When asked what I do for work, people are often entertained or surprised by my answer, which ranges from “I am a self-defense instructor at IMPACT Boston– we work within the model of Empowerment Self Defense, a feminist framework through which we teach everyday skills around assertiveness, boundary setting, and body awareness, in addition to physical skills that help people build confidence, heal from trauma, and stay safe” to “I am a human punching bag.” The following look on someone’s face, one of concern and disbelief, is usually accompanied by follow up questions or jokes about why anyone would want to take full force hits to the groin, eyes, head, and face, even if I’ve fully described the efficacy of the protective equipment us suited instructors (or “suits”) wear. While it’s true that this was an unexpected career choice for me and that I didn’t always want to be a suit, there is a thread that does go back to childhood.


I first became aware of IMPACT Boston was, and I’m going to date myself here, back in the mid-90s. My mom had been assaulted at work and decided to take a 20-hour self-defense class to process her trauma and learn how to prepare herself in case of future incidents. My folks thought I was too young to attend her class graduation but I did get to watch a videotape (again, dating myself– this was an actual VHS tape that now lives in my basement awaiting digital conversion) and it was exciting and invigorating watching my mom fight off these big men dressed in strange padded suits. I felt how powerful that class was, even as a preteen, even just watching the graduation on tape. It was palpable. I also witnessed the impact on my mother, who walked with even greater confidence than she already carried and felt empowered enough to return to work.


A few years ago, I got to take an IMPACT self-defense class in tandem with some of the youth I was working with at the time. While it was a much shorter class, about 2 hours, the youth participants and I got to experience some of that empowerment and increased levels of awareness and confidence firsthand.


When the opportunity arose to apply to be a per diem suited instructor, I knew I needed to submit my resume and cover letter. I wanted to be a part of the transformational process that I witnessed as a child and then experienced as an adult. I’m now a part time program coordinator and have been with IMPACT for just over a year. After about 50 hours of training in the choreography, character building, and teaching, I jumped into as many classes as I could, including a 20-hour women’s core class similar to the one my mom took decades ago. Now I am the person in the strange padded suit simulating realistic attacks.


When students are cheering on their classmates as they deliver full force hits to my well protected body, I am secretly cheering them on as well. When the helmet or sunglasses are on, I take on the persona of a phantom, of an aggressor, of a projector screen on which students can display whatever they need to as a means of taking their power back and getting into the adrenalized state that’s a key part of fully implementing the skills they learn. Students get to discharge some of the intense energy with each hit.


Though my body is also experiencing adrenaline, the characters I play are contained to the helmet or sunglasses we wear. My body is following its own habits that I developed through training and learning the choreography that’s specific to our scenarios. I stick to my role while at my core, I am rooting for each student to effectively defend themselves against my characters. When I witness my fellow suits taking blows in scenarios, I have to contain my excitement and impulse to vocalize my support with each hit landed or verbal skill deployed.


It’s not just the adrenaline. I find myself energized by the level of mutual support, growth, and power that’s been an integral part of the collective and individual journey through each class. I’m thankful to be able to play this unique role where I get to participate in this process and witness each student discover and express the strength that they already possessed. This is the biggest motivating factor and why I keep taking hits as a key component of this job!