I interviewed a wonderful and powerful woman named Shannon. I took three self-defense classes taught by her at Flo Fitness in Illinois. She inspired me to embrace my inner warrior, stay mindful of my surroundings, and to protect myself. Shannon is a mother, instructor, and motivator. This interview will give you insight on how to view self-defense, understand inner strength, and the power of mindfulness.
1: Personal Manta
Be whole, Be present, Let’s Go!
2: What made me become interested in self-defense?
Self-Defense training became a way of connecting my whole self. I had spent many years training in martial arts and fitness and I wanted something more. Something real. Something that made a difference for both myself and others. Empowerment. Knowledge. Connection. Ability. Confidence. Self Defense training allows us to engage our Warrior Spirit…that’s why I love it.
3: As an instructor, how I make self-defense a mental exercise?
I always remind students that our bodies can keep fighting even if our minds tell us we are too tired or scared. Mental toughness and awareness is vital in self-protection and training. We can and we will keep fighting. When we face our fears, we mentally and physically feel ourselves engage. Self-defense training allows us to feel our strength and power not just physically but mentally. I remind students to fight with intention. Mentally, we must bring our whole selves. We must know ourselves and what we are capable of. Self-defense training allows us to connect and to know, often to our surprise, just how mentally and physically strong we are. When we are faced with a threat, we need the experience of how we can effectively react. Training and mentally preparing ourselves through techniques that are easily learned and practiced in a realistic role playing environment will increase mental strength and ability. That is what self-defense training is all about…allowing you to feel your ability and power, mental and physical.
4: Advice I would give for girls and women who seek confidence and strength?
First, I would say…Let’s Go Warriors! You are not alone…We all seek confidence and strength for many different reasons. You are important. What you want is important. One of the great moments in my self-defense classes is when a student yells out or shows that facial expression of, “I didn’t know I could do that, I didn’t know I had that in me!” Whether it is a self-defense class, fitness class or good long walk outside, get your body moving. When we move our bodies, change our positions, we change our mentality. A professional dancer that I admire says, “ Motion = Emotion.” It is so true. When we engage or bodies, we engage our minds and emotions, which will lead to confidence and strength.
5: As a Mother, what I do to instill sense of awareness into my kids?
Communication (within ourselves and with others)…and lots of it. I make sure that my kids know that whatever they are feeling or experiencing, good and bad, it is important. It matters. When you feel that you matter, that you are important, you will listen to your intuition and follow your instincts. Awareness is being in touch with ourselves and trusting what we feel. Don’t be afraid to look around and take in your surroundings. Keeping your eyes and hearts open creates a strong awareness that will ultimately keep you safe. Tap into it.
6: During your career did you ever come across someone whose story inspired you?
Yes. There have been more than one student and colleague whose stories have inspired me. The one that I will share is the story of a wonderful woman who took my class on a Sunday afternoon. She was hesitant at first and through the 3 hours, I saw her become more engaged with herself and our team by the minute. She was quiet and then loud. She was cautious and then aggressive. It was a powerful example of what a self-defense class can provide for a person. After the class, she came up to me and shared her story with me. I was honored to witness it with her as she shared the pain and struggle she had faced over the last 20 years since her assault. She told me that her experience in class that day had made a huge impact on her and how she felt about herself and her assault. She said she finally felt, after all of these years, that she regained her strength and power. Through physically and mentally feeling herself fight and win, she was healing. She heard and felt herself use her strengths against the weaknesses of the male instructors. She felt empowered again. I will always be thankful to her for sharing that with me.
7: What advice do I have for women and girls who feel ashamed because they didn’t fight their attacker?
Abuse of any kind or assault of any kind is never the victim’s fault. Ever. We cannot control or be responsible for the behavior of others. It is difficult, as an advocate for self-defense and for girls and women seeking training and healing, to battle against the stereotypes and victim blaming that occurs in our society. Frankly, these blaming actions are done by uneducated, misinformed people. What we need to understand is that silence does NOT mean yes. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is never the victim’s fault. Shame is a very defeating emotion and silence perpetuates it. The only thing worse than everyone knowing the story of an assault or abuse, is NO one knowing it. When we are all clear that assault or abuse is never the victim’s fault, no matter what the circumstances are, we will become a safer, stronger and better society. I would also help women and girls understand that surviving an assault is the most important thing. Whether you were able to fight or not, you survived. In most circumstances, when a victim is unable to fight, there are good reasons for that. Physiologically, if we are unable to fight or escape, (fight or flight), our bodies will often freeze. This freeze response is physiological, not just psychological. That is not your fault and nothing to be ashamed of. You did what you needed to survive, that is a win.
8: Changes in the educational system?
I believe that every school, starting in 6th grade, should have self-defense in their physical education classes. This life saving and changing information could reach so many if we could get it into the schools. 1 out every 4 girls will be raped or assaulted in college. 1 out of every 9 girls under the age of 18 has experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an adult. 1 in 5 high school girls has experienced an unwanted sexual act or assault. Approximately 85% of all assaults are by someone you know. These numbers are not getting any better. Two years ago, I was in the principal’s office of a large middle school in the Chicago suburbs and we were very close to bringing self-defense for girls to their school. They ended up cancelling and not offering any other programs to their students because of “liability” and lack of scheduling time and availability. Later that year, a female student was sexually assaulted on the bus by a male classmate. The schools know it, but they somehow look the other way because they can’t fit it into their schedule are site liability reasons. I hope that can change.
9: Advice I have received that I find empowering?
As an instructor, I benefit greatly from being a student also. It is important to train yourself and continue to grow and connect personally with what you love to teach. As I encourage all of my students to be Warriors daily, I also chose to be a Warrior myself. I recently did some training with a fantastic organization, Impact Chicago. From their programs that I participated in, I took away some empowering advice: “You have everything you need…bring it all!” “Bring all of you to the mat. Bring your truth, your story and your power will be right there with you.”