On my way to interview women’s self-defense teacher Joanne Factor, I noticed a creepy, middle-aged man trailing me with puppy-dog eyes. “Where do you go to school?” asked the man, confirming this reporter’s consternation at being the apparent object of a stranger’s jailbait fantasies. He followed me for the next several blocks, emitting a drool of lascivious comments about my body and what he’d like to do with it.
It was a first for me, but not, I presume, for many women walking this city’s sidewalks. That’s where Factor comes in. A shodan black belt who works part-time in administrative support at the University of Washington, Factor has a degree in kicking man-butt. Strategic Living, a company she founded in 2003, teaches women how to recognize when they’re being groomed by predators. Failing that, she also teaches how to inflict crippling groin blows.
A short, muscular woman who wears a Sequim Lavender Festival shirt, Factor has taught for a decade at the Central District’s Feminist Karate Union. Founded in the early ’70s, it’s one of the oldest women-oriented dojos in the country. “Many martial-arts schools back then had a policy of ‘benign neglect’ in training women,” says Factor, who’s 48. Teachers just wouldn’t teach their female students how to practice properly. “It was thought strenuous exercise would harm their reproductive capacity.”
Factor strives to destroy that notion by beating the crap out of a guy named Bob. He’s a rubber golem with an angry man’s face and lifelike features. They have to be lifelike, because facial anatomy is what Factor tells her self-defense students to pound on. (The crotch is always important, but Bob’s nether regions are inaccessible; he’s basically a rubber head and torso mounted on a black pole.) A fight that goes on for more than 30 seconds is bound to turn in a man’s favor, so an eye gouge or palm thrust to the nose that leaves a man writhing on the floor is preferable.
Roughly 200 students attended her classes last year at places such as Lowell Elementary, Seattle Community Colleges, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the UW.
Factor asserts she’s never hit anybody in anger. “I’ve had to yell at people,” she says—perhaps at her students after they festooned Bob with wigs, lipstick, and false eyelashes. (“It was really irritating me.”) But her confidence in her abilities is great enough that, during a discussion about karate-chopping celebrities, she suggests she could kick the blues-playing butt of Steven Seagal. “Probably,” she says, “because he wouldn’t be expecting it.”—www.strategicliving.org; Feminist Karate Union, 1426 South Jackson St., www.feministkarateunion.org.