By our third day, a second mugger was brought in to split the work, our strikes having become too powerful for one person to withstand for six hours straight.
It's probably time for the obligatory disclaimer: I'm no advocate of violence. And Impact is not a crash course in aggression. We each signed an agreement that includes this emphatic phrase: "I will only use the techniques for self-defense and will not ever intentionally escalate a situation that could lead to an otherwise unavoidable physical confrontation." To this end, we practiced what Naomi called the protective stance: hands up, palms out, elbows at our sides, we placed one foot behind us and one in front, knees slightly bent, ready to strike but only if necessary. With clear, modulated voices, we then practiced setting boundaries.
"Move away," we firmly told Random Creepy Guy as he hovered nearby. "Back off." Sometimes he moved away. Sometimes he moved closer, too close, reaching out to grab, and that's when the real action began.
Our classmates cheered and shouted out the moves. "Eyes!" they'd say as we went for the assailant's eye sockets with fingers pressed in triangular "bird beaks." "Groin!" they'd say, and knees flew up accordingly, hands still raised to protect our space.
Down went the padded assailant. The whistle squealed. "Halt!" And from the sidelines: wild, heartfelt applause. I was elated. I've never struck out at anyone or anything with full force, kneed a denim-clad Martian in the groin, or been applauded by a roomful of women for any reason let alone for either of the above. I couldn't help but get the warm fuzzies which was, of course, the point.
I mentally added this experience to my rapidly increasing list of personal firsts and moved on to the second scenario: being grabbed from behind and wrestled to the ground. As instructed, I employed a rapid-fire sequence of biting, elbow strikes, eye jabs, and a powerful sideways thrust kick, a move we would come to use frequently. We practiced the kick in a circle on the mats.
"Strike with the heel," Theo reminded me patiently. Eventually, I discovered that if I point my toe slightly while positioning my legs before the kick, the heel naturally extends forward on its own. "How does that feel?" he asked.
"Weird," I admitted. I imagined having to ask a real-life attacker for do-overs, grinned, and kept practicing rotating my hip.
At the end of the first six-hour day, woozy from adrenaline, one of my classmates broke down crying before her final match. Her fear of being grabbed from behind had only intensified. Naomi soothed her but had her fight anyway. We cheered her on like Romans at the Colosseum as she was tackled, and we whooped as she battled her attacker, through her tears, to a knockout blow.
It was the most important lesson we learned all day: We can fight when we're crying. We can fight when we're exhausted. We can fight when we're afraid. We can fight.
THE METHOD TO THE MADNESS
It's this attention to emotions that sets Impact apart from other full-force defense techniques such as Krav Maga (an Israeli-developed school of hand-to-hand combat). More Impact instructors hail from therapeutic or healing than fitness or martial arts backgrounds, and the emphasis on training the body and mind together helps create a supportive, refreshingly noncompetitive atmosphere in the classroom. Beyond support, though, increased awareness of our mental state helps to minimize the tendency to freeze when abruptly forced into a high-adrenaline situation.