Empowerment Self-Defense

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On Tuesday May 9, Bruin Consent Coalition and Alpha Gamma Delta co-hosted an Empowerment Self-Defense Workshop. The workshop was led by World Arts and Cultures/Dance professor Janet (Jay) O’Shea and took place in a dance studio in UCLA’s Kaufman Hall.

The event was a two-hour introduction to the practice of Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD), which, as defined by O’Shea, is a “feminist, gender-inclusive self-defense system that treats violence as a tool of social control and self-defense as a means of changing this culture of violence.” Participants learned basic verbal exercises, physical drills and defense techniques addressing forms of violence and harassment that students are most likely to encounter.

Professor O’Shea hoped students would leave with an understanding of how to de-escalate situations and set boundaries, as well as the knowledge that they can defend themselves using resources within their own bodies. She hoped to remind students that even though people, particularly women and gender non-conforming folks, are often told they cannot defend themselves, ESD provides both the tools and the permission to defend one’s self. “I want students to remember that you are worth fighting for. No one has the right to hurt you no matter what decisions you make,” she added.

Third-year international development studies student and co-director of Bruin Consent Coalition Yong-Yi Chiang helped organize the event, and was intrigued by the practice of ESD as a new form of defense that shifts the conversation from victim to empowered individual.“Self-defense is often used to victim-blame, for if you are responsible for your safety than you are therefore responsible for your assault. This event is to reclaim this and to be empowered,” she said.

O’Shea first learned about ESD at a panel she organized in 2015 that featured speakers like Susan Schorn and other self-defense experts. The discussion centered around whether self-defense is an empowering or victim-blaming practice. O’Shea was initially a sport fighter, but through conversations with some of these women she became interested in ESD, as it specifically addressed this issue of the victim-blaming narrative in self-defense.

“Many forms of self-defense are helpful, but the difference with ESD is that it is specifically designed to be a feminist, gender inclusive and non-hierarchical process,” said O’Shea when asked about what sets ESD apart from other practices. “While other forms of self-defense refer to violence in the abstract, ESD recognizes that violence takes place in oppressive social systems like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. and works to combat this by utilizing the ‘toolbox’ we each have—whether it be verbal practices or physical techniques,” she stated.

O’Shea is currently teaching a one-unit fiat lux course on Empowerment Self-Defense, her first time teaching it at UCLA, and she hopes to bring more comprehensive self-defense resources like padded-assailant workshops to the campus in the future.

After two hours of introductory training, Yong-Yi Chiang wrapped up the event with a presentation aimed to help direct students to various campus resources for dealing with sexual harassment, assault or any other form of sexual violence. She distributed a Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) packet that lists some of these resources in an effort to make sure students know about and can access the plethora of resources on the UCLA campus.

Confidential resources highlighted in the event include CARE Advocates, located in the John Wooden Center West, for survivors, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which is open to all students covered by insurance, the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica, and Student Legal Services in A239 Murphy Hall. Reporting options include the UC Police Department (UCPD) and the Title IX office in 2241 Murphy Hall.

As a student in O’Shea’s fiat lux this quarter, I would definitely recommend Empowerment Self-Defense. Whether you want the physical tools to defend yourself or simply an inclusive space to discuss boundaries, Empowerment Self-Defense arms you with the technical and verbal tools to fight violence within systems of oppression. Interested students should keep an eye out for upcoming workshops by Bruin Consent Coalition and Alpha Gamma Delta, and consider enrolling in O’Shea’s future fiat lux courses.

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