There was a line out the door at Block 41 at 7:15 a.m. on March 28. The Belltown studio—a hip event space with exposed metal piping and a massive upstairs ballroom—was hosting a free self-defense workshop from martial-arts center Fighting Chance Seattle (FCS).
The Ballard-based dojo shot to prominence the previous week after Kelly Herron was attacked in a bathroom after a run through Golden Gardens. Thanks to skills she learned from a FCS-led self-defense class provided by her employer, RealSelf, Herron was able to fight off her alleged 40-year-old attacker, a registered sex offender, and lock him in the bathroom until police arrived. Underneath an Instagram picture of her bloodied face, Herron told her story. She ended the post with her rallying cry during the attack: "Not today, motherfucker!" The post went viral.
Onstage, FCS sensei Jordan Giarratano, a tall, tattooed, bearded man, led the crowd of about 300 people through yoga-style breathing exercises and taught the attendees to hold up their forearms in front of their bodies to maintain space between themselves and a potential attacker. They were told to use their hard bones—palms, elbows, and knees—to strike an assailant's face, neck, and groin.
People ran through drills alternating elbow- and palm-strikes, and the airy space echoed when they exhaled shouts of "Ha!" and "No!" as they practiced. A few of the participants were lucky to have one of the FCS volunteers serve as human punching bags.
By the end of the workshop, I hadn't punched, kicked, elbowed, or kneed anyone. Too many people showed up for the class for that to be possible. But despite this, it wasn't unsatisfying. The brightly lit room was filled with women—mothers and daughters, coworkers, and friends—and a few men. Some of the women were clad in work blouses and heeled boots, others donned yoga pants and bed head. What brought them together that morning was a brush with sexual assault, something that one out of every six American women has experienced, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Herron's story—and the reality of its all-too-common alternate ending—inspired women like Shavonne Tate to make time during the workweek to attend the FCS training.
"Seattle is kind of sketchy, to be honest," Tate told me before the workshop. "I'm from Chicago, and I know rough neighborhoods. I never felt the need to [take a class there], which is funny."
But having those skills, she said, is invaluable—especially in the current political and social climate. "It's a really empowering thing to see so many women come out, but it's sad that there's such a need," Tate said.
Another woman, Rose Forinash, said her son urged her to go to the class after hearing what happened to Herron. Forinash said although she is at an age when she is "more likely to get purse-snatched," she wasn't worried about being attacked. She was just there for the exercise, she told me.
"I'm 64, I'm retired, and I'm not usually in risky situations, unlike when I was young," Forinash told me. "But it doesn't hurt to know... especially if you're a minority."
After the workshop, Giarratano, who opened his Ballard dojo in 2011, said that, despite what other self-defense classes may have taught us, people have the tools of survival within them. Knowing how to defend yourself is critical, he said, but what's more important is ending the larger "disease" of rape culture—not just treating its ongoing symptoms. Herron's message was a start, but Giarratano seemed to say there's an even better one: "Never again, motherfucker!"