resumption of healthy sleep, anorexics who have suddenly started eating. One woman came up to me and two years later I could hardly recognize her, and she said after she took Model Mugging she started eating again, sought therapy, got married and had a little boy and named him after me! These are the rewards. These are the shifts, these are the changes.

Model Mugging provides a safe area that encourages women to take risks, and then we get a success, that encourages them to take more risks and they get more success, and so on.
And the most wonderful thing is that we tell them that it comes from within themselves, not from us. That’s the magic. Because the women have the power within themselves. We can’t teach you self-defense in 20 hours, but we can unleash and direct what you have within you.

What is the most dangerous thing in the whole world? A mother with a threatened child. Well, why not evoke that protection for yourself as well as for your child? That’s the magic.


Original article in Confluence – March, 1994 – download file size is 685 KB

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