Supportive Designed Self-Defense Program

Nine Facets of Self-Defense Support

In the midst of real life criminal attacks, in their minds, our students have “heard their instructors telling them what to do and have also heard their classmates cheering them on”.

Supportive circle in preparation for fighting during a basic course.

Supportive circle in preparation for fighting during a basic course.

Supportiveness of each student may come in many facets that touch the emotional, physical, and cognitive parts of our beings during the Model Mugging Course. The thought of being attacked is and unpleasant topic, for men, women, survivors of crime, and those fortunate not to have experienced a criminal assault. The dynamics applied in the Model Mugging program are helpful for most students, but may not be a right match for everyone. Accepting that everyone is on their own journey is the first avenue of support.

Support comes from the synergy of the instructors and classmates forming a new social group. There are nine areas of support that psycho-dynamically occur within the Model Mugging System. The psycho-dynamics of support will be described through the following nine facets:

supportive self-defense

Model Mugging student receives congratulations from classmates after finishing her fight against the padded assailant.

1. Positive Reinforcement

2. Theory of Cognitive Dissonance and Social Comparison Theory

3. “The Hero’s Journey”

4. Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

5. Instructor Team

6. Verbal, Emotional, and Physically Supportive Permission

7. Applying Role Model Mastery

8. Biofeedback

9. Ancient Village Concept

When developing the curriculum Model Mugging founder, at age 21, Matt Thomas looked to the teachings of his psychology professors for answers. He synergized various theories into practical application designing the first Role Model Mastery program for self-defense and a unique supportive program built on martial science. Support occurs as factors within each of the Five Principles of Self-Defense ©.

Positive Reinforcement: Matt started with positive reinforcement applying the power of social approval, both from the role model teacher (in the women’s class, a female role model and in the men’s class a male role model) combined with the social approval from the rest of the class. His Stanford beginning gymnastics coach was Dan Millman, who later wrote The Way of the Peaceful Warrior series. Dan taught everyone from beginners to the gymnastics team members, with joy and laughter, whereas Matt’s martial arts instructors would often beat him up because he earned black belts from other instructors and styles to show off their own egos. Matt adapted Dan’s enlightened coaching methods to Model Mugging. Applying the social aspects of group dynamics students became “sisters and brothers of battle” and in the final battles, the student’s village as well.

supportive women self-defense

Supportive classmates watching and cheer a fellow self-defense student fighting during a scenario.

A psycho-physiological obstacle in most cultures is for women not to become violent in inter-gender relations. This survival attribute aligns with evolutionary psychology in that women avoid the risk of injurious physical violence through the meta-communication of submissiveness and de-escalating behaviors to avoid male threat displays and violence. This evolutionary “selective fitness” trait can be used aggressively and effectively for women to apply in conflict resolution and when physically protecting themselves. Even more primitive is the mammalian nature of a mother defending her young and is considered the fiercest fighter in the animal kingdom! In males, a father defending his young can also tap into this mammalian energy. Similarly, but differently, men can apply meta-communication strategies to de-escalate situations when opposed with aggressive male posturing but instead improve conflict resolution.

Theory of Cognitive Dissonance and Social Comparison Theory: The idea for overcoming these social inhibitions with a group dynamics, came from Matt Thomas’ freshman Resident Advisor and Stanford psychology professor, Phillip Zimbardo. Zimbardo, who added to Leon Festinger’s (1952 & 1962) Theory of Cognitive Dissonance and Social Comparison Theory, in how we can have two opposite ideas in our minds at the same time and still function effectively. For example, in Model Mugging we are loving, caring mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, etc., but we will become the fiercest fighters to protector ourselves and others from great bodily harm, rape, torture or death.

model mugging self-defense

Student taking the heroine’s journey during a Model Mugging Basic self-defense course.

The Hero’s Journey: In order to bridge this duality in cognitive dissonance in a single weekend of Model Mugging training, we follow the comparative mythology archetype revealed by Joseph Campbell in his work “The Hero’s Journey” from his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Each of our students is a hero or heroine who has decided not to endure the oppression of fear. For many students, the journey is obstructed by many years of “refusing the call” of the hero. Finally deciding to depart the current inter-personal situation, answering the call, the hero shows up at class to learn self-defense. We welcome our students as the courageous rare heroes they are!

Following the path of Campbell’s archetype, the hero finds a mentor to assist them in their journey’s quest for fulfillment, balance and harmony. Campbell identified that most heroes do not overcome the adversity and challenges alone. They have assistance, a teacher, mentor, or divine inspiration to slay the dragon of oppression and fear.

Instructor Team: In Model Mugging classes, students find two mentors, their male and female instructor team. Our female and male instructors work to recreate the ideal, wise, loving and supportive, mother/father family unit. From Zimbardo’s methods on overcoming cognitive dissonance, we sit in a circle and share our stories, often in the women’s course with a third to half and sometimes even entire classes being survivors of sexual assault and other forms of violence. Men too have been bullied, assaulted and victimized which can often be a very emotional time for the male students, who have suppressed their fear, pain and anger too. There is an ancient proverb, “The tears that the eyes don’t cry, the organs will.” The same principle applies to the anger that is not released, often is turned inwards or released inappropriately.

The male and female instructor team works at role modeling cooperative, mutual respect, and productive inter-gender respect. Students witness men and women working together in a non-combative and productive way, which is something many women (and men) have never experienced or witnessed before. Women who have a history involving abuse and victimization by males can witness that “all” men are not “bad” and also witness positive male and female compatibility. Similarly a female instructor is present in the men’s program is demonstrating that “all” women are not bad and showing sincere reciprocity. Model Mugging works at breaking the cycle of violence by finding self-respect through the preservation and protection of life.

The instructor team teaches the class of heroines the necessary skills to face the dark side of nature and overcome their own fears. Crossing the threshold from known to unknown, the hero’s journey confronts those things most people find too hard to face, too fearful to address, too disgusting and horrifying, but instead understand the ramifications of full exposure of the ugly issues that challenge their life/existence as they know it. This involves encountering outward threats (criminal assault against the model mugger) and inward challenges of emotional growth with each progressing scenario.

Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance: Can peaceful people become violent? Many people do not want to confront their own capacity for violence or the capacity of others for inflicting violence. The course involves working through trials, success, and a gaining a greater understanding of the threatening context the heroes have courageously decided to face. Understanding the context of violence carries over to the spirit and then onto fighting capabilities. Students, especially survivors, gain a better understanding of criminal behavior while improving the bonding between students building more genuine group support.

Additionally, fear of failure can become restrictive from preventing one to taking the hero’s journey and finding freedom. Other capacity thresholds relate to betrayal, crime, sexual assault, and fear of death. Each hero/heroine finds a deeper understanding of his/her limitations and potential adapting to a more realistic interpretation of life. As students learn about the dynamics of sex crimes and the criminal mindset, the gap in cognitive dissonance about committing self-preserving violence is methodically bridged.

women self-defense ground fighting

Student overcoming cognitive dissonance as she struggles to set up a kick to the padded assailant’s head while ground fighting.

Model Mugging facilitates every student’s unique journey by having the benefit of both male and female instructors to teach the necessary skills that defeat the “dragon” of fear and oppression. Students learn and develop combative strategies, and a winning mindset. Students physically and emotionally test their skills during simulated combat against a Model Mugging padded assailant (the “dragon”) in a safe and controlled environment. Students learn to transform immobilizing fear into energetic victory and then support their classmates, “sisters of combat”, on their individual journeys.

Survivors change experiences of prior victimizing endings by slaying the fears of past dragons and learning the physical skills to prevent future victimization. They become the victors in class, which empowering them to find their own courage outside of class! Instructors enable each student on their special journey, but the strength of discovery and joyful empowerment lies within each student’s unique emotional and physical transformation – a journey towards freedom from fear, which then allows them to enjoy life.

Verbal, Emotional, and Physically Supportive Permission: The instructor team gives the students verbal and emotional permission to explore their past, face their fears, release their tears, and prepare for battle by transforming fears of past or future pain into a harnessed and channeled anger. We have personally heard thousands of rape accounts and we maintain emotionally openness for each student wishing to share her experience, support her courage, to cry with her, to remind her that it was NOT her fault that she was attacked. We reassure her that we will help her along her upcoming heroine’s journey. The group bond starts forming immediately after our opening circle.

full force self-defense knee the head

Student preparing to deliver a full force knee strike to the head of the Model Mugging padded assailant.

Instructors demonstrate, explain, role model, and then give physical permission for students to perform defensively violent behaviors, like heel palming to the nose and kneeing the male attacker in the groin, to prevent victimization from happening. Students gain permission to find cognitive, physical and emotional victory.

As a role model mugger, during preparation times in class male instructors give students permission for students to perform violent movements upon them. Overcoming inhibitions from the past can be a difficult part of training, especially for survivors. Then male instructors will role model the dragon of oppression, or what Campbell also refers to as the abyss, whereby students discover they can transcend both a death (old mindset-being) and then find a rebirth (new mindset-being). When donning the mugger’s helmet the male instructor becomes the dragon that each student takes her turn to slay. Concurrently, while every one of her sisters and brothers support her in successfully overcoming her challenge.

For example, an elderly woman with a French accent did not really fight back until the last hour of the course when the mind-body-spirit transformation clicked inside of her and she fought like a banshee. With tears streaming from her eyes, she pulled down her sleeve as she held her clenched fist up in triumph and roared, “Never again!” We all saw her crudely tattooed numbers from a Nazi death camp. Everyone burst into tears, first of empathizing with her pain and then with her triumph.

Applying Role Model Mastery: Matt Thomas synthesized another Stanford psychology professor, Albert Bandura’s techniques of role model mastery to overcome fear of flying, fear of snakes, and the female instructor demonstrates the technique, but in three different planes, the concept from Karl Pribram’s Neurophysiology of Learning and the Holographic Brain. Our students then perform the simple motions in unison with the instructor in slow motion, then medium motion and finally fast motion, without the mugger.

Model Mugging student delivers a knee to the head of the padded assaialant

Model Mugging student delivers a knee to the head of the padded assailant.

Then the female instructor slowly but with full contact and follow through, would demonstrate heel palms and knees to the groin and then the face of the male instructor who now becomes the mugger (padded assailant) only wearing light armor, in slow motion. The women usually like the male instructor so they are nervous about doing this injurious behavior at first, but they imitate their role model female instructor and each other. Students are permitted to copy her previously considered taboo movements and strikes that are encouraged by all of their classmates, and by the male instructor who sacrifices a portion of his well-being in class for their future, total well-being in the real world.

Dan Millman taught Matt that mistakes are simply part of the learning curve and that if Matt didn’t fall during practice, than he wasn’t pushing his learning limits. However, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Unfortunately when students are berated or laughed at, by less enlightened instructors for making mistakes, students often mentally and emotionally beat themselves up even more for making mistakes. Model Mugging is taught with joy and laughter, perfect practice makes perfect and role model mastery as well as with stress conditioned learning.

For example, Matt applied his personal experiences as a college student of Dan Millman in his development of Model Mugging. Matt fell on a back flip dismount from the parallel bars. Dan asked if Matt was OK and then empathized with him by hugging him. Dan then demonstrated the mechanics of Matt’s mistake and laughed after his crash, which helped Matt laugh, releasing his own fear and emotional tension about his “failure”. Then Dan, as poetry in motion, demonstrated the correct form for the dismount, 3 times successfully, having Matt and other classmates watch from different angles. Human communication is 55% body language, 38% meta-communication (tone, pitch, cadence, etc.) and only 7% of what is actually said. Matt could accept that his “failure” was simply part of his own learning curve and then was inspired by Dan’s acceptance, empathy and laughter as a release of the tension brought about by a mistake that was just part of the learning curve. Finally Matt could imitate Dan’s perfect physical example. Matt and Dan are still friends, 46 years later.

Following the Hero’s Journey archetype, the students meet their first dragon of fear in tests and trials. The male instructor wearing partial armor will let them practice and then “mug” them in slow motion. The coach will first demonstrate the technique, and then each student performs what they need to do under increasingly realistic attacks. The whole class learns by actively watching and responsively engages by saying the techniques as a group. Olympic trainer, Bud Winter’s wartime studies when training fighter pilots proved that his students empathetically watched behaviors they could learn almost as much, with some students up as high as 90% improvement in skill tests, as doing the behaviors if they were actively and emotionally engaged. In Model Mugging students form a line of support to encourage each student taking her turn against the padded assailant.

full-force self-defense training

Model Mugging self-defense student smiling after winning full force fight scenario.

Just performing the actions, the inhibitions start to become removed. If they can do this action to a teacher/model mugger whom they like and who is supporting them before the mugging scenarios and afterwards, then it will becomes even easier to perform violent behavior against a real assailant who is threatening them with harm. Similarly most women face a betraying assailant whom they know, like, and may even love. Their female instructor models how to overcome cognitive dissonance and each student progressively re-performs her fights but on their own under increasing levels of challenges and stress.

Later Albert Bandura was amazed at how Matt applied his principles. A graduate student, Elizabeth Ozer, conducted a self-efficacy paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which he co-authored. They stated that students from Model Mugging were also empowered in other aspects of their lives in addition to self-defense.

Our students always win but we make each successive battle more difficult. This progressive training escalation of intensity is part of the natural hero’s journey of the course. Each woman is challenged to her individual capabilities to maintain safety.

For example, a 50 year old woman, survivor, had difficulty processing the simple movements and was only able to perform the fights in a physically limited capacity. Some martial artists might scoff that her scenarios were unrealistic (or too easy). A true observation, but for this woman, the fights were challenging and at her level of performance and were safe! Over the following year this courageous heroine continued to work on her healing and coordination. She retook the course a second time. This time her understanding of the techniques became more comprehensive and when it was time to fight the mugger, she went after him with an energy force that looked half her age and with awesome self-preserving ferociousness. She said afterward, “I’m alive, in a new way.”

When each student is successful, her female instructor and fellow students cheer and congratulate her. When each student returns to the battle line held by other students, she is hugged and otherwise supported. During the combat in the scenarios, the female instructor calls out directions as will the classmates supporting the student fighting the padded assistant that maintains psychological involvement as well as giving each student group support. When the male instructors take off their padded helmets, they return to caring teachers.

Biofeedback: Supportiveness is also an element of martial science constructed into the development of Model Mugging. Successive victories are efficiently achieved because the students’ bodies learn through immediate biofeedback (David Shapiro of Harvard Medical School and later UCLA) of what works and doesn’t work, under a high stress condition. If the student doesn’t hit the mugger hard enough in the correct target, the mugger will continue. If they hit the mugger hard enough in the right target, the mugger either moves his body realistically into the reactive manner (if kneed in the groin, the average male bends over to clutch his groin, which brings his face into range for a second knee to his face) or falls down. This is instant biofeedback of what the student needs to do under increasingly higher levels of stress.

We have had students report back to us after a real life attack and describe how they could “hear their instructors telling them what to do and their classmates cheering them on”. Obviously their real instructor was far away yet she and the classmates remain with the fighter in spirit, since the student’s brain is like a hologram. When one part is stimulated by the attack, it simultaneously stimulates the entire mind-body-spirit into a coordinated response. This is an example of Pribram’s holographic brain explanation where in essence the female instructor had visually disappeared but now her “inner voice” remains as the student’s coach and supporter.

Ancient Village Concept: In the Hero’s Journey, the monster-dragon rises up from the dead and with the cumulative risk of having the entire village (family and friends at a graduation) witness the final battle. Even against a more ferocious monster, the student emerges exhausted but triumphant. The whole class (village) celebrates. By using the power of the hero’s archetypes presented historically in myth, Model Mugging students are transformed to become their own heroes/heroines. They have faced the dragon of fear and transcended its fearful energy into positive empowered experiences they take where ever they go.

graduation circle model mugging

The graduation circle of support students with a supportive audience attending the graduation-demonstration.

The whole “new and old village” claps and cheers in support of their hero’s accomplishments, making the formerly violent-taboo behavior an acceptable and even a desirable “protective” norm in this newly joined village. This accomplishes Festinger’s and Zimbardo’s methods of creating cognitive consonance where two opposite extremes occurring in the same brain yet remain functional in each set of “norms” – to be peaceful but violent when necessary. This separation of skill sets is critical in other types of human behavior, like acting, singing, law enforcement, the military, etc.

When students fight during their “graduation” in front of supportive family, friends, relatives, etc., this further adds the adrenaline stress of performing in front of their “village”. Participating in a public fight may help them to decrease inhibitions they might have about defending themselves in front of others on the street or other public environment. We cannot depend upon bystanders or witnesses to assist others being attacked. However, the addition of the “old village” with their “new village” allows students to transfer the social approval of their class (their old village) when they leave the new village of the dojo (martial arts class location).

This intense battle occurs after they are exhausted from a whole weekend of mental, physical, and emotional battle. In front of their village and the muggers confront them but these heroes find even more energy within themselves than they ever thought they had. Then they get hugged by their female instructor, classmates and their “village” supporters.

Matt shares one his most socially rewarding classes. “For me was when ‘P’, who had been the head of the Executive Protection Unit of a major metropolitan city, a Secret Service agent on presidential detail before that and had escaped from Eastern Europe before that, came up to me with tears streaming down his face in gratitude. His daughter had been afraid to leave their home for 8 years because when she was 13, she was gang raped, stabbed multiple times, left in the desert for dead but she survived. After she took our Basic Defense course against a single unarmed assailant class, she was finally psychologically able to leave her home with her sister who had also taken the class with her. In the Advanced Course when P saw her fiercely defend herself against a simulated armed assailant, he knew that she would have even more courage to move past the trauma and on with her life. We hugged as tears streamed down both of our faces, two warriors knowing that as a father, he could release his own sorrows because he knew that his daughter was courageously charging forward on her own heroine’s journey and now she could protect herself!”

The Hero’s Journey involves the “return” from the transformation. Concluding class we have a closing circle, joined and supported by their classmates and their supportive guests representing the celebration of the village.

Support does not end with class. The hero ultimately enjoys the brilliant light of harmony of being a loving, caring person who can defend herself or himself, in the company of their new and old villages. After the Basic self-defense course students may return to Model Mugging for more advanced training and even more empowering experiences.

Social support develops a “You can do it” attitude for success and personal empowerment.

Let your unique hero-heroine’s journey begin and start on the path of personal safety and freedom by registering in Model Mugging course or hosting a course in your area.


Padded Assailant Female Co-Instructors Muscle Memory / Operant Conditioning Emotions and Self-Confidence PTSD and Self Defense Progressive Training & Controlled Stress Gentle Art of Conflict De-Escalation Personal Defense & Crime Prevention

Additional links that describe what makes the Model Mugging Self Defense program different:

Padded Assailant

Female Co-Instructors

Muscle Memory / Operant Conditioning

Emotions and Self-Confidence

PTSD and Self Defense

Progressive Training & Controlled Stress

Gentle Art of Conflict De-Escalation

Personal Defense & Crime Prevention