by Galia Berry

©1995, All Rights Reserved

What motivates a woman to carry a loaded gun? Fourteen women from all over the U.S. were asked why they enrolled in Lethal Force Institute's LFI-I, taught by Massad Ayoob, instructor, shooting champion, policeman, author and expert witness extraordinaire. The women had gathered for a forty-hour training program in the legal, moral, ethical and practical parameters of the use of lethal force and deadly weapons by private citizens in self defense. Kate Alexander's Tugs'N'Thugs program provided the women with an additional ten hours of anti- assault street defense techniques.

The answers given to that question on the first day of the five-day class were as different as the women themselves, which included an artist, a mayor, an attorney, a homemaker and a livestock farmer. All of the women in the class had permits to carry a concealed weapon. Several of the women had some experience with firearms. For others, this was the first time they had ever handled a gun.

"Actually," said one middle-aged woman, "I'm here only because my husband has been pressuring me to carry a gun for my own safety. I have to admit, I am afraid of it and all that it represents. I recognize the need to protect myself in today's crime-ridden world, yet I find the reality of it all extremely scary."

"I agree intellectually (about self defense) but deep down feel incompetent," said a woman approaching her sixty-sixth birthday. "As angry as I can get, as much as I can do - - will it be enough? I have the fear of the old."

"Until now, target shooting was a hobby I enjoyed with my husband, a doctor who collects firearms. Then I started having babies, and it seemed my whole perspective changed. My protective instinct just took over."

"Now that I have my permit, I find myself reluctant to carry my gun. It's not that I couldn't use it if I had to - - but I am afraid of the repercussions of a judicial system that has gone haywire."

"My father has been into guns ever since I can remember," said a recent college graduate. "Personally, I don't know what all the excitement is about, but he's afraid of his precious little girl going out into the big, bad world and insisted I carry a gun with me. He signed me up for the course so that I can use it competently and safely."

"I'm here because I want the best, and Massad Ayoob's LFI course is the best there is. I want it because I'm important, I deserve it, and I want what's best for me," said another (no identity crisis problems here!).

Massad Ayoob encouraged the women to get to know one another during class breaks and to socialize after class hours. The women bantered politely to one another but stuck to safe topics such as the weather or where they were from.

Meanwhile, the intense and grueling pace of LFI-I gained momentum. Through the use of videos, psychodrama, lectures and practical shooting, the course literally bombarded the students, frantically taking notes, with information.

LFI-I is not only about learning to shoot a gun safely, but also, responsibly. When is the use of deadly force justified? What components must be evident before pulling the trigger? Does one shoot to kill, or to wound? (Neither - - one shoots to stop.) What are the advantages and disadvantages women have over men in practical and legal issues of self defense with a handgun? Philosophical issues soon gave way to pragmatism. How should one react to responding officers if one has used a handgun in self-defense? What physical and psychological symptoms can one expect as a result of post-shooting trauma? At what part of the assailant's body should one aim the gun? What type of ammunition should one use? Which guns best fit a woman's smaller hand size? What are suggested ways to carry a concealed weapon comfortably? (Holsters designed for a man's body shape rarely fit women properly.) How does one keep a gun safely in a house with small children? How does one go to the bathroom in a public restroom while carrying a concealed weapon? (Carefully!)

This is only a small sampling of some of the issues covered. There was barely time to eat lunch (usually a sandwich nibbled from one hand, while the other hand furiously scribbled notes). The end of the day was reserved for Kate Alexander's Tugs'N'Thugs program of self defense for women.

After teaching the women some basic aggressive physical techniques of assault resistance, Kate brought in her "thugs." These men were truly scary looking. They wore denim overalls over their heavily padded bodies, and wore protective headgear which included threatening-looking facial masks. In the first exercise, women were told to stand on a mat, and the two "thugs" would approach her from behind in an attempt to assault her. The "victim" was to use her newfound techniques of resistance to thwart the "thugs'" evil intentions. Interestingly, the identities of these masked thugs were not made known to the class. The anonymity and depersonalization was essential, Kate said, to maintain objectivity. If one saw a face, and knew that in real life these were good guys just playing a role, one might not get as optimally involved in the drills. Kate purposely did not want to take the edge off. "I want to desensitize you, not humanize them," she stated. Also, there was the small chance that the "thug" might resemble a loved one at home, making it difficult to carry out a counterassault with conviction.

The high level of tension, fear, and loathing in the room was clearly tangible. Several women became visibly upset; a few were reduced to tears. In the discussion that followed the exercise, the women were invited to share their feelings. A palpable change overcame these fourteen women, who previously had been polite strangers. About half the women in the room revealed that they had been victims of rape and/or wife battering. Kate Alexander chided them. They were not victims, she said, but survivors.

"There is a fine line between aggression and defense. I'm a survivor and I still have to learn control."

"The problem is that the mask has a face," said a woman who had been raped thirty-one years ago. "When I faced (the thugs), it was as though Evil was in the room. I hyperventilated. But towards the end, I came to the conclusion that I can do something and don't have to be a victim."

"It brought something back that I thought was settled in the past," said another. "I came to the present, couldn't deal with it, so I went back to the past, took control, and beat the bastard up!"

"Even yesterday, knowing (the thugs) were going to be here, I got flashbacks and got emotional," said a woman who had been assaulted more than a decade ago. "The first time they "attacked" was scary; the second time was a bit better. I knew that if I could get myself pissed, I could take care of myself."

"I hate it," said a successful professional. "I don't know why I'm doing this to myself. But every day I put myself in situations where this (self-defense class) makes sense."

Said one survivor of a rape, "Every time we did the exercise, I hated it. Every time I meet someone who went through what I did, I go through (the experience of the rape) again. But it also makes me more determined not to have anyone else go through it. And by learning these techniques, I can help change the ending."

"I've taught martial arts to women for years," said a high-ranking martial artist taking the class, "and usually women are really inhibited about verbalizing and yelling aggressively. How on earth did you get fourteen women to ki'ai (the controlled power release scream used in martial arts) on the very first try?"

The women parted that night with hugs, tears, and feelings of growing empowerment. The next day, Kate Alexander arrived early to describe the electric moments of the previous evening.

"Mas," she said to Ayoob, "you simply wouldn't have believed it. The whole session was just simply amazing. Women were able to release skeletons that had haunted them for years. The polite but aloof ladies you said goodbye to yesterday afternoon are not going to be the same ladies that you see this morning. They really bonded! Why don't you ask them how it went?" Kate urged enthusiastically.

Indeed, the women of Day Three of LFI-I were different. They sat closer together, shared cookies and jokes. Massad Ayoob began the class promptly at nine.

"So, ladies, I understand from Kate Alexander that last night's Tugs'N'Thugs session was extremely productive. Would any of you like to share your thoughts?"


"Uh, hmm, I see. So tell me, how did you like it?" he nudged.

Finally a woman spoke up. "Okay," she said simply.

"Okay?" Mas Ayoob asked cautiously, having heard such an enthusiastic recounting from Kate Alexander.

"Yeah, it was nice," said another woman rather curtly.

"Sorry, Mas," a woman spoke up from the back. "It's not that we don't want to tell you about it, but you know - - it's a gal thing!"

With that, the entire female audience broke into raucous laughter, leaving Mas Ayoob to (as he jokingly put it) "get in touch with his feminine side."

The moment was shortlived, however, as Ayoob the Tyrant continued to bombard the women's brains with more facts, case histories, and range time.

Safety was the number-one priority on the range. Once indoctrinated as to safety techniques, and under the very watchful eyes and personal attention of the (female) range officers, the women learned to shoot their personal firearms under varying adverse conditions: shooting one-handed with both weak and strong hands; shooting from crouched, kneeling, and semi-kneeling positions; shooting using three different shooting techniques (Isocoles, Weaver, and Chapman stances); shooting from a distance of two to fifteen yards; and shooting and reloading three magazines under various time constraints, within a certain range of accuracy.

Though the women were of disparate shooting experience and skill, every single woman managed to qualify on her very first try on her shooting competency test, which measures safety, speed, and accuracy using the newly-learned skills listed above.

Day Four brought a renewal of tense emotion as the Thugs came back, this time to the shooting range, where the ladies took individual turns behind the shooting line. The thugs stood behind the shooter who was wearing electronic hearing protection and therefore able to pick up even the softest sounds. Goading each woman with obscenities and horrific suggestions of rape, murder and mayhem, it was up to the ladies to fire at a paper silhouette target in front of her only at the moment when legally appropriate to do so. Many of the women were fairly traumatized by this exercise until their adrenalin was fully activated. Then, amazingly, these women showed just how well they could handle a gun - - and themselves - - under adverse conditions. One woman, who had been only a fair shooter until now, shot bullseyes with repetitive shots that were so rapid it sounded like fully automatic gunfire.

The sixty-five year old class "senior" who had earlier admitted to having "the fear of the old" became not only a proficient shooter, but so verbally aggressive and assertive during this exercise that she got a standing ovation by the entire class upon completion. This was one tough lady; one would think twice before messing with her!

Just as Kate Alexander empowered the women with increased self esteem and physical prowess, Massad Ayoob handled the class with aplomb. Alternately stern, dramatic and sensitive one moment, funny and poignant the next, he was able to demand the utmost from his students, all the while enriching them with his wisdom, expertise, and years of life experience. The class was an overwhelming success, and as the women exchanged addresses on their fifth and final day of class, several vowed to meet again, at LFI-II.

As one woman wrote in her class evaluation, "Lethal Force Institute, LFI, is something of a misnomer. 'LFI' should stand for "Life Force Initiative!"

Lethal Force Institute, under the direction of Massad Ayoob, gives self-defense training courses throughout the country several times a year. Applicants must undergo a rigorous screening process. For more information, write to Lethal Force Institute, P.O. Box 122, Concord, NH 03301.


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