– Episode Eight –
Your VOICE! One of the Most Powerful Tools in Your Self Defense Toolkit!
About The Empowerment Podcast
In this podcast, created as a platform to teach you everything she knows about self-defense, join host Silvia Smart in this safe space. With over three decades on the frontlines, she’ll give you skills and knowledge for your self-defense toolkit so you can live your most fearless and empowered life. Research proves that empowerment self-defense programs work. Participants are less fearful, more aware of their boundaries, and are able to speak up sooner when faced with manipulative or threatening situations. Furthermore, for those who have experienced trauma in the past, evidence shows that empowerment self-defense training can interrupt the cycle of violence and decrease the likelihood of a future assault.
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Last episode, we talked all about the voice and the various ways we can use it, hone it and rely on it. Today, I want to talk about the actual words we use and how we can create safety through their application as a self-defense tool. Of all the tools, the voice and our verbal self-defense can go the farthest to prevent unwanted attention and situations. As with all of empowerment self-defense, we’re also going to look at the multitude of ways words can impact the quality of our lives and the way we walk through the world, which keeps us safer. I’ll give you examples, stories to illustrate the strategies and solid suggestions for practicing so you can get really good at this.
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This podcast is brought to you by the empowerment project.
Research proves that empowerment self-defense training makes you safer period. I want you to have a great self-defense toolkit so you can create strong boundaries, speak with confidence, and take up all the space that you deserve in the world.
We’ll hear stories from survivors and find out what worked for them and why. We’ll interview leaders in the field and talk about tips, concepts, and really easy things that you can do to make yourself safer and interrupt the cycle of violence.
I’ve taught self-defense classes for over 30 years and I promise to teach you everything I know!
Ultimately, I’m going to want you to get some in-person training, but a great empowerment self-defense class is more than just the physical skills. The list of things I want to teach you is endless, so let’s get to it.
My name is Silvia Smart, and welcome to the empowerment project.
I’m so glad you’re here! Welcome.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about VOICE! We’ll be talking about HOW we use this important and powerful body weapon – in daily life and in our self-defense. We are going to set ourselves up to use it consciously as a self-defense tool, probably one of the most important tools in our toolkit!
In fact, this body weapon, voice, is SO IMPORTANT, we’re going to take two episodes to talk about it. Today, I’m going to ask you to open your mind to the limitless qualities of your voice and to shine a spotlight on the way you use it.
The next episode will be a little shorter. It’ll be about how we use our voice in our verbal self-defense, which is the words we actually say. They go together, but let’s set the groundwork in this episode by shining our attention, our awareness on your voice.
Let’s call this episode “Voice 101”!
Let’s get started!
Talk about EMPOWERMENT! Oh My Gosh!! THIS is the tool I want you to keep front and center in your self-defense toolkit. THIS is the tool – the engine – that drives the empowerment locomotive. THIS is the tool that has the capacity to change your life!
VOICE…is a “go to” in your toolkit. You carry it with you. You always have it at hand. It’s your frontline tool, your most steady and trusted friend! THIS is the heartbeat of empowerment. I can’t say enough about it.
Voice. Take a deep breath and hold my hand. Once you take this leap with me, you’ll never want to go back!
I have a great self-defense story, of course! But this episode, I’m going to save it till the end. I want to tell it to you later because it’s gonna illustrate the importance of HOW WE SAY what we say. In other words, our VOICE.
First things first.
Think about all the ways you can use your voice! Here are a few:
- You can use words to share information
- To tell someone you love them
- To get or give directions
- To speak out against injustice
- To have a conversation
- To negotiate a raise
- To say what you need
- To process your thoughts
- To read aloud to your kids at night
- To teach
- To ask questions and learn
- To empathize
There are so many beautiful things we can do with our voices!
What else? What are other ways you can use your voice to forge a connection, bonds and to make your life and the world a better place?
Really, pause for a sec and just think about it.
Now, let’s talk about your voice in the capacity of a self-defense tool
You can use it in lots of different ways:
- To make a boundary or
- to stand up for yourself or a friend
- Use it to give commands
- You can use it to tell someone to stop what they are doing
- Say NO
- To call out behavior that is unsafe, feels creepy or is rude
- Use it to say how you really feel, deep down inside, no matter how scary it feels because YOU are worth protecting
- Yell to draw attention to what is happening
- You can use your voice to speak up against injustice (and yes, I’m mentioning this twice. I’m saying it again here, as we talk about s-d because sometimes it’s scary to speak up and sometimes the situation IS about making ourselves, our friends, and our fellow human beings safer)
How have you used your voice to set a boundary? How do you use your voice every day? How about the times you don’t use your voice or have chosen not to speak up? What are the different ways you DO use your voice, even when, especially when, it’s scary?
There is no right or wrong here. There is no judgment. Empowerment means you get to use YOUR VOICE when and how YOU want to. That includes the choice to NOT use it!
Hakim’s Song of Meditation
There’s a poem that I want to tell you. It’s very short. It’s called Hakim’s Song of Meditation and it goes like this:
Always in history, those who loved to fight were destroyed, but those who could not fight were also destroyed. Strength and virtue, such alone last and can lead others aright.
As a martial artist, as a self-defense teacher, this has always meant to me that knowing how to fight is just one piece of the puzzle. Alternatively, I might never have learned how to fight. Maybe I think it’s too aggressive, or too scary, or I’m just not interested. That is OK. That is my choice. But to be clear, that means fighting is a tool THAT I DO NOT HAVE!
Possessing the skill to fight means that I also know first-hand how powerful and potentially dangerous or destructive the choice to fight can be. When you couple that knowledge with the capacity to let go of the ego and be willing to try everything else first, THAT is the virtue. That is balance. I can always choose NOT to fight. But if I don’t know HOW to fight, then I don’t really have a choice.
Knowing how to fight and choosing to use it or not to – THAT is empowerment, my friends. And that is why I want you to take an empowerment self-defense class! I want you to have the choice to fight and to have the choice not to fight as well if you decide that is the right thing given your situation.
But that is a CHOICE I want you to have. I hope this makes sense!
I learned this poem within the context of martial arts and fighting. But if you think about it, it’s also true in terms of using our voices. If I am unconscious of the power of my voice, if I don’t practice using my voice, if I don’t have range, if I am afraid to yell, or to cause a scene, to speak up, if I am unable to use my voice then what choice do I have? If my default is to NOT speak up. To NOT yell. To NOT say no. That, then, is not a choice. That is a default.
Empowerment means you CAN speak up. You CAN say no. You CAN set boundaries. And you can choose not to. But then, it’s your choice, it’s not a default.
THIS IS EMPOWERMENT! This is how YOU choose to walk through the world! This is how YOU choose to live your life.
Your voice has incredible RANGE! It has volume! It has tonality, strength, and power. Knowing and experiencing all of its qualities means you have a choice about how you are going to use it. Period.
OK, I think you get the point.
In Martial Arts We Use a Kiya
When we hit, we make a sound. Each art has a different kiya, but the purpose is the same. When you are hitting you kiya – this is integral for lots of different reasons.
- One is it helps to carry the power of the strike.
- Another is, when you kiya, if you do it right, you are creating a wall of tight muscles along the front of your body which can protect your internal organs if someone is hitting YOU
- You can put your mouth close to someone’s ear when you kiya which hurts all the way into their head, just like a strike
- When you kiya, you are exhaling air. This causes an involuntary response – which is inhaling.
- Remember when we talked about primary targets and how we want to cause an involuntary response? Well, this goes both ways and this is how we can use that same principle to help ourselves out.
- If I’m scared, I tend to stop breathing.
- When I kiya (or even just yell NO!) my lungs take care of the rest and keep me breathing.
- These are all things you will practice during an empowerment self-defense class – here’s a plug. Take an empowerment self-defense class. Also, consider training martial arts! It’s fun, it’s an incredible workout and you will learn so much! And no, it’s not just for kids. That’s BS. You can start martial arts training at any age.
Your Voice IS a Self Defense Tool!
As a quick refresher, remember our episode about the continuum of sexual assault and violence? Remember our episode about trusting your body? The one about the testing process? If you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to those because they are chock full of relevant information.
If someone is using behaviors on any end of the spectrum, the voice is a great tool. It’s got the flexibility and nuance and power to respond to any threat large or small. Like I said, it’s your GO-TO body weapon!
Here’s an example:
On the lower end of the spectrum, someone at work makes a comment about your body. You can use your voice to call it out.
On the higher end, someone you are in a relationship with is pressuring you to have sex. You can use your voice to say NO and couple it with other strategies to keep yourself safe.
- If it’s pretty far along the continuum, you can use your voice to lie and say your roommate is on their way home.
- If it’s even farther along, you can use your voice to yell and call out to let other people know you need help.
- Even farther and You can be really loud and use your voice as you hit to add power to your strikes.
The voice is particularly well suited at the lower end, the less scary end, of the continuum and is GREAT as a prevention strategy. And it’s honestly so much more! I say this all the time. Self-defense is not just knowing how to prevent assault and learn how to defend yourself. It is about knowing that YOU ARE WORTH PROTECTING.
You can use your voice with:
- Friends when they pressure you to do something you don’t want to do
- Family asking you to participate in something you feel is wrong
- Co-workers slacking off or taking credit for your work
- Neighbors who are being loud or inconsiderate
- People at the beach kicking sand on you
- The person in front of you at a game who is wearing a huge hat you can’t see past
- You can use your voice when you are working with a group that is making a decision regarding something you have a strong opinion about
You can use your voice when:
- Someone butts in front of you in line
- Your partner or someone in your family puts you down
- You are confronted by a racist or homophobic or transphobic slur
- Your friends dis your feelings or don’t take your needs into account
- You see your friend, your child, your family member, another human being maligned, berated, disrespected or hurt
- When YOU are demeaned in any way, disrespected, or hurt
See where I’m headed here? None of these situations necessarily qualify as a QUOTE “self-defense situation” per se.
It might, it could, depending on the intensity of the people and the situation, but it very well might not.
But these are the types of circumstances that are important to take note of!
Because this is where empowerment lives. This is where we get to make choices!
If my default is to not use my voice, then I don’t have much of a choice other than to put up with it, walk away or feel like a martyr and get a bunch of resentments.
Ultimately, that choice of no-choice might put me at risk if we keep this within the context of empowerment self-defense.
I don’t know about you but I’ve lived that way and it sucks. Let’s be honest, most things in life are very much out of our control. What you think of me, what you do today, what my neighbors do or believe, that stuff is not in my realm of control. But I CAN affect my own choices, who I let into my personal space, how I keep myself healthy and sane, how I speak up to let others know how I feel. THAT is all stuff I can do! And often, it starts with my VOICE.
On the other hand, and I’ve lived this way too, if my understanding of empowerment is to be aggressive and angry, that can sometimes work, but it can be pretty ineffectual as well – especially with behaviors and situations on the lower end of the continuum.
Let’s take an example from the ones I just mentioned. Say my co-worker keeps using my ideas and touting them as their own. Maybe I have every right to be pissed and maybe I choose to deal with this by raising my voice and creating a scene. That might be what the situation calls for.
But if it’s my default, or if I’ve waited and waited and waited and haven’t spoken up right from the start till I feel like I’m gonna explode? And if this is the extent of the tools in my toolkit? I could lose my job
And if this particular scenario would end better for me with a conversation naming the behavior right from the start and clarifying my boundaries the very first time I notice it happening, then that is a choice I want to be able to make IF I decide it’s in my own best interest.
Does that make sense?
What I’m trying to say here is, as an empowerment self-defense teacher, I want you to have ALL the choices available to you.
The more options the better! The more awareness we have about what’s actually happening, and the more options we have for dealing with them, the more empowered we are, the more able we are to adapt and speak up sooner and more effectively!
THAT is empowerment.
Your self-defense starts the moment you
- are aware of
ANYTHING that makes you uncomfortable! ANYthing that is a red flag, whether your situation is a full-on self-defense-threatening one, or whether it’s just plain annoying.
THAT is when we speak up, create boundaries, call it out, look for support, change it up, step out of the way, leave or anything else the situation calls for. This is often a perfect time to use your voice.
Why do I say this? And if something is simply annoying, why does it bear noticing and responding to? What does this have to do with self-defense?
Remember when we talked about how Stranger Danger is less likely than us being faced with a threat by someone we know?
Well, this is your empowerment self-defense because every time you speak up, create a boundary, stand up for yourself, call out behavior that makes you uncomfortable, you are doing a few things:
- You are creating integrity with yourself. You are showing yourself that you can count on YOU, yourself, to keep your own best interests in mind
- You are proving to yourself in lots of small ways that you are worth taking care of and protecting
- You are practicing speaking up when the stakes are on the lower end, this makes it easier when the stakes are higher because you have this whole body of practice
- You are showing everyone else, that you will do what it takes to step in and take care of yourself. You are making yourself what we call “less selectable”. Think back to the episode on testing. If indeed, someone is checking you out to see how you react when your boundaries are crossed, speaking up early lets them know right away, from the get-go, that you are not a good choice!
No Victim Blaming!
Just a little reminder that there is no victim-blaming here. No judgment. So if you’ve been assaulted and you didn’t speak up, or you tried to speak up, or you DID speak up, what happened was not your fault!
Because of the way it works, sexual assault and violence tend to bring guilt and shame onto the recipient who then bears that weight. I want that to end right here. That guilt and that shame mean we can end up doing all sorts of contortions like:
- pretending it never happened,
- or pushing it deep down inside,
- or blaming ourselves for what happened
- or never talking about it.
And these all carry with them a huge cost to our mental, physical and spiritual selves. Empowerment self-defense is about healing and being able to move on, to step into our own light, our own power, our own lives
Look, you are worth protecting on every level. You deserve to take up space on planet earth. You deserve to breathe the air! And to live a life full of your deepest and truest potential. You are limitless! You deserve to thrive, really thrive!
Empowerment Self-defense can be an important part of that journey. I know it. I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen it hundreds and by now, thousands of times.
Using, really using your voice, in all the amazing and varied ways it can be employed is a huge piece of your self-defense toolkit, so let’s keep going.
Let’s Talk About Different Aspects of Voice
There are lots of things we don’t get to choose about our voice, like the pitch, tonality, timbre, and how the actual physiology of our vocal cords and voice box all work.
But, we DO get to choose how and when we use it and what we say! There are also plenty of ways we can affect and impact how our voice sounds and the way it carries the message we are communicating. We’ll talk about all of it!
Plug for Context
Here’s a little plug for context and a word about judgment. I’d like to see us be mindful about our own judgment of OTHER people’s voices. There are differences in norms in various communities, …across the country and around the globe that influence things like words choices, slang, accents, colloquialisms, tone and so forth.
Keeping context and cultural differences in mind means we can see past some of the stuff that gets in the way of us communicating as human beings with one another. Finding the similarities and seeing the beauty and depth of the differences means we are actually listening, one authentic human to another.
CULTURAL CONTEXT EXAMPLE
Let me give you an example. I spent a year in in Puerto Rico in college, and at first, I was kind of alarmed by the amount of loud arguments I saw across the campus of the University. I felt like everyone around me was always fighting. It made me anxious. When I finally shared that with my roommates, they thought it was hilarious and had a good laugh. “THIS IS HOW WE TALK!” …They showed me that passionate discussion was the norm within the cultural context of that place, that campus, those students. And I grew to love that, love the feeling, the life of the discussions and I learned to throw myself into conversations with a new energy. It was very humbling, fun and inspiring.
PHYSICAL/PHYSIOLOGICAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL components to voice
Let’s talk about the embodiment of this tool, this body weapon, the way your voice is impacted by what is happening with all the different aspects and parts of who you are.
Let’s talk about how the vibration of your voice is affected by your mood and your thoughts and your state of mind. Because it is! Like I said earlier, each of us has a physiology that we can’t do a ton about, but there are many ways we CAN affect the quality of the voice.
If I’m feeling less-than, or unlovable, self-conscious or insecure, this will manifest in my voice. Likewise, if I’m feeling angry or scared, confused or resentful, – or anything! – this can totally affect the way the words come out of my mouth, the way I’m speaking.
Alternatively, if I feel calm, clear, strong, capable, sure, competent and empowered, THAT will be unmistakable my voice, in the WAY I am speaking. In the sound as it is being carried out of me into the world packaged in my words.
Words, we’re going to talk about words in the next episode. This one is about all the other stuff.
What other stuff?
My voice, your voice, our voices are so much more than just the words we say…
The voice has qualities like:
- strength and so much more
Let’s break it down:
TIMBRE or INFLECTION – the color or sound quality of the voice –think about this. I can say the same thing many ways with different results. I’m gonna just pick a simple phrase: “I don’t want to.” Here you go. Listen for the differences in the way I can say this exact same thing.
- Giggles – I don’t want to.
- I don’t want to?
- I don’t want to.
Those are just four examples. But you can hear the difference in the inflection.
PITCH – similar to timbre. Watch for this. In our society – I’ll leave my social commentary on this out for the moment – a lower pitch is associated with more power. So that means if you are small and have a high voice, that can have an impact on the way people interpret what you say. There is a lot about this, the physiology, that we can’t impact but we can lower our voice for a moment to get someone’s attention.
For example, if this is my normal pitch, the one I’m using right now, if I am in a situation where I am not being listened to or if I feel threatened, I might pull it down a bit and say “Hey. Listen. This is NOT OK with me.” And you can hear the pitch lower. That’s a choice I make because I have practiced and know how to use this tool.
VOLUME: – Different volumes are appropriate for different situations. This is TOTALLY something you have the capacity to control and practice.
Down at the lower end of the continuum, I don’t need to be yelling commands at people. If someone makes a comment about my body, I may choose to yell, but if it’s my neighbor and I have to live next door to them, I might be able to say exactly what I need to say without the volume. “Stop talking about my body.” Versus “Shut up you asshole!” It’s YOUR call taking everything into consideration. This is about what is best for YOU!
If my neighbor has, to now, mostly been helpful, letting me borrow their power tools, letting my friends park their cars in front of their house, not banging on my apartment wall when I’m listening to my music really loud…then I might make the call that for me, it’s in my best interest to state my boundaries in a way that is clear as day but doesn’t create a rift deep enough that now, it’s really uncomfortable and I can’t borrow the tools.
In other words, there is no right or wrong, you and only you can make that call after you weigh the possible outcomes. Eventually, you’ll have enough practice that you don’t even have to think about it very much. You’ll become aware and speak up right away with no question. And that will be that!
Now, still on volume, as we move down toward the higher end of the continuum of sexual assault and violence, your voice may need to be louder, you might need to crank up the volume. And I want you to be able to do that anytime, anyplace under any circumstances! There are ways you can practice this and I’ll share them with you in just a sec.
Let’s talk about FORCE – BIGNESS? – Strength – Intensity of your voice – it’s different than volume. More towards resounding like a tiger’s roar than like a screeching bird. Open mouth, open jaw, relax your jaw like when you yawn. I think it goes without saying that when we want to use our voice, our words, as a self-defense tool, strength, intention, intensity is important.
Let’s use the “I don’t want to” example to illustrate this:
I can Whisper – I don’t want to
I can Mumble – I don’t want to
I can use Force – I don’t want to
The strength goes a long way toward conveying the strength of my conviction.
Talk about yelling –
How important it is to KNOW you can yell…
One of the fun things we do in my classes is yell. Sometimes, it’s the first time a person has been given permission to be really loud. Yelling is fun! Being loud feels GOOD!
Yelling is your ability to shout at the top of your lungs whenever you need to. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to practice, I highly recommend it. Yelling is not screeching. Yelling is not howling or wailing or shrieking. Yelling is expelling the air in your lungs with full force through a wide-open mouth, jaw, and throat so that the sound is like a tiger roaring. It’s cathartic, empowering, and can save your bacon. Sorry if you are a vegetarian.
How Do I I play around with my voice to make it resounding or clear and confident?
Sometimes, it takes some internal work – therapy, processing with friends. Getting to a place where you KNOW you have value. You FEEL like you deserve to speak up. Therapy and friends can really help with this.
Take an Empowerment Self-defense class! You knew I was going to say that! But that is a safe place where you get to hit stuff and yell! And in an empowerment class, you are going to get to learn more about your voice and how to use it in lots of different scenarios!
Physical Exercises you can do like:
- voice lessons,
- work with speech and communications specialists,
- using power poses,
- yawning and saying AHHHHHHHHHH,
- waggle your tongue like babies do when they blabber
- Train martial arts So you get to KIYA
Breathing is a huge impactor of the quality of your voice. If your tendency is to hold your breath or talk until you are almost out of breath…this affects the message that comes out with the words
- Use your diaphragm – put your finger right on the point of the upside-down V of your ribs. Breathe past it into your belly. Feel your belly rise and fall. Now, you know you are filling your lungs all the way!
- Practice taking in a deep breath and sustaining your exhale – blow bubbles!
- Exercise! Exercise goes a long way toward building your lungs and your physiology
Practice and Planning
- Role plays – this breeds confidence! Because you go into a situation already knowing what you are going to say!
- writing out what you want to say, ask a friend to listen and help. Ask them to role play with you.
- Practice yelling! in the car, at a professional game or in a gym if you are playing a game, at a protest while you are chanting, if you are out on a hike, yell and listen for your echo.
WORDS are important too.
The words that come out of your mouth can come out in different ways.
- Speed – when people are nervous, we tend to pick up speed.
- Clarity – when we are purposeful in our words, thoughtful and clear, we tend to speak clearly and with fewer of the “umms” and little bits and pieces, stray giggles and odd punctuations we often use when we are unsure.
- Mumbling – tends to happen when we are unsure, insecure
- Strength – Words tend to carry some force and “muscle” when we are sure and feeling forthright and calm.
Wow. I think this is enough for today. I don’t know about you but my head is spinning. Next episode, we’re going to pick up here and talk more about words. What words we can use and how we can practice using them to create safety and empowerment in our lives.
For today, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for listening and for doing what it takes to stand up for yourself. You are worth protecting. And that’s a fact.
Take it easy and see you next time!
And it’s affirmation time. This is how I end every self-defense class. It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s very cool. And this is how it works. We’re going to do like a little call and response. If you can say this out loud. If you can repeat after me, do it because it’s important, I think, for you to hear your own voice. But if you can’t, like if you’re on a crowded subway or someplace where It’s embarrassing, don’t worry, you can also just say it inside your head. Okay, so I’m going to say something and you’re going to repeat it after me. I’m going to give you space to do that. And at the end, we’re going to say “YES”! Here we go.
Repeat after me.
I am worth protecting.
I love myself.
I deserve to take up space on planet Earth.
I am a strong and powerful person.
And hey, as a wrap up, will you do me a favor? Will you do all the things that you do when there’s a podcast like, will you tell your friends, will you subscribe? Will you come back each week? Communicate with me? Review this podcast? Will you please do all the things to help get more bandwidth, help more people find out about this podcast? That would be super awesome!
Take a deep breath. You are amazing. Thank you for being with me. See you next time.