Fists of Fury

Self-Defense Classes Work. Where Do They Fit in the Age of #MeToo?

Studies—and two very tough Seattle women—have proven that martial-arts-based self-defense moves are effective.

By Karin Vandraiss Videography by Sara Marie D’Eugenio February 27, 2018 Published in the March 2018 issue of Seattle Met

Watch Krav Maga Seattle instructors model the pluck and tuck move.

It took about 10 seconds to sink in—the man who had followed Lilly Germond into her Madison Park apartment building in the early hours of 2018 might kill her. Then he lunged for her throat, and the world snapped back into focus. 

“I could smell right away that he’d been drinking. He smelled really bad, like an animal,” says Germond. After an 18-hour New Year’s Eve restaurant shift, she was exhausted, but she had the advantage of being sober, mad as hell, and a onetime tae kwon do adherent. She reached for the machete in his right hand and screamed.   

Germond is the second Seattle woman in the past year to make headlines for fighting off an attacker; The Seattle Times also broke a similar story in March 2017 when runner Kelly Herron fended off an assault at Golden Gardens while yelling, “Not today, motherfucker!” Like Germond, Herron had self-defense training. 

“You don’t need much besides the ability to yell and throw a few good punches, and have the awareness to do so,” says Germond, who began her study of martial arts as a child. 

In 2014, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that an estimated 5.4 million U.S. residents experienced “violent victimization,” which includes both sexual and nonsexual attacks. According to the National Institute of Justice, verbal or physical resistance can reduce the risk of completed sexual assault by more than 80 percent. The consensus is that self-defense knowledge works; three major studies have shown that women who complete a course are 50 to 60 percent less likely to be raped within the next year.

Last spring, Krav Maga Seattle co-owner Catherine Le noticed a demand for female-only classes. She and her husband, Chau, started a Women’s Only program at their South Lake Union gym to cover situational awareness, tactics to reduce vulnerability, and how to avoid a “freeze” when faced with confrontation. 

KMS teaches more than Lara Croft–style roundhouse kicks. “There are also added benefits,” she says, “like that sense of empowerment trickling into other parts of your life and joining a supportive community.” 

In the midst of movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up, University of Oregon sociology professor Jocelyn Hollander says empowerment-based self-defense (ESD) knowledge is more important than ever; her study is one of the three that proved its efficacy. Like Le, Hollander says the mind set behind ESD may even be more important than physical techniques: Women who establish boundaries can better discern when a situation might escalate. 

Hollander notes that there is some resistance to the promotion of self-defense, particularly when it seems to put the onus on victims—too similar to the idea women should avoid alcohol and dark alleyways. But the professor stresses that ESD is rooted in intersectional feminist ideals. It places full responsibility on perpetrators, offers strategies that empower rather than restrict, and addresses social conditions that facilitate sexual assault. 

“It shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to stop men’s harassment—but until we figure out an effective way to prevent perpetration, it’s the best tool we have,” says Hollander. 

Germond agrees: “It’s a lot of responsibility and it sucks.”

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