We are Empowered by Self-Defense Training

self-defense_683I am posting this on V-day, in solidarity with the global movement One Billion Rising, demanding an end to violence against women and girls—with events all over the globe including our community.

Robyn and I just completed a 12-hour self defense course for women. We’re feeling empowered and more confident.

May we never need to apply it.

But if a situation with an aggressor arises—in this country where a woman is assaulted every 45 seconds (yes, seconds, not minutes), the country with the highest rape rate in the world—it feels like an essential aspect of everywoman’s personal preparedness. Including for us, as we travel to unfamiliar locations around the country.

After learning about defensive awareness and other “book” learning at the 12-hour workshop, we spent most of our time learning physical techniques to defend ourselves. On our last day, we did several simulations of a real assault—with both ourselves and “the aggressors” well-suited up for protection.

It was gratifying that even after so few hours of training, our bodies responded instinctively and intelligently. We did it! All of us freed ourselves and escaped! They even videotaped the simulations so we could see what we did when under duress. That was worth the price of admission, a huge confidence-builder.

The program is called Rape Aggression Defense Systems (RAD). It’s a national/international organization that’s been training since 1989. The tiny one-time fee of $25 enables you to participate in RAD trainings for free anywhere, for life.

It was the first course led by our local group RAD Nevada County, spearheaded by Kay Swartzendruber, who has been working for years to bring this dream to life. Kay and four other instructors showed dedication, professionalism, and clarity. In fact, the whole group’s support for each woman was tremendously powerful—we were rooting and pulling for each other to get it! And we did.

I feel that this is essential training for every woman, every girl, every teenager. What would the world be like if we all could defend ourselves? Women would navigate in this culture far differently if the men around us knew we could, and would, defend ourselves against aggressors, date rape, spousal abuse, stalkers. No easy victims here. Surely that confidence would positively amplify our self-image elsewhere in our life.

* * *

I’ve put off such a training for decades—half-avoided, half-denied. After all, I reasoned, I live now in a fairly safe rural area, not a city or suburb. I don’t visit places that are unsafe—at least, not very often. Besides, I’m white, privileged middle class. It won’t happen to me. And I don’t want to think about this. Other things are more important.

But I was raped early in the 1970s. My sister was assaulted in the early 1980s. Denial doesn’t protect us, especially as our society continues crumbling. Statistics during the financial downturn show that, as more men lose their work and thus their primary identity, they are becoming more violent. With this training, Robyn and I are walking taller and stronger.

I feel empowered because I know I have options if I encounter an aggressor. With this training, I have confidence my body can do what is needed. And I look forward to further practice, to building muscle memory so my body knows how to react instinctively.

After this weekend I am not the same person I was.


  1. Our trainers warned us not to demo or practice with a friend — in part because the element of surprise is not there once you (as “the aggressor”) know what to do. They also suggested that these techniques are intended when “the aggressor” is actually on the offense, and that is unlikely in a practice session.

  2. Ed Adamthwaite says:

    Hi Janaia,
    A good post. It is such a pity that so many men are incapable of understanding the word “No”, ignore it and continue forcefully with violence.
    One thing to careful about though, it is easy to become over confident and lose the awareness that most men are much stronger than women. It is of the utmost importance to not let the attacker get a hold on you. A friend did a similar course and wanted to practice with me. Once I realised what some of the techniques were, I found that it was easy to overpower her once I could grasp an arm. This was a surprise to us both. I can in no way be regarded as a person practiced in violence, so it gives one pause for thought.
    As you mention, try to avoid the situation if possible but be very much in practice for it if it happens.

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