There is nothing to do after the final day of a Core class – our longest, most intense weekend class in which we pack 20 hours of training in between Friday night and Sunday – but rest and ruminate. Like a coach after an important match, I find myself replaying moments over and over. The moment where a student who had been struggling to land hits suddenly got POWERFUL. The moment where a student’s booming voice left the character with no room to talk over her. All the moments where my colleagues and I worked seamlessly together, orchestrating a scenario that met the student’s needs. The moments where I think we could have done better. And the moments of laughter, because there is so much joy in this work, too.

I find myself thinking, after this most recent class, about the reasons our students come to us and what they’re hoping to gain. You might think it’s obvious – they’re looking for safety skills – but every student in this class was there for a different reason, as they often are.

Students come to prepare for an imagined worst-case scenario, or they come to prepare for a real-life situation that requires them to speak up for themselves under stress. Some students are being targeted and made to feel unsafe in their neighborhood, or they fear being targeted when traveling. They are looking for peace of mind as much as they are looking for tools. Others are not looking to prepare at all – they come because of past experiences. It is well-known at this point that traumatic experiences stay with us, in our bodies, and it isn’t easy to convince oneself “I am safe now” when the nervous system has been trained to believe danger is always lurking.

The right self-defense class – ideally one that is empowering, realistic, and trauma-informed – can do so much more than teach students how to fight back.

Regardless of why a student came, they might walk away with something unexpected. Students whose past experiences had taught them to be silent have reported that they found their voice again. Some have said that their recurring nightmares went away. Students talk about confidence gained – one student said she is normally reluctant to put herself out there and try new things, but after IMPACT she feels confident in her body and much more willing to expand her horizons. Students have told us that because of IMPACT they can travel again. Others have noted that the feeling of being seen and cared for in a supportive group environment released some of the shame they had been carrying from experiences that made them feel isolated and alone. And students relate to themselves differently. One young student said:

Coming out of this class, I feel much more entitled to my body in a good way. I feel much more in ownership of myself. I don’t feel that I owe anyone anything, and that if I don’t want to do something I don’t have to do it and I can say no.

The right self-defense class – ideally one that is empowering, realistic, and trauma-informed – can do so much more than teach students how to fight back. Witnessing and being a part of someone’s personal transformation is a magical thing. Multiplying that personal experience tenfold and knowing that each of our students carry that transformation into their relationships, colleges, communities, etc. gives me hope that someday “no” will be enough. Until then, there’s IMPACT.