So if I told you that I am the rare few who absolutely loves flying and my recent twenty-three-hour journey from the east coast of Australia to London was a wonderful part of ESD training, would you call me crazy?
Most people cringe at the thought of long hours on a plane, but long hours of travel only add excitement to the real purpose of my trips. I get to meet people and tell them about ESD, I get to practice my ESD skills, and I get to catch up on reading for my ESD training.
I travel with an ESD attitude.
The opportunities to attend ESD Global’s camp in Upstate New York in August and then a special IMPACT training at the London Centre for Personal Safety were just too good to refuse. When I was asked if I could attend these trainings, I knew that I couldn’t let anything stop me, even life’s many responsibilities.
To paint a picture, I have a day job, am solely responsible for my two teenage daughters, and have my kung fu classes to teach.
But, as Richard Branson says, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.” And that is one of my mantras I go by.
When you know in your heart of hearts something feels right and every cell in your body tells you to go for it, you better bloody listen to that and stop over analysing.
Work has been really supportive, but I know that I am stretching my boundaries with so much unplanned leave. My girls, on the other hand, were born into my world of self-defense and women’s empowerment, so they have just been sitting back telling themselves, “About time mum found her tribe and is doing what she loves.” My parents, though, are still wondering if I am one day going to be kidnapped by this ESD group.
I landed in London, where it was six degrees, and was asked by my new British friends if I want to share their taxi, as they are passing my hotel anyway. I didn’t waste the opportunity to tell them the reason I was in London - just in case they had funny ideas.
You did read right when I wrote I love flying, but one thing I cannot deal with is jet lag. So I organised my trip as I did with New York to land two days before the official events start. I was lucky enough to have my older kung fu brother show me around London, and I had another kung fu brother visit from Wales. Not only was it good to socialise, but I was also kept awake during daylight so I could sleep during the night.
That was the theory anyway. Come six p.m. for the next seven days, and I was still struggling to keep my eyes open.
Finally, the rest of the gang arrived, and I was reunited with Yehudit, ESD Global's president and founder, and Laura and Bianka, just months after seeing each other at camp in New York. Bianka, Laura and I did not think in a million years that we would see each other so soon, and in London for that matter.
Our first day at the Energy Centre in Hoxton, which was a five-minute walk from our hotel, we met Annie, Hendrika, Richard and Andrew, our instructors from the London Centre for Personal safety.
We also had the pleasure of meeting Michal, who organised the training and is doing amazing things. She is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m really excited to see what she will accomplish in this space.
We shared the training space with about eight other women, some who had signed up on their own accord, some who were signed up by the organisation they were working for, and some who were signed up by their partners.
We started the day by introducing ourselves. I was looking forward to getting to know everyone better, and despite not being a trainer, I was also looking forward to supporting these women through what was going to be a confrontational, difficult, challenging, and emotional three days.
Annie began the workshop by showing us clips of a British show that reenacts crimes against women. We were asked not to judge nor criticise but to observe and take note of the things the women could have done differently to potentially alter the outcome. Some scenes were distressing to watch, but having the survivors recount what happened made the exercise more valuable as we got insight into the thought patterns of the women. We then got into small groups and discussed what each woman could have done differently. It was interesting to hear the suggestions from the group.
From the circle and discussion, we moved onto the mats, or as Laura put it, her safe place. We began with the basic “ready” or “defensive” stance. Richard elaborated on why we stand with feet apart as opposed to feet behind each other as in a martial arts stance. The stance we use in ESD is non-threatening, provides better stability, and lowers the chances of exposing your back during an attack.
Annie continued to teach us to raise our palms up in front of our chest. This position is now second nature to me and in allegiance with my kung fu stance. It’s good to have many tools in my belt and be able to discern when to use them.
We stood with our feet shoulder width apart, our hands up and practiced yelling, “NO!” There were giggles and I saw women stealing side glances at each other for comfort, making sure that they were not the only ones in this weird, new pose.
So Yehudit, Bianka, Laura and I, in an attempt at good leadership style, shouted the loudest and proudest to break through the nervous tension. We knew the others would only need to yell once, and the spell would be broken, turning them into ESD warriors.
We spent several hours discussing the concept of the word ‘no.’ We explored the intention and energy we invest in when we say the word. Some of us were soft-spoken, some assertive, and some of us were very comfortable with replacing “NO” with, “*$*^ off.”
We explored the difference between the two statements and ironically, we came to the conclusion that ‘NO’ has far more presence than a swear word. Go figure. Well, I figure …… keep it simple. Don’t use statements that can be misinterpreted or cause a situation to escalate.
As we practiced some scenarios with Richard and Andrew, the suited-instructors, it was apparent early on what challenges the participants faced, like trying to not over justify, being afraid to speak up, conversing for too long, or not conversing long enough before making a move.
For me, I tend to think of the worst and tend to cut the instructors off (on the mat, anyway). But in real life, I think I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I still have not, to this day, had to assert my ESD skills.
And so began the discussions around the vulnerable areas one can aim for, and Richard volunteered to show us, starting from the top of the head going down the body. One thing I found interesting (and I acknowledge this is my own judgment) and mentioned on about three occasions is that I think the throat is a great place to strike. The move takes minimal effort but has maximum effect. For whatever reason, I still don’t understand why this suggestion was somewhat rejected. Is it because it is too aggressive, violent, dangerous?
We then practiced our palm heel strikes, groin strikes with the knee, bird’s beaks to the eyes, low kicks and switch kicks. Then it was time for Annie to demonstrate the first attack, which was from behind.
Whoa!! I thought. Straight into it. There were no issues for Bianka, Laura or me as we had done this at camp. But the other women? That would be interesting to see. I physically could sense the trepidation and angst in some and fear in others. I must admit that I was a bit surprised that this scenario was going to be the first ever for the participants, and wasn’t sure how it would go.
As it turned out, all of the women did it and there was a mixed response. Some were proud and exhilarated, some were even more petrified. Hmmm….. I wondered. How would these emotions manifest themselves for the rest of the workshop?
Having a counsellor present and available the whole time was something new that I hadn’t seen before. I did see some of the women utilise this service and I think that based on some reactions, I was glad the counsellor was there. There was even one counsellor who participated and her energy was impressive and contagious.
The end of the first day was emotionally, physically and psychologically exhausting. Laura, Bianka, Yehudit picked up on the energy of the other women, making us feel emotionally tired but excited for what the next two days were to bring.
The next two days involved watching more videos of realistic scenarios, discussions on boundaries, and our emotions and reactions to the exercises. Naturally, these reactions were discussed without judgment and discussed openly. Normalising reactions is part of the healing process, and being able to articulate our thoughts can be difficult.
One of the distinctions I noticed between the ESD camp and this training was that there was a lot of emphasis on the physical skills. Considering this was IMPACT training, and the fact that we had only three days, this made sense. But I would have loved to have seen more of personal development activities that peel the layers back to self-worth and self-belief issues.
The three-day workshop was a success, and I saw the women transform that little bit more. It took some time to sort through the completely understand the reason this training is so imperative. It appeared that the more questions and learning time there was, the more the participants were going down the rabbit hole that made them question their own role in this paradigm of women’s self-defence.
And rightly so. Some were angry, frustrated and damn right furious with the fact we had to learn the skills we did and go through this when we aren’t the ones causing the problems in the first place.
Bianka and I had the pleasure of sitting down to a meal with two of the women in the group. The two were rather shy and withdrawn, but a power onto their own, and by spending time with them we had the honor of hearing their stories and their perspective on what this workshop meant for them.
The conversation helped me understand that we are all unique in how we download information and how one word, action, experience is interpreted completely different from one woman to the next. No size fits all and encompassing the attitude that with the right tools and strategies, we are able to make choices for ourselves that nobody else needs to understand.
On the fourth day, we participated in a supplementary one-day training. In addition to more training, we were going to be filmed by a TV crew with a journalist who was going to be participating in the workshop. We all signed consent forms, so all of the logistics of consent were organised beforehand.
I personally was excited that the training was going to be filmed. Even though it was only for a limited audience, this potentially could lead to more exposure - hopefully positive and towards making a real impact.
Many of the women came up to our group of camp alumni and personally thanked us for being there to support, encourage, and give them strength. They liked that way we gave them a different perspective, how we were cheering for them on from the sidelines and how we gave them little tips and joked around in the activities.
Enjoying ourselves and not taking ourselves seriously is really such an honest tension breaker and I know that we were feeling like ‘big’ sisters for the others knowing already what they needed before they even did.
The training was an ultra express version of the previous three days. The dynamics were different again, with a new group of women, and I was super curious as to how the training would be taught in one day. Needless to say it was quick, to the point and dynamic.
Annie did most of the talking that day and again, the women were supportive of each other and just rolled with it.
There was no time for contemplating nor asking deep and meaningful questions. I would assume the participants left with feelings of confidence and empowerment, but after one day of training, I wasn’t sure if they’d truly developed an understanding of gender-based violence. Better than nothing, I say.
Instructors did encourage the women to take up further classes in the future, which was encouraging to see, and Michal put together a contact list, so we’ve since had a short email thread.
Overall, my experience at the London Centre for Personal Safety was thought-provoking, and we all left with thoughts about how we would change and develop our own approach to the training. We will constantly strive to encompass the ESD philosophies and the adrenaline-based training into a framework that is effective, applicable and up to date.
Thank you, Yehudit and ESD Global for the opportunity to partake in the training and for all of your wisdom and generosity as a beautiful human and inspiring philanthropist.
I’m very much looking forward to my next long plane ride!