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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Empowered Women Empowering Women

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Welcome to the first blog in a new series: Kicking it in the Community! This section of the blog is dedicated to sharing the awesome moment where I get the pleasure of spreading martial arts to diverse groups outside of the dojang. Today I'd like to share an experience I had this past week at St. Leo University with a group of fun, kind, and POWERFUL young women from the Tri Sigma chapter.

Empowered women empowering women! (Also pictured: a guy on crutches)

About a year ago now, my good friend and colleague Liz Ricketts asked me if I'd be willing to teach a self-defense class for a sorority, one for which she serves as an adviser. This was something important to my dear friend because of her own positive experiences with he sorority in the past:

"Tri Sigma has been one of the most meaningful components of my life," Liz told me. "It has truly been a lifelong sisterhood. I was initiated in November 2004 at the College of New Jersey, and I loved every minute of my collegiate experience. My Tri Sigma sisters encouraged me to strive for the best as well as offering me a beautiful friendship. In the various places where I've lived, I've always sought out the local Tri Sigma alumnae group to continue in the sisterhood and service I experienced through my collegiate Sigma chapter. I even once got a teaching job due to a sorority connection! It has been a wonderful part of my life that has improved me as a person and provided lifelong friendships and memories."


I was already going to say yes, but then she promised to buy me pizza and beer as compensation. Everything else is history, as they say.

It took a while to plan and organize, but as of a couple months ago, I had a lesson plan written out and the Tri Sigma coordinator had a date/time/room all set. Not even a broken foot could slow us down!

This event presented some interesting pedagogical challenges, however, and I think they're worth talking about. First, while I had taught classes that were marketed as "women's self defense" in the past, they usually were at least spread out over the course of six weeks. This allows students some amount of repetition to develop the muscle memory necessary to execute techniques in a real life situation. Of course, even six weeks isn't long enough to develop mastery--these are techniques and practices which need to be practiced over the course of a lifetime in order to be effective. With that in mind, how was I going to accomplish anything in a SINGLE one hour class?

What I decided is to shift my focus and change my actual student learning outcomes. I couldn't expect students to learn any physical technique that would really "stick" after just one training session, but perhaps I could leave a lasting impression. The goal of this seminar quickly become twofold: demonstrate to these young women just how powerful they can be and inspire them to seek further avenues of self-defense for themselves.

This goal felt doable, but it brought another potential problem to light. How could I, a fairly large man, one who has fourteen years of martial arts experience no less, show what it means to be a powerful woman? The simple answer is that I can't. The closest thing I could do is teach these students a technique and have them feel the power for themselves. Even so, students always want an exemplar, something to strive for, or a role model. Knowing this, I asked one of the most talented martial artists I know to help me teach this seminar. She happens to be an empowered young women the same age as these students and I knew, without a doubt, she'd have no trouble showing them how easy it can be to beat up a much larger and physically stronger opponent.

Allow me to introduce, Zeesha "Beast Mode" Hyder @zeeeesha

Now that I was confident that the students had someone they could look up to and strive to be like, I just needed to figure out exactly what it is we could teach in about an hour long class. Most of my martial arts background consists of the high-flying fancy kicks of Tae Kwon Do, but anyone who teaches these techniques as practical self-defense is, I think, doing a grave disservice to their students. Even worse, those instructors are putting lives at risk. First and foremost, I wanted the techniques I shared to be simple, practical, and designed to evade violent encounters instead of escalating the situation. One of the mantras of the seminar quickly became, "you don't need to know enough to win a fight, you just need to know enough to escape with your life."

So I chose three basic techniques which demonstrate the ability for a smaller opponent to break away from the grip of a larger opponent. These also each represented the kinds of inappropriate grabbing that many of the students suggested were all too common parts of their lives. The first technique was a wrist grab, the second was a choke against a wall (this one also represented the uncomfortable "wall pin" many men attempt when they become a bit too forward), and the third was an escape from a ground attack known in the grappling community as "shrimping." You can see the students enjoyed learning these as well as some basic principles of striking in the video below.

With everything nearly in place, there was just one more component to figure out: how could I best communicate the serious nature of this seminar while maintaining a fun, uplifting environment? In a society where over a third of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, I couldn't risk instructing in a way that was too lax, but if I wanted to build trust and inspire these women to continue a journey of empowering themselves, I couldn't use scare tactics. In the end, I had to just rely on my best judgment and let the fun parts be fun and the educational parts be real. To do that, I relied on many of the wonderful resources found at a free women's self defense online program designed from real crime statistics and with practicality in mind. I HIGHLY recommend sharing this resource widely.

I think, overall, things went well. As Liz said, "Our Tri Sigma sisters had a wonderful time! They were genuinely interested in the subject matter and practiced enthusiastically. While the topic was serious, they still enjoyed themselves and were able to laugh with their sisters. I feel like they were able to come away with concrete skills and knowledge that they can immediately use if the situation required it."

It makes me feel accomplished to help support the Tri Sigma initiative of "Empowered Women Empowering Women" and I hope this is just one of the first stories I get to share with the community.

Thank you to everyone who made this seminar possible and I look forward to working together again in the future. Until then, keep getting stronger, keep looking our for each other, and keep kicking butt!

Thanks as always for reading-- Kamsahmnida!

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