Women have the power to save themselves
“…many of the women who had been sexually assaulted were actually caught in situations that could either be avoided or escaped from if empowered with the appropriate skill sets” Qin YunQuan
Globally, legislation against sexual harassment, rape and violence is present. However, it does not appear to be completely successful in protecting victims from sexual assault or violence. A common public sentiment is to impose stricter regulation and blame the statistics on a lack of education. However, rape and sexual harassment is not just a problem in places with low literacy rates. Nearly 20% of women in the U.S have been raped or have faced rape attempts.1 In Canada, 43% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.2 The problem exists globally, where 1 in 14 women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner.3 Sexual assault and harassment exists worldwide and is not geographically or culturally confined. These assaults can also take place within families or by people the victims trust, for instance, boyfriends or co-workers. It is a global disease that needs to come to an end.
How can women protect themselves and walk down the streets without fear? What can women do to ensure that they do not fall prey to perpetrators of sexual violence in a public place, at work or at home? I have had the honor of speaking with Qin YunQuan about this issue and how women can protect themselves in a world of growing danger.
A conversation with Qin YunQuan about women and their personal security and safety.
Maisha: You are a highly decorated martial artist, equipped with specialized knowledge in various forms of martial arts. Your passion in empowering women with self-defense is commendable. Why have you devoted your life to this cause?
YunQuan: I was 19 years of age when I was first invited by my Mentor, Master Teo Yew Chye, to be the co-founder of a social enterprise that he had just started, called Kapap Academy, (Singapore). Founded in memory of his brother who was killed in a street attack, Kapap Academy’s key mission is to empower ordinary people with realistic self-defense skills. Master Teo invited me to assist in driving a key initiative under our social enterprise, which, is women’s empowerment in self-defense. Even at the initial phase, he had faced frustrations in reaching out to ladies to learn self-defense. While most ladies would agree with him on the need to learn, few felt they had the ability to acquire the skills, or the mental strength to defend themselves against real attackers. When Master Teo shared with me his experiences counseling ladies who had been victims of rape and sexual assault or domestic violence as a professional psychologist (his former work vocation), I felt a deep sense of moral outrage as well.
No woman or girl, anywhere, of any race, or religion, should experience such humiliation or violation, in such a personal way. I was further drawn into making his mission my mission as well, when I met ladies in our training centre, who had been sexually assaulted, or were victims of domestic violence. I witnessed a disturbing trend in recent years that a growing number of young ladies below 16 are becoming victims of sexual predators. These young victims carry the scars of their sexual assaults for years and many will never fully recover from a violent awakening to their sexuality. I understood there and then why Master Teo is so devoted to his mission of saving lives, and I was inspired by him to be a social activist as well.
Maisha: Please share with us the challenges that you may faced when you embarked on this journey.
YunQuan: In embarking on this journey, we faced several challenges, both as a team, and individually. The principal challenge that stumped us was that that many Asian women were either not athletic enough, lacked good spatial/ psycho-motor skills, or lacked the discipline to train hard to acquire the necessary skill sets recommended by self-defense experts in the market. To overcome this problem, my Coach drew from his 37 years of experience as a martial artist, his experience in body guarding and his training as a psychologist (studying predatory behavior) to co-develop Modern Street Combatives with me. We put to the test principles and techniques in realistic scenarios. We questioned traditionally held beliefs of women empowerment programmes in self-defense. Over a period of learning and experimentation, we eventually evolved a set of principles and techniques that we believe will work for most women. These techniques then were incorporated in our ladies/ executive personal protection programmes under Modern Street Combatives.
Maisha: You have co-founded the KAPAP Academy, where most of the students of modern street combat are women. Why is learning self-defense so important?
YunQuan: Kapap Academy (Singapore) was founded with the singular mission of empowering ordinary people with realistic self-defense skills. I was invited to be the co-founder to help drive a key initiative under this social enterprise, which is women empowerment in self-defense. My mentor had observed that many of the women who had been sexually assaulted were actually caught in situations that could either be avoided, or escaped from if empowered with the appropriate skills sets. This highlights the essence of our specially designed ladies personal protection programmes under our proprietary system.
Maisha: How do you feel your organization has impacted the lives of women?
YunQuan: We have implemented two of our important innovations: First, empowering ladies with the psychological skills to identify pre-attack cues or predatory behaviour (e.g. sexual grooming, stalking etc), in order to be better at avoiding potentially dangerous situations. When this first line of defense fails, women can then turn to our second innovation: which is to impart simple, intuitive but yet effective self-defense skills in order to create the opportunities for the ladies to escape. For example, making a fist to strike an attacker is not as intuitive for women as to palm strike or eye poke. In developing Modern Street Combatives as a realistic self-defense system that offers tools that women of a wide range of ages can deploy effectively, we hope we have left a legacy to help women stay safe in a world that is growing to be more dangerous.
My own observation is that we have made good headway in helping both raise awareness, and in empowering ordinary people with realistic self-defense skills. To date, for example, we have trained individuals from 90 schools and 160 companies – averaging about 6,000 per year. As about 70% of our students are actually ladies, this helps establish our school’s reputation as the top realistic self-defense school for ladies. This is probably the most number of participants trained by a single school in Singapore, and we are still growing strong. If all goes well, we should be starting to establish a physical presence in China in 2018.
Maisha: Could you share some examples on how and when self-defense is critical for women?
YunQuan: The contexts or scenarios that may be helpful for women to learn self-defense skills include: for examples, wanting to stay safe while walking home after work or school, going overseas for work or study, to going out on blind dates with strangers that you met through social media or dating sites. My own belief as a woman is that specially designed self-defense classes for women are no longer a luxury but a modern day life skill that no lady can ignore. While I do not advocate that women should live in fear and be afraid to explore this beautiful and exciting world of ours, I do however, advocate that women should at least prepare themselves for the dangers that can present themselves, if we happen to be in the wrong place, wrong time, and in the company of some pretty bad persons.
Maisha: From your experience, do you think legislation can eliminate all forms of sexual violence? Why do men feel that they have a right to violate a woman’s body?
YunQuan: I am rather cynical that sexual assault or domestic violence against women will ever go away anytime soon. There are a few reasons for this. First, if you were to learn from history, most human societies are patriarchal in nature. As such, the men are in control on almost every aspects of the society. Traditionally, especially in Asian societies, patriarchal societies see women as ‘properties’ owned by men, and give men a sense of entitlement over women. Another contributing factor is the physical strength and size advantage of men over women. In this respect, it is no different from why some people bully others – simply because they can. Furthermore, there are also cultural and religious factors – for example, in some cultures or religions, women are seen as ‘inferior’ in the eyes of God/ society, and give men power to do whatever they wish with women. All these factors come together to make sexual assaults against women more pervasive and a crime that is hard to wipe out by legislations altogether.
Maisha: How do you think we women can avoid rape, molest and the various forms of sexual assault on women in colleges, workplaces, in public and even in homes?
YunQuan: To avoid sexual harassment/ assault within a work place context, I would first of all, encourage one to behave professionally. As much as some women like to say that we should be allowed to dress whatever we want and not attract sexual harassment or worse, I am more pragmatic than that. I believe that dressing and conducting ourselves professionally is a good way of ensuring that we do not send mixed signals unwittingly. Secondly, I believe it is important to set limits, and not allow male colleagues at work to cross the lines with, for examples, inappropriate touching, sexual innuendoes, etc. Thirdly, I am big on ladies empowerment in self-defense. You can lodge a complaint to human resource or even the police later, but first, survive the attack. Learn some small joint manipulations to defend against groping hands, or some realistic ground grappling skills to defend against being held down. Include training in use of some improvised weapons – such as use of commonly available office supplies (e.g. hole-punch, stapler etc) as impact weapons, or make it a point to carry or train in the use of a tactical pen. Also, do not appear to be an easy target to be victimized, and stand ready to defend oneself if the need arises. In security terminology, we refer to this as ‘target hardening’.
Maisha: If a woman were to encounter a situation of sexual assault, what constitutes self-defense and falls within her rights to protect herself?
YunQuan: As a general rule of thumb, any individual under the law is entitled to do enough to stop any form of attack that threatens one’s well-being. However, once, the attack stops or you are able to create the opportunity to escape, then there is no legitimate excuse to go further in hurting another. From my own experience in training ladies in self-defense for nearly 10 years now, I find that most ladies fail or hesitant to fight back in a real attack, not because of any concerns of overstepping their rights to defend themselves, but are more likely to either ‘freeze’ in fear, or simply unsure about what to do. The ‘freeze’ response as it is called, poses a very serious risk to life as it leaves one vulnerable to escalating attacks. At Kapap Academy (Singapore), we train our students to recognize that whilst the fear is very real, we need not be overwhelmed by it.
There are a number of psychological techniques that we use in our school to help students prepare for a worst-case scenario. For example, through ‘exposure training’ to a wide range of stressful situations, our students are gradually trained to perform under pressure. For exposure training to work optimally, the training has to also include differential learning – which means, the tasks students have to perform under duress must also vary in complexity. This element of helping ladies prepare themselves mentally for a worst case scenario is an often neglected aspect of self-defense training in martial arts schools around the world.
Maisha: YunQuan, it has been so inspiring speaking with you and I appreciate your time. What would be your final advice and take home message for women?
YunQuan: First and foremost, creating awareness and changing mindsets through education, needs to be coupled with women’s empowerment programmes designed to help women stay safe until help arrives. In summary, a comprehensive self-defense programme for ladies should include: psychological preparation for worst case scenarios; soft skills to identify pre-attack cues, strong focus on the use of one’s legs to control, choke and trap your opponent; simple, intuitive counter strikes and kicks that are easy to learn and execute; weapon defense and disarming of handguns, knife etc. It seems like a tall order to learn all these, but in truth, in just 20 to 40 hours in total, a well-designed personal empowerment programme for ladies should be able to teach you these topics and more. Think of such self-defense skills as like learning first aid, in contrast to training to be a medical practitioner. It is practical in focus and once learned, need only some effort periodically to maintain the skills sets. I strongly encourage ladies, young and old, to empower themselves with some realistic self-defense skills.
This interview series with outstanding young women aims to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.
This interview was also published on KAPAP Singapore and on YMAZING: Generation Y – Generation Z – Millennial
- Jacobson, L. (2015, February 16). Barack Obama says nearly 20 percent of women in the U.S. have been raped or faced rape attempt. Retrieved from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/feb/16/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-nearly-1-5-women-us-has-been-rap/
- Fact Sheet: Sexual Assault and Harassment. (2016, August). Retrieved from http://www.canadianwomen.org/sites/canadianwomen.org/files/Fact%20sheet_SexualAssaultHarassmentFormatted_18_08_2016.pdf, Canadian Women’s Foundation
- Gholipour, B. (2014, February 11). Women Face High Sexual Assault Rates Globally. Retrieved from http://www.livescienccom/43305-high-sexual-assault-rates-globally.html