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Building Bridges With ESD -- An Interview With Sergio Guillen

July 11, 2019

​​Things are heating up at ESD Global, as we get ready for so many summer events.


One face we'll be seeing regularly at all of our events, in both Costa Rica and New York, is that of Sergio Guillen, who is here with us to talk about his work, his community, and his involvement with ESD Global. 


In addition to being a project director for an NGO, Sergio works as a suited-instructor. He will be working as a translator during the sixteen-hour IMPACT course for the community of Colon, San Jose Costa Rica while his wife, Jenny, is nearby participating in a Level 1 Instructor Training


And we can't wait to work with him during the very first Men's Incubator.


Welcome, Sergio!


Q. Please tell us a bit about your NGO and some of the projects you’re working on.


A. I am currently working in a Project Director role with the Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM). FUNPADEM is a non-profit, non-partisan, NGO established in 1988 to promote sustainable human development in Central America. 


We have worked for over 30 years in transboundary cooperation, migration, citizen safety, dialogue and conflict transformation, labor rights and public governance. I began working with FUNPADEM as an environmental conflict management consultant in 2007, right after I finished my Masters Degree in Environmental Security and Peace at the University for Peace.


In 2008, I went on to support the organization as a social dialogue specialist, designing and facilitating dialogue forums on labor rights and citizen engagement, until I left for Australia to do my Ph.D. in 2013. I rejoined them last year to direct a new project, funded by the United States government, aimed at strengthening the capacity of government agencies and coordination networks in Costa Rica’s Northern Region to address the needs and human rights of migrants. 


Q. How did you become involved in self-defense and martial arts?


​​A. When I was 7, my parents found that I had atrophied lower leg muscles, so I underwent physical therapy for several months. Afterwards, my parents encouraged me to take Taekwon-Do lessons during grade school. I took it up again in College in Canada and earned my First Dan Black Belt in Moo Duk Kwan under Master Jesus López in the late 1990s. 


I then went on to study Kenjutsu, Jujutsu and Aikido under Master Pol Martin’s Ishinkan Budo system, and earned my Ho Dan Belt in Kenjutsu in 2003. I taught Kenjutsu at our school in San Pedro for several years. Since the mid 1990s, however, I began to feel that my martial arts practice was missing a closer link to engaging in service for the betterment of society.  


Q. What inspired you to become a suited-instructor? What is one important aspect of the role that you’d like people to understand?


A. Starting in the mid 1990s, I began to feel that my martial arts practice was missing a closer link to engaging in service for the betterment of society. A lot of things about my martial arts experience were great, but there were also a lot of elements of toxic masculinity ingrained in the local martial arts community. 


I found Rick Fields’ Book “Code of the Warrior” and read about Model Mugging, and it spoke to me very deeply. In 1998 I contacted a few IMPACT Chapters in the U.S. about training as an instructor, and starting a chapter in Costa Rica. Some of the responses were very honest and extremely discouraging. 


Up front, I was forewarned that I would need at least $15,000 - 20,000 to invest in getting a chapter set up. One response, however, was a lot more helpful. It was from Cori Couture, director at the time of Bay Area Model Mugging (BAMM, now IMPACT Bay Area) who became a dear friend and mentor. Prior to taking over as director, Cori worked as lead trainer, helping start new chapters. She shared with me a great deal of her personal documents about getting an IMPACT Chapter started, including Excel worksheets with different scenarios for starting out. 


What I chose to do as my first step was to spend some of my savings to fly out to San Francisco and take the Men’s Basics Course. I found it a really profound empowering experience. A lot of the process of sharing in Men’s Basics courses revolves around giving ourselves permission to prevent and avoid a fight without feeling like cowards, although we also learn the usual verbal and physical techniques for boundary setting and repelling an attack. One of the most striking moments for me was when Rick and Elliot, our suited instructors, played for us a compilation of 1980s romantic comedies that I had grown up with. It was very shocking and life-changing to realize that what I had internalized as clever gallantry was in fact outright stalking


My second step was to organize a short half-day demonstration course in Costa Rica. Cori and a suited instructor, Jim Ace, volunteered to fly down without charging any fees to give this training, and we held two sessions. We received a Recognition as Peacebuilders award by the Ministry of Justice for this work that year. 


In the summer of 1999 (or 2000, I don’t exactly recall) I flew once again to San Francisco to undergo my instructor’s training. There were 8 of us, 4 new Bay Area Instructors, a couple who was pioneering a London chapter, an instructor IMPACT Safety Ohio, and me. It was very enriching, and very challenging. I had never tried the suit before I started training, and I injured my jaw while I was working to adapt to receiving blows. So I had to adapt my techniques for taking knee strikes. Sharing with other men and women along the training process was also very eye-opening. It was the first time I had experienced a community that based its whole interactions on respecting each other’s boundaries. 


Finally, embodying the “Mugger” was very challenging too. Finding that I had a “dark character” inside me, that could be summoned to the surface and that could come up on its own with such intimidating and dehumanizing things to say, just so that the women could learn to claim their power in a realistic scenario. Technically, it also involved some very difficult processes, especially finding the balance between acting in realistically threatening ways, while at the same time being fundamentally safe and gentle in the ways in which these holds and physical actions were performed.  


I went back to San Francisco once more to teach a supervised course. I tried to organize a course in Costa Rica, and I find it very difficult some two decades ago to find a teaching partner who would make a steady commitment to get trained to do this work. 


In 2001, while I was studying Gestalt Therapy in Mexico City, I met Laura Martinez, the director of ADIVAC, an NGO working with rape survivors. Laura knew other survivors who had received a Basics IMPACT course, and they had for a long time wanted to replicate the courses in Mexico City, but they lacked a suit. So I traveled back home to get my suit, and we founded “Control Positivo de la Violencia” (C+V), and organization that still teaches IMPACT courses, and that has very strong ties to the rape and abuse survivors community. 


About 8 years ago, I went into semi-retirement, stopped looking so hard to find a good teaching partner candidate, and stored my suit in the garage. I had noticed that most of the people who were instructors around the same time that I started had transitioned to other activities, in may cases related to body-centered therapy, or community service. 


Q. Why is self-defense needed in your community?


A. Self-defense as a foundation for empowerment is a very important, and largely missing, element in the work that is being carried out to safeguard women’s rights and prevent gender violence in Costa Rica. According to the President of Costa Rica’s National Women’s Institute, every 5 minutes a call comes in to the national 911 emergency line regarding an incident of domestic violence. The figure doubles whenever there is a major sporting event. We have widespread levels of street harassment, including catcalling, groping, and intimidation.