What a journey it has been!
We have completed our three week program here in Cape Town, South Africa, and it is an understatement to say that we had both an incredible teaching and learning experience. Our program was coordinated by the continent-wide non-profit organization, African Impact, who I had emailed 8 months prior about the opportunity to get me in front of as many audiences here as possible to teach self-defense. At the time, I really had no idea how popular, successful, and necessary the program would be. African Impact, who works daily with different groups of people, including childcare groups, pregnant women, adults, and even grannies, essentially replaced their daily programming with mine, giving me 2-3 hour sessions, 1-2 times a day, for three weeks, with my students. In this article I am going to try to describe this deep experience.
What Did Students Learn? The Curriculum:
How to stand properly and move defensively
This is the initial concept to know, since most conflict starts while parties are on their feet. Very simple and seemingly trivial things matter, like how to maintain your legs and footwork. Feet should have space between them, with slightly bent knees, to improve the defenders ability to move efficiently- provided running isn’t an option - and to reduce the risk of them tripping over themselves or objects, and making it easier to defend things like punches or grabs, because you have a strong base into the ground. This is fundamental to any martial art, and certainly self-defense. Without a proper stance to start with, we are significantly increasing our risk and reducing our ability for self-defense.
This also, of course, includes hand positioning, which is meant to protect your face and other body parts need be. Once you’ve got static position right, the next step is learning how to move while maintaining that. Running is great, but it isn’t always an option for a variety of options, therefore it is important to know how to move to optimize your safety protect your space when you are in close quarters.
The elements that are important here are:
Maintaining your footwork: moving in smaller, quicker, steps that don’t allow feet to cross.
Keeping someone in front of you: not allowing someone to get a dangerous angle on you where you are exposed and unable to see attacks coming, by moving ourselves - NOT relying on pushing the attacker or going into their space.
Maintaining distance, or ‘range’: establishing a distance between you and the attacker at which you are safe from them reaching out to punch or kick you quickly, and using your footwork to keep them at that distance away from you, protecting your personal and vulnerable space.
How to fall properly, and stand up properly
A nasty fall, or a sloppy stand up, can significantly damage us physically and worsen our situation dramatically. There are widely accepted practices for falling and standing up, not just in martial arts, but also seen in rock climbing and other dynamic sports.
How to defend common grabs and holds
Wrist grabs: one hand and two handed defense - including when someone is pulling you away.
Waist grabs: from behind, someone grabbing your waist and pulling you away or picking you up.
Neck grabs/ chokes: when someone chokes you from the front with their hands, and from behind with their arms in a headlock or choke.
How to defend punches
when someone punches you from straight down the middle, or round punches.
The use of parrys - a simple and efficient way to deflect punches seen avidly in professional fighting
And head blocks for when you are already very shocked, hit, and need to simply protect your head as you gather yourself and try to get your space back - as seen avidly in professional kickboxing and MMA as well.
How to escape dangerous situations on the ground
When someone is sitting on your chest, punching you or choking you.
When someone is between your legs doing the same
That is quite a detailed explanation of our program here, with some extra techniques depending on the progress of the group, and their questions.
I worked with people living in the township of Khayelitsha, who speak Xhosa. Despite the language barrier, the program was a huge success, for myself and as professed by the students. Students executed moves how I wanted them to, with proper technique and improved confidence. Students asked questions, students helped other students, and they laughed and smiled. We reviewed our previous lessons every session, only building off of them when everyone was demonstrating them correctly with confidence.
At the end of a session with the grannies of GAPA (Grannies Against Poverty and AIDS), one of the leaders stood up and told me that this program was the most needed thing in South Africa. She spoke about the prevalence of domestic violence in their homes, and said ‘we all know what it is like’, prompting all the grannies in the room to nod. She said that at least now, they have things they can try, and that they should never ‘just cry’, but instead, cry and fight back. She gave me a deep thank you, and it left me feeling heart warmed, overwhelmed, and holding back a slight tear.
At the end of my sessions with my adult group called 'Quirky30', made up of men and women who are learning how to code, 40 of them sat in a circle discussing community issues. They had virtually all been mugged at gun and knife point, several times. One man said that a gun in his face means nothing to him anymore, he’s been faced with it so many times. They discussed some safety tactics, one man said he walks in the middle of the road so he can see ambushes coming from the tight street corners. A woman said she asks for her sim card from her phone, because it gets too costly and troublesome to lose your sim card so frequently. Some women spoke about their encounters with sexual assault, and even rape, openly. They said it was just a reality they live with. This is something that made the opportunity to learn these skills so appealing to them they said.
Students from each group took time to speak with me personally. Some told me that they were very grateful for this program, some to request that I come back next year, and some to tell me how much fun they had learning this new skill. Some asked me about my personal life and told me about theirs. I felt that in addition to the expressed value they got from the program, they had really enjoyed themselves and gained some confidence, some in their athletic ability, and some in their ability to be assertive in standing up for themselves.
Anyone who has taken a class with me knows that improving confidence and assertiveness is about as primary a focus as self-defense techniques themselves, not only because confidence and assertiveness are so important to defend yourself effectively and to avoid potential risky situations, but because confidence and assertiveness can be applied to all other areas of a person’s life, the benefits of which can be unparalleled. What my students gained was an effective basic training in self-defense techniques, a place to practice asserting and expressing themselves, and a place to get some exercise and have fun learning something new!
To my students
It was a true blessing to be welcomed in the spaces of all the people I worked with so closely here. I feel so lucky to have met you all, hear your stories, and learn from you. I am proud of what each of you accomplished over the last three weeks, and I hope that you will remember to practice and try to continue your learning! Remember that you are extremely valuable asset to this world, that should always protected and cherished! In that vein, remember to always speak up for yourself and what you want, to believe in your strength, courage, and your abilities to persevere and to excel, and always try to approach life with as much confidence as you can muster! I wish you all the best that the world has to offer, and I hope that I can come back to see you again before too long.
Special Thank You's!
I'd like to thank my sponsors, who made this all possible! Without your support I would not have been able to work with so many people and for so long. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support in this important mission and the support for combating domestic violence and sexual assault! Please check out these awesome local businesses, gyms, and studios of Toronto who support this cause!
YourVisa.ca : visa, permit, and immigration services, save time and money!
Lux Dental Group Top of the line dental group with the most amazing staff in Scarborough!
Under The Gi Apparel: Awesome custom sublimated gear for BJJ & MMA!
Le Jits Custom Art Beautiful custom paintings, custom BJJ/MMA pieces!
Ikiro : Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and martial arts apparel!
Broker Force : personal and commercial insurance broker with all your insurance needs!
Float Toronto : The best float studio in Toronto, explore the mental and physical benefits!
A special thank you to the black belts that put on a seminar to help us raise money! Professor Justin Bruckmann of Bruckmann MMA (gym location: Oshawa Ontario), Professor Fernando Zulick of Action Reaction MMA (locations in Pickering and North York), Professor Richard Nancoo of Troop MMA (Sudbury, Ontario), and Professor Antonio Carvalho.
As well as African Impact for coordinating all of our sessions here and making this all possible!
Thanks for reading!