At my school, we teach a massage style we inherited from a man who also taught the martial art of jujitsu. All of our instructors and many of our students continue the tradition of studying the fighting arts and the healing arts. As a women’s self-defense specialist, I was motivated to develop this section for our massage student handbook because of the sense of vulnerability, primarily by women, working in an isolated setting. But, the information is useful to all workers in a private setting.

Setting boundaries
Your friendly, professional attitude should make your client feel welcome in your workplace. At the same time, let the client know this is your space and you set the boundaries for appropriate behavior.

What is “self-defense”?
Self-defense begins with self-respect. No one has the right to hurt you and making that part of your consciousness is the first step to finding the strength to defend yourself. It starts with paying attention to your surroundings and your client’s intentions. Self-defense is everything from speaking firmly to hitting and kicking.

Here are some things to consider, whether you had physical self-defense training or not:

  • Your will to survive is stronger than that of any attacker’s desire to hurt you.
  • Make a conscious choice to take care of yourself.
  • Decide now what you are willing to accept in terms of verbal or physical abuse.
  • Disqualify yourself as a victim; “How dare you try to hurt me!”

Self defense should not teach us to hate people. Hate the inappropriate behavior without hating the offender.

Strategies for safety
Leave yourself an opening. Try to position your work area, so you can exit easily and be willing to leave everything behind, if you decide to leave quickly. Making this choice now will help you implement it if you think someone means to hurt you. Then, learn to trust that little voice that tells you something is not right.

Know what people are nearby at different times of your work schedule when you are at your office. If no one is nearby, just make a mental note of that.

Myths of self-defense
When I was a young woman, we were taught if a man threatens a woman with violence, she should not fight back because, “He might get mad.” This thinking completely discounted a woman’s ability to use her wits and her power to get out of a dangerous situation. Luckily I have not heard that particular recommendation for many years.

Statistics support the fact that, in most cases, if the woman resists in any way, the attack will stop. Resistance can include speaking firmly, yelling or hitting. Naturally, every scenario is unique, and sometimes doing nothing to wait for the situation to change is the right thing to do at that moment.

Stopping unwanted advances or a threat to your safety
Intuition is pure awareness of your surroundings, which changes from moment to moment. It is neither magical nor mystical. Use your intuition and trust your instincts when you feel unsafe. In this case, it is a feeling that it is a risk to your safety that we address. Remember that a client seeking a “sexual release” is not necessarily dangerous, just misinformed.

If you feel you need to end a session you have several options: “I’m sorry, but I am feeling ill and cannot continue the session” or “Your session is over. Get your clothes on and leave now.”

If it has escalated to a more direct threat, say “Get your hands off me now!” or “Get out of here now!”

Keep repeating yourself like a broken record, with a strong voice but not screaming.

In the case of a request for a sexual release, a simple explanation may be in order: “This is a nonsexual massage. Would you like me to continue?”

If you are going to have a weapon nearby, can you get to it? Are you willing to use it? This option is something that will take practice. One of our students keeps a long-handled wooden spoon in her massage room. It looks completely benign, but could potentially be an effective weapon if you know how to wield it.

Outcall massage appointments
When you arrive, tell your client you need to call your “office” on the client’s phone or your cell phone, even if you are just calling your own answering machine.

Say into the phone, “It is 11 a.m., I am at 110 Main St. with Mr. ABC and I will be back in the office at 12:30 p.m.” Do this in the presence and hearing of your client.

Take a self-defense course
Simply being confident is the first step to self-defense, but being able to back it up with actual physical techniques will make you feel safer. If you feel like you would never be able to hurt someone, then really develop your yelling, escaping and running skills.

Cynthia Frueh, C.M.T., is director and chief instructor of Makoto Kai Healing Arts, a massage school  in Woodland, California. She has 27 years of experience in teaching women’s self-defense and the martial art of jujitsu. Visit her Web site at