Simulated Assault: My Life as a Self-Defense Instructor

Meron Langsner plays the perpetrator in reversals of attempted assault.


I know exactly what her rapist said.

I have it in mind as I pin down her wrists.

She opens her eyes. She knew this was coming, but still, she looks surprised. They always do.

I repeat the words her rapist said. Then I add some embellishments of my own. I’ve had some time to watch her, I have some idea what scares her. I should. She told us why she was here and gave us express permission to use that information.

I’m fairly certain that I struck a nerve with one of my embellishments. Her eyes are watering. I don’t like this part at all.

She manages to stay calm. That’s good.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve said enough.

I shift my body and lower my weight, plus the weight of the huge armored suit I’m wearing, onto her … .

The moment my weight settles, she shouts “NO!” as she explodes into action, launching me off of her body with her hips. She’s a fairly small woman, so this is no small feat. I recover from the throw and move towards her, spouting obscenities. Some of what I say I know is particularly painful to hear. This was also information she gave me. As I continue the attack, I see her reposition and begin to aim a kick at my groin from her place on the ground.

The speed at which she takes the offensive is impressive. So is how accurate her targeting is. She’s crying, but she’s fighting. When I started this job my colleagues told me that some of the hardest blows we receive are through tears.

The scenario I am describing is an advanced one. We’ve slowly built up to these throughout the course of the training. We begin with physical skills and no verbal element, and slowly build up. We refer to the attempted-rape scenarios as “reversals,” because the student begins at a severe disadvantage and then reverses the expected power dynamic.


I am a self-defense instructor with IMPACT Boston. I wear a specially designed suit of body armor and play out the role of a perpetrator. When I started this job a few years ago, one of my trainers told me it would be “The weirdest job you’ll ever love.”

Our methodology is heavily invested in scenario-based adrenal stress operant conditioning. Which in layman’s terms means that we replicate real attacks as closely as is safely possible, and that our students practice their skills in something approximating the state they would be in should they need to apply our training. This includes verbal elements in the scenarios. And striking full power while being flooded with adrenaline. And also means that I wear maybe fifty pounds of specially designed armor that allows me to safely take those full power blows.

Her kick hits my groin. It’s a solid hit and accurate hit, which knocks my center back behind me and brings my head into range. I’m not an especially big guy, but that’s an impressive kick.

She aims another one, this time to my head. From my vantage point it looks like it might connect pretty solidly. I decide to make things hard for her. I block it, then hold on at the ankle for good measure. She lines up another kick with her free leg, still shouting “No!,” still crying.

This feels real for the student, and I try to maintain that sense of reality as best I can. The techniques we teach are gross motor skills that a person can do during an intense adrenaline rush. They don’t need to be textbook perfect to work.

As important as the techniques themselves is teaching the students to keep fighting in difficult situations.

She quickly lines up another kick. She takes solid aim. I can tell that I may really feel this one, even through the helmet. Her classmates are cheering her on. As I watch her foot come at me I already know that this will end the fight. I line myself up so as to best be able to roll with it. It connects. I use the force to roll back on my side three times, maybe four. That was an impressive shot. Even harder than I expected. We do good work.

She kept her commitment to herself to keep fighting no matter how difficult the scenario, and she fought well. I’m fairly certain the world will be a safer place for her when all of this is done.

Her classmates applaud her. Another student lies down, pretending to sleep. Something like what I’ve just described plays out again.

These are advanced scenarios. We’ve slowly built up to this throughout a three day course. In those three days I’ve taken harder shots through the armor than I have in many situations in my life as a martial artist. You read that correctly by the way: the course is three days long. As I said earlier, we teach gross motor skills that the students practice in an adrenalized states during scenarios replicating assaults, so that learned-state conditioning goes into effect, making the training extremely effective in a relatively short time. A significant amount of research has been put into the scenarios. We cover verbal de-escalation and situational awareness along with the physical skills. Once they can handle adrenaline in a physical scenario, we teach them handle verbal scenarios, then we combine the two. Many say that the verbal skills are significantly harder.

Graduates sometimes keep in touch. We often hear that they’ve gotten out of threatening situations with just their verbal skills. I’m told that the ones who do report that they’ve been assaulted and had to go physical have rarely had to hit anyone more than once before being able to get themselves to safety.

Many trauma survivors take the course, some are referred by therapists. Most say that this course is a major step in reclaiming their lives. There is some scientific evidence that completing the adrenaline cycle with a successful outcome changes the brain chemistry in a positive way.

The program was started in the 1970s by a group of martial artists who saw a need, at the time it was called Model Mugging. There are chapters all over the world now, My chapter does men’s, children’s, and LGBT courses as well. We’ve started a new initiative for abuse prevention focused on people with disabilities. As I said before, we do good work.

It’s my turn to do a scenario again. I know that the woman lying on the floor is a mother with young children.

I pin her down. Her eyes snap open.

“Whose little shoes are those out in the hall?”

I know already that this is going to be an intense fight.


Image credit: Pai Wei/IMPACT Boston

About Meron Langsner, Ph D

MERON LANGSNER, PhD, is a playwright, scholar, educator, and professional theatrical fight director.  He has been published by McSweeney’s, Smith & Kraus, Applause Theatre Books, The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, McFarland, and numerous other imprints.  He was one of three writers in the country to be selected for the pilot year of the National New Play Network Emerging Playwright Residencies, and his work has been performed around the country and overseas.  He has composed violence for over 150 theatrical productions and films in both professional and educational venues.  Meron holds a black belt in Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate, masters degrees from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and Brandeis University, and a doctorate in Theatre History from Tufts University.  He was a part-time instructor with IMPACT Boston throughout most of his doctoral work.  Visit him on the web at


  1. I have been doing Uechi Ryu Karate for a few years now….I hated sparring, especially against my partners who tended to be 6′ tall and over…I had to go up against a tall gangly 16 yo HS student while one of the spectators was a 9 yo girl, who was cheering me on….just hearing her root for me spurred me on to get over my fear….my karate instructor and my opponent were both surprised when I forced myself to turn it on and I beat him backwards….

    My only real life situation was unfortunately against someone I never expected to attack me…weird how I found myself kicking and screaming against someone who said he had loved me….I still find it bizarre that the people who attack you are the ones closest to you, the ones you think you should be able to trust….it is hardest to throw off that relationship straightjacket, the one that hampers you from fighting back….

  2. Hank Vandeburgh says:

    I did years of aikido, and a few more years of karate when I discovered I wasn’t able to be thrown and get up over and over again for an hour or more.

    I ran a self-defense class at UConn a couple of times, though, and decided not to teach any non-Western martial arts in them. We had some punches, some low kicks, some escapes, some grappling escapes. That’s about it. If I were in an actual fight, I’d probably use boxing strikes along with very simple aikido. Karate enables you to hit a lot harder, but stylized karate punches don’t work well for middlin’-high belts like me in real situations. Combat aikido often requires a softening up strike to set up a throw, at least for someone at my middlin’-high level. Ueshiba Sensei, the founder, could just dodge people and make them fall all over, but he was super-skilled.

  3. John Anderson says:

    My high school held a rape self-defense class in the school lounge for the female students. Being a martial artist and somewhat of an ass, I was foolishly vocal about my disdain for the techniques being taught. Sa Bam Nim found out and I found myself volunteered as the “tackling dummy” of a self-defense class. It was a whole lot different than what you describe. I don’t know if it was an old philosophy or if it was a beginner class. It might be because these girls were not assumed to have been previously assaulted.

    I always wondered why they taught girls to flip someone and then run. First, they couldn’t take me over unless I let them, which I did because I was already in enough trouble. I got suspended from the dojang for using a potentially lethal strike in a fight. I had to do knuckle push ups when I got back for doing the technique wrong. It was really confusing for a teenager. Second, I always wondered why they didn’t tell the girls to follow up. I’d rather she debilitated her opponent before trying to get away. Crush his trachea or snap his knee. I admit I almost got my nose broken. I was told to grab a woman from behind and she whipped her head violently back. No one told me I was supposed to get hit either so I instinctively released the hold and ducked my head out of the way. I guess the purpose was to get the attacker to release the hold so I suppose it worked sort of, but I always wondered how that would help them from what is now a very PO’ed attacker wanting to chase them down.

    I was never a fan of the seminar style of self-defense. I always preferred a system so would always advise taking up a martial art, but it makes more sense if these women were previously assaulted. It must feel rewarding to help someone out, but I don’t think I would have the heart to make a woman cry who I didn’t believe really deserved it. Grabbing a woman to assist in a lesson is one thing. Calling her names and saying other inappropriate things is something entirely different. To get into the dojang we had to promise to respect our classmates, respect women and defend women and the weak. That would just feel disrespectful.

    Something you might consider. In the fight I had where I used that potentially lethal attack, he was 6’ 3” (yes, I asked just before kicking him in the face) and outweighed me by about 100 pounds. I didn’t really hurt him with kicks and felt he’d catch me sooner or later so I made the decision that I’d have to strike above his shoulders or snap a knee. I decided to either strike his groin to stun him so I could get close or go after his knee. I decided to do a front snap kick to his groin. He caught my foot with both hands and made the mistake of holding it. I hopped in on my free leg, wrapped my arm around his neck so he couldn’t pull me over, formed my hand into a paw and struck him in the throat. Then I fired repeated elbows / forearms into his temple. That ended the fight.

    When you’re 16 or 17, it’s hard to take a man’s life so I held up on the strike to the throat and if you’re not willing to do it, don’t use the maneuver. Do you stay away from those techniques because you don’t feel that you’re students would use them or is that a philosophical decision? Anyway, thanks for the perspective.

    • shame the author never came back, your question was interesting

    • The physical techniques we teach are based both on what the student can be expected to perform under the effects of an intense flood of adrenaline and what the armor can protect against. Our targets are the eyes, groin, and head, in part because those targets effective on anyone regardless of size, and in part because the armor can protect instructors against full power blows to those areas and still allow the instructors a pretty wide range of mobility (we use the Bulletman suit).

      Alongside the physical techniques we also do a lot of work on verbal deescalation and environment awareness, as well as the very basics of self-defense law.

      For some more in-depth reading on similar subjects, I highly recommend the work of both Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung if you aren’t already familiar with them. Especially Rory Miller’s book, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence. I personally feel that that book should be required reading for all serious martial artists.


  1. […] of role playing that used to be called “Model Mugging,” and is now called IMPACT training. In an article published on this site this week, a martial artist and self-defense instructor describes his role in one of these classes. […]

  2. […] “Our methodology is heavily invested in scenario-based adrenal stress operant conditioning. Which in layman’s terms means that we replicate real attacks as closely as is safely possible, and that our students practice their skills in something approximating the state they would be in should they need to apply our training. This includes verbal elements in the scenarios. And striking full power while being flooded with adrenaline. And also means that I wear maybe fifty pounds of specially designed armor that allows me to safely take those full power blows.” Simulated Assault: My Life as a Self-Defense Instructor – The Good Men Project […]

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