Monday, August 22, 2005

Women's Self Defense - AWSDA Convention 2005

I went to AWSDA's annual convention and seminar last week after a two year absence. It reminded me why I always find it so valuable.

Anyone who wants to learn martial arts just has to look in the phone book. There are dozens of schools. In this medium sized city I can find everything from Internal Chinese traditions to UFC-ready mixed martial arts and obscure Southeast Asian systems. If someone wants to train or compete it's all right there. A person with the inclination to teach can end up with his or her own classes pretty easily learning education skills by example, but that's a topic for another entry.

Women's self defense is harder to find. Many dojos have a class, usually an introduction to the martial art they teach. Some police departments sponsor programs. Our local PD has a very good one. Finding a teacher who specializes in it is difficult. And there's a huge variety of courses. Some teach only physical skills. Others stress verbal de-escalation. Some are designed for teenage girls and others for senior citizens. There really isn't any standardization because there isn't a standard WSD student. Different approaches will reach different women.

There also isn't as much opportunity to learn how to teach the material. Most instructors make take their best shot at curriculum and pedagogy in light of their background and personal inclination. It can be very difficult to figure out what to teach and how to present it. Lord knows Tiel and I screwed up more than one class when we were starting out. I can only hope our good intentions count for something in the final reckoning.

That's why AWSDA has been such a godsend to us. The American Women's Self Defense Association, now changing its name to the Association for Women's Self Defense Advocates to reflect its growing international presence, brings together an incredibly generous and diverse group of people. When we've had questions about anything from finding an instructor to dealing with trauma-induced flashbacks in class or efficient techniques for specific applications there has always been someone in the network who can help.

Perhaps the best service they provide is the annual training seminar. Every year AWSDA members in a different city host a combination of convention, networking meeting and training event. We've always enjoyed it and have reformulated our own courses several times in light of what we've learned. Typically the event starts with an all-day training for AWSDA's proprietary short term rape prevention course. The next three days are filled with two hour blocks of instruction in a variety of topics. A series of meetings and group meals rounds out the program.

We've been to about half the AWSDA but missed the last couple due to health issues. It is interesting to look back and see how the event has developed. When we first started out most of the instruction centered around physical techniques. There were some undeniable rough edges in organization and presentation.

It was still worth every minute and every penny.

By this year almost all these issues were worked out. The organization was smooth. Member concerns from years past had been addressed. And there was a great deal more variety in training. Of course there was still a lot of good technique being taught. I went to excellent courses on edged weapons defense and escaping from bear hugs. But I also attended units on verbal de-escalation, Post Incident Trauma, the use ofNLP in teaching, boundary setting, identifying priorities in combat, how to prepare for an assault by a known attacker, mental preparation and theoretical perspectives on violence against women.

Then there was opportunity to sit and talk story with some very remarkable people. Their willingness to share their experience so generously and candidly was priceless.

Next year's seminar will be in Phoenix, Arizona. We plan on attending and would urge anyone interested in women's self defense to do the same.

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