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Debbie Leung

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My first exposure to "self-defense" was in a women's karate class in 1978. Not knowing what to expect, I tagged along with several co-workers. I went partly out of curiosity and partly for adventure. But when I look back, I realize that something deep in my being must have also drawn me to that first class because I've continued to participate over the years in the martial arts and the movement to end assaults against women, children and other groups targeted for violence.

My commitment to women's self-defense and martial arts practice (now centered on kungfu, taiji and qigong) led me down separate paths. The cultural context of my martial art is important to me and its practice continues to enrich my life in many ways. One benefit is that it has made me a better self-defense teacher. However, the foundation of my self-defense programs for women is not about martial arts.

In 1979, several members of my first karate class (including myself) started FIST (Feminists In Self-defense Training) in Olympia, WA because we wanted greater freedom to develop programs accessible to larger numbers of women. Martial art training was costly, time consuming and unrealistic for many. Its emphasis on physical skills did not apply to the full scope of violence women faced. Many women did not feel that it met their needs for prevention and avoidance.

FIST was founded on the belief that women of all ages, sizes, physical abilities, and cultural and economic backgrounds, have the right and ability to defend themselves successfully. Its programs differed from most self-defense programs by being based on women's experiences with violence, learning self-defense, and resisting assault successfully. They empowered women to trust their instincts and use their abilities.

In FIST's classes, we consistently found that most women, including ourselves, have encountered some form of violence in our lives and most have stories to tell about successful escapes. Women shared a wide range of strategies that worked for them. The testimonials and generalizations about women in my book come from my experience and that of other FIST teachers working with women on assault prevention. I wish all women could be in my place to hear all the stories women tell because I am sure that then, women would share my conviction that we are all capable of defending ourselves with success.

Adapted from the introduction of Self-defense: the Womanly Art of Self-care, Intuition and Choice by Debbie Leung

For a copy of Self-Defense: The Womanly Art of Self-Care, Intuition, and Choice, visit

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For information about Debbie's Qigong and Taiji classes, visit

Chinese Healing & Movement Arts

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