I am Strong, I am Capable …. and it Makes a Difference

Self Defense Padded Attacker

by Katherine White

Self-Defense Program Coordinator and Teacher

Are colleges doing enough to combat sexual assault? This was the topic of a recent City Club forum broadcast on OPB (Fri. March 27). Why would women argue against self-defense training as an important part of sexual assault prevention?

I have been teaching self-defense at Lewis and Clark and other local colleges for 16 years. I was surprised to hear several women at the City Club forum. express frustration and resentment about the self-defense training they received as part of the college orientation. This broadcast got me asking questions.

I started talking to women in my classes at Lewis and Clark College. I talked to several recent graduates from Redlands College. I was told about trainings that left women in tears, feeling afraid, feeling limited, and feeling blamed for sexual assault.

What is the difference between empowering self-defense training and the scare tactics that can pass for self-defense training on some college campuses? Empowering self-defense training has real value in increasing safety for women and improving the general quality of our lives. Scare tactics limit our options, perpetuate victim blaming, and create feelings of fear, frustration and anger.

Women I talked with had been to trainings that consist of statistics showing just how dangerous it is to be a young woman, and a check list of rules to follow to increase safety: always walk in groups, don’t leave your drink unattended, carry keys in hand when walking to your car.

This is not what we teach. We train techniques for staying calm and maintaining a positive outlook under challenging circumstances. We train skills for setting boundaries, communicating clearly, and physically defending ourselves. We believe that how women choose to use these tools and how they strategize their own safety is in their hands. This is what it means to be empowered and it begins with feeling strong, capable, and worth defending.

Facing any challenge from a positive point of view increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. Positive self-talk is a simple, effective way to interrupt negative thinking and create a positive point of view. It is one of the first strategies we teach in women’s self-defense. Positive thinking does not mean you put your head in the sand and ignore or deny life’s challenges. It means you approach challenges with the intention of a positive outcome.

I am strong, I am capable, I can handle this. This mindset helps us see options when faced with a threat. In the most dire of circumstances, seeing those options can make the difference between surviving and not.

But it doesn’t stop there. A positive mindset also helps us see options when faced with life’s challenges: the final exam, earning the promotion, establishing a healthy relationship. Research done at the Mayo clinic showed the following benefits of positive thinking; lower levels of stress, increased resistance to disease, improved coping skills during times of hardship, even increased life span.

Most women come to a self-defense class already knowing the cards are stacked against us. We have been lectured, cautioned, instructed and blamed. We have followed the rules on the check list and either they didn’t work or we are tired of living in such tight quarters.

One with Heart’s self-defense training always starts from a positive place, training the skills to protect ourselves while staying calm and focused on a positive outcome. This is why, just last week, after a short, one-hour workshop at Linfield college one woman said to me “I feel stronger and more confident about handling anything that might happen than I ever have before.”

This is empowering self-defense. It moves us beyond fear to a place where we have the inner strength and the practical skills to choose for ourselves how to restack the deck. If we are serious about addressing sexual assault on college campuses, stop making women feel like victims and start fostering in them the strength that gives them genuine authority to make their own choices. From that positive place they are not only safer, but have valuable skills to draw upon as they meet all of the challenges ahead.

These are our sisters, our daughters and our future. They are strong, they are capable…and when we honor that, it can make all the difference.