FIGHTING BACK FROM FEAR
From: Randall Chrisman
Subject: Some Inspiration
Dealing with torture, violence and mayhem as I have in the past few
posts has been draining and unpleasant.
Time for a chnage. Here's a recent article in the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer that should be inspirational. Was for me.
April 8, 1991
FIGHTING BACK FROM FEAR
by John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
What they have felt for so long is a fearsome vulnerability. To be
a woman is reason enough to worry about the intent of strangers, or
what may lurk in the shadows, or the sound of footsteps following
on the sidewalk. But to be a woman and also blind, or even
partially sighted, and to be forced to use a cane that advertises
vulnerability, is to experience an apprehension that can become
Cut now to a spacious office in a business part near
Northgate. Chairs and tables are cleared out of a conference room,
the place stripped of everything except the wall-to-wall carpet.
And 14 women, most of them visually impaired, are snapping into a
fighting stance, hands formed into fists before unleashing hard
punches or sharp leg kicks at imaginary attackers as their loud
cries of "Stop!" echo off the bare walls.
There follows a series of perilous scenarios, all acted out by
pairs of women. A blind woman suspects she is being followed on
the street. A blind woman is grabbed around the neck by an
attacker in a landry room. In each scenario, the blind woman moves
smartly through a series of defensive measures which foil the
attack and lead to her escape. This prompts the other women in
the room to applaud and cheer.
It is a brave new world for the blind, replacing fear with
direct action, even including standing up and fighting back. For
12 weeks, women have learned and practiced defensive techniques in
what organizers believe is the first such class in the country for
the blind and visually impaired.
It has been a tough challenge for the women, quite unlike
anything they have ever done. Student Linda Crown described the
training as "grueling." Carol Blaaw relates her utter amazement at
discovering she has "a great punch."
The class also has been a challenge for instructor Py Bateman,
whose self-defense courses in Seattle have trained an estimated
30,000 to 50,000 women during the past 20 years. [Randall's Note:
More on Py Bateman after the article.]
"The biggest challenge with this class," said Bateman, "is
that the less vision a person has, the less they can sense
something is amiss--until it is very amiss, until they are grabbed.
Blind people, for example, are not able to see someone following
them. So the visually impaired lack all that preliminary stuff
that sighted women have--all those chances to deflect an attack or
to get their defensive measures ready."
Another complication, she added, is presented by the cane.
Too light and too fragile to be used as a defensive weapon, the
can still provides a vital sense of balance and direction. So new
techniques had to be developed that would allow a blind person to
retain use of the can (by switching hands) or recover the cane in
a hurry (using the feet). Which is why Bateman enrolled in a
course that taught her how to use a cane.
This new course in self-defense for the blind is a pioneering
effort into uncharted territory. It is a joint program of
Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted, the
Washington Department of Services for the Blind, and Bateman's
well-established self-defense organization, Alternatives to Fear.
The experimental effort is funded by a $17,000 state grant
from the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy. The initial 12-week
class, which concluded Thursday evening, is to be followed by
another pilot class (starting tomorrow) and then development of a
curriculum that could be used around the country.
No matter how large the program ultimately becomes, it may not
produce a more enthusiastic group of advocates than the members of
the very first class. Although there are apparently no statistics
that suggest blind women are more likely to be assaulted than the
sighted, women in the class readily acknowledge the presence of
real fear in their lives, fear that they could not counter--until
They run through their practice exercises with new found
assertiveness, an increased sense of balance and dexterity, plus
unbridled enthusiasm. There are surprised laughs and ready
apologies when defensive measures are practices with too much
authority on unsuspecting partners.
K.C. Mehlorn, who is sighted, is doubled over in pain when
Wendy Pava, her blind partner, lands a kick to her groin while
practicing an escape scenario.
Pava is absolutely startled by what she has just done to her
partner in the course of acting out what she might do when being
followed by someone after getting off a bus. "I got that adrenalin
going," an apologetic Pava tells Mehlhorn, "and I almost felt like
I'm in that situation."
The last minutes of the final class wind down with heightened
awareness of new abilities, along with a bittersweet camaraderie.
Bateman runs through a series of potentially dangerous
scenarios, followed by a multiple-choice selection of actions-to-
"You are asleep in your bed alone. You hear the noise of
someone entering your bedroom," Bateman reads.
"Do you: A) Pretend that you're asleep, hoping he will steal
whatever he wants and go away? B) Pull the covers up under your
chin and hold them tightly there, while you listen carefully to
determine how close he is? C) Throw off the covers and call 911,
then get ready to defend yourself? or D) Call out in a loud,
intimidating voice, 'Get out of here right now!'?"
From the women in the class comes an instant chorus of "C!"
This is the correct answer, as are almost all of the answers they
give. And that is so much different from the answers they had
given at the start of the class.
Then comes an informal graduation ceremony. Bateman hands out
certificates as each woman takes a turn standing in the center of
the room. Some of the women offer comments on the course, others
just listen to the supportive comments of others like, "It's nice
to see your feistiness," or "You fight with the grace of a dancer."
Nan, who is visually impaired, tells her classmates, "This has
been a wonderful opportunity to exercise the warrior side of me."
And Pava, the class's only totally blind participant, a 36-
year old woman who is working on her doctorate in clinical
psychology at the University of Washington steps up and says, "This
has been a truly profound experience for me."
Later, while all the women are preparing to go out for a
celebratory pizza, Pava elaborates on what the course has done for
"I just feel more in control," she says. "I now have some
knowledge, some skills. If I were in a situation, I know how to
defend myself. And I'm thinking more in terms of problem-solving--
what should I do. And perhaps most important of all, it made me
realize I have more power than I ever thought I had."
[Comments About Py Bateman:]
Py Bateman has been teaching self-defense for women in Seattle (and
around the country) for a very, very long time. Sure enough, the more
popular she became, wouldn't you know that there was some idiot out
there with a knife and something to prove? And on one very dark night,
he came out and attacked her? (If memory serves, it was in her own
There were cuts. There were bruises. And not only did Py come out of
the skirmish alive, but the attacker sustained more damage than she did.
If you hear of a class she's teaching that comes around in YOUR
neighborhood, I recoomend it at all costs. I've known women who have
taken her class and are better off for it!