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Self-Defense as Social Justice -- Spotlight on Jay O'Shea

October 10, 2018

We’ve talked before about the “power of one,” and how one woman can have an impact on one community that can then go on to impact the entire world.


Janet (Jay) O’Shea, a professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA, an accomplished martial artist, and ESD Global Camp 2017 participant, is a perfect example of that power.


O’Shea’s journey into the world of empowerment self-defense began in 2015, when a debate on campus erupted in which self-defense was portrayed as victim blaming.


In response, O’Shea, who had participated in empowerment self-defense training through NWMAF, organized a panel of self-defense experts including Lisa Gaeta, director of the Southern California branch of IMPACT Personal Safety, and Susan (George) Schorn, author of Smile at Strangers who entered into conversation with campus activists from Bruin Consent Coalition and a representative from Campus Assault Resources and Education.


The goal of the event, which took place on the UCLA campus, was to clear up misconceptions about ESD and raise awareness of its many values and benefits.


“There’s a widespread assumption that self-defense is victim blaming. The problem comes about because self-defense is paradoxical: only an aggressor is responsible for an assault but defenders can and do make choices. The point of this event is to consider this issue as it relates to the role of self-defense in the movement to end campus sexual assault.” O’Shea explained to the audience.


The panelists went on to talk about framing ESD training as conscious choice, as a way of dispensing with the restrictions sexist societies place on women, and as something that can allow women and non-binaries to be more confident in their lives more generally. ESD, the panelists suggested, is less about requiring women to take responsibility for violence and more about women and other marginalized people reclaiming the right to self-determination.


Soon after the event, Susan Schorn returned to UCLA to offer an ESD workshop, during which she suggested that O’Shea expand her teaching.


ESD Camp, Pedagogy, and Meta Analysis of ESD Exercises


Not long after O’Shea had developed a solid interest in ESD, she heard about ESD Global’s instructor bootcamp, and thought attending would be a good way to “get the ball rolling” and “move things forward” at UCLA.


At camp, she was “really quite delighted by the opportunity to experience the drills and the game at the same time that we were learning teaching methodologies and getting content for our teaching.”



One activity that particularly resonated with her was the “traffic light” exercise, in which students use the colors of a traffic light to help develop awareness of their personal boundaries.



A focus on pedagogy, O’Shea believes, is what makes ESD different from more hierarchical forms of self-defense. Rather than telling students how dangerous the world is and claiming that they are the experts, she points out that ESD practitioners help students discover their own views about safety and figure out which techniques work best for them.


After camp, O’Shea returned to UCLA with a variety of tools in her teaching toolbox, including techniques for structuring a solid lesson plan.


ESD Training at UCLA


Thanks to a UCLA program called “Fiat Lux,” professors have the opportunity to teach a one unit, limited enrollment class on a subject of their choice. Through this program, O’Shea has been able to teach a ten-hour pass / fail ESD course once a year.


The course gives students a chance to work closely with professors, as opposed to TAs, and be exposed to opportunities they might not otherwise have.


The goal is for students to walk out of her classes empowered with a skill set that will change their lives without requiring lifelong work and dedication.


With the help of a grant from ESD Global, the training