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