– Episode One –

Welcome! Introduction and getting on the same page

About The Empowerment Podcast

The Empowerment Project Logo

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.

Other Episodes You Might Like...

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 53

Stephanie Cyr has started an Empowerment Self Defense Program at SFSU that is rolling out in the Fall of 2024! In this episode, she’ll tell us all about it, share a wonderful self-defense success story and so much more. Our wide-ranging conversation covers how great it will be when we can make ESD a standardized course offering in all public schools and how ESD can impact health, along with positivity and lots of hope for the future of this movement.

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 52

Success Story – Complying & Playing Along

Did you know that complying and playing along are essential tools you already have in your toolkit? It can help us buy time to get help or get to safety. Join host Silvia Smart as she shares how one person “played along” to stop an attempted rape and get to safety.

Our stories are important. YOUR stories are important! Consider sharing your story with me and with my listeners.

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 51

Host Silvia Smart and author Lauren Taylor discuss this newly released book which is an excellent resource for everyone – those interested in empowerment, in self-defense and instructors of ESD as well. Join Silvia and Lauren as they do some of the exercises in the book and chat about the ins and outs of this fascinating publication worthy of a read!

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 48

Finding Empowerment within the Upsetting Context of Mass Shootings – an Interview with SAC Kieran Ramsey, FBI Portland

There’s a clear uptick in mass shootings across the country leading to lots of fear, confusion and anguish. Who better to talk to than the FBI? Join me and my guest, Special Agent in Charge of the Portland FBI, Kieran Ramsey.

We discuss how regular people like you and me can help prevent mass shootings and play a role in stopping this disturbing cycle of violence. (Hint: it will not make the news.) We discuss the ins and outs, ups and downs of knowing what to look for, fact versus myth, reporting, planning, preparation and yes, believe it or not, empowerment!

Many thanks to SAC Ramsey for sharing his experience and wisdom as we negotiate the complex landscape we all live in right now.

Please share this episode far and wide. Together, we can create a kinder and safer world, one relationship at a time. We’ve got this!

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
• Call 911
• Call Your Local Non-Emergency Police Phone Number: Directory by City
• Report to the FBI
• Contact Your Local FBI Field Office
• FBI Phone #: 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324)

Connect with Silvia
Trauma Informed Active Shooter Trainings with Silvia

Special thanks to my editor, Henry Smart-Denson

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 47

Folks, Florida is on the front lines right now. There are huge safety concerns brought on by the cruel laws, restrictions, rhetoric, and policies of Ron DeSantis and his friends that are affecting many people. Because of this, Equality Florida, along with the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, have all issued travel advisories for the State of Florida.

I wanted to find out more and am thrilled to introduce you to Brandon Wolf, the Press Secretary of Equality Florida.

In April 2023, Brandon’s organization, Equality Florida warned against traveling to the state of Florida for folks in the LGBTQ+ community saying it could be risky and potentially unsafe. The warning says: “Taken in their totality, Florida’s slate of laws and policies targeting basic freedoms and rights pose a serious risk to the health and safety of those traveling to the state.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens issued its own warning, saying bluntly: “Traveling to Florida is dangerous.” The advisory goes on to say travel in Florida “can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent, and international travelers,” and people in those groups could face “a heightened risk of harassment, possible detainment, and potential family separation based on racial profiling.”

From the New York Times: The NAACP became the latest to issue a travel advisory to the Sunshine State, warning that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools” have turned the state into an openly hostile place for people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 46

Denial, Safety, and Empowerment – If we’re gonna talk about Empowerment Self Defense, we have to talk about denial. When talking with survivors of sexual assault and survivors of other types of relational violence it is common to hear that the survivor had a funny feeling something was wrong but then doubted themselves or rationalized or minimized their intuition and flat out ignored it. This is called denial.

Denial can put us at risk and because of that, breaking through denial in all the ways it manifests in our lives keeps us safer. Period. Looking at and talking about denial is directly connected to empowerment self-defense AND to our safety as we walk through the world.

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 45

Meet Jill Shames, Empowerment Self Defense Instructor. Listen in as she and host, Silvia Smart, share a few self-defense success stories and talk about all the things the survivors did RIGHT! Find out why they recommend a perspective shift as you think through your own experiences! You are strong and powerful and Jill and Silvia believe in you!

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 44

Meet Lauren Taylor who has been working to end gender-based violence since 1978, when she co-founded Washington, D.C.’s first shelter for abused women. As an empowerment self-defense teacher and founder-director of Defend Yourself, she’s trained more than 35,000 people in the D.C. area and elsewhere in the U.S. She’s also trained dozens of trainers around the country and around the world.

Join us as we find out more about Lauren and what makes her tick. Learn about the book she co-authored with Nadia Telsey, which will be published in the fall! Importantly, follow the links here to learn how to pre-order the book and support this important work!

The Empowerment Podcast – Episode 43

I Survived a Cult
Join host Silvia Smart as she shares pieces of her journey to empowerment and survival from a cult-like martial arts system. Listen to the red flags that crop up around these dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous systems and people.

Cults and charismatic leaders with ill intent are everywhere – Qanon, NXIVM, Scientology, and The Children of God, are just a few examples. Cults and narcissistic, manipulative, and sociopathic leaders exist within conspiratorial cultures, churches, and spiritual groups. People get stuck in these systems – especially when they are vulnerable. Learn the signs so you can protect yourself and stay safe.

Audio Transcription


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.

I have so much content bumping around in my head. It was time to download it into this format where more people can use it and benefit from it. This is about interrupting the cycle of violence and keeping you safer. It’s not the kind of information I want to keep to myself.

Host Introduction

First of all, I want to introduce myself to you let you know who I am and why I’m here.

  • I train a martial art called Poekoelan which comes from Indonesia. It’s very traditional, and it’s based in self-defense. It’s fierce and its fearless. We do a lot of fighting. I’ve been training this martial art since 1987, and I’m a sixth degree black belt in this art.
  • I also have my own martial arts school. It’s called Naga and that means dragon in Indonesian. I have my own Students and also use my school as a place where I teach self-defense. I’ll go into that in just a second.
  • But I wanted you also to know that I have my master’s degree in education. I always knew that I wanted to teach, but found out I was way happier teaching on the mat, then I was in a classroom.
  • I’ve been teaching self-defense for 30 years plus, and initially took a two-year certification course.
  • Since then, like I said before, I’ve been teaching at my school, out in the community, at companies like Nike, Doc Marten, at the FBI, at various nonprofits and organizations, private groups, schools, you name it, if you want self-defense, I’ll teach you.
  • It was an honor to be nationally recognized. Earlier this year, I was inducted into the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors Hall of Fame in the class of 2020. That was really cool.
  • I’m also looking at the final stages of national self-defense certification through the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation.

Educating Myself

Since I’m introducing myself and this podcast to you, I figured you’d want to know how I educate myself. How do I make sure I’m teaching the truest information, the best skills and strategies, the stuff that’s really going to work?

  • I stay up to date by working with other self-defense instructors, amazing ones from around the country.
  • I have a connection with the Portland FBI headquarters. In the past, if I’ve had specific questions about what I’m teaching or a particular strategy or my data, I’ll ask an agent and see what they have to say.
  • I talk with other martial artists around the country and find out what they’re teaching what works for their students, what are their best practices? What do they feel is the most important stuff to teach, how do they feel about self-defense? I think that’s really important.
  • Myths around sexual assault and violence abound in our society, so I do a ton of reading and research. This helps me separate bullshit from actual facts so I can teach to what’s actually happening and leave the BS behind.
  • I use a critical eye when I watch movies and listen to the news, and explore publications and public forums like social media and popular culture. I take a look at that and what messages we’re all receiving.
  • If there’s a documentary out there that has anything to do with this topic. I watch it. Sometimes I blog about it.
  • People in my self-defense classes, always come back to me and tell me stories about situations they’ve encountered, what they did about it and what worked. I am getting feedback on what I’m teaching. I’m constantly getting feedback.

I guess you could say that I’m a self-defense geek. For sure you can say that this is my life’s work. This is my passion. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I love to do. It’s what I am. I feel like my soul is calling me to do this work. It is important to me. It matters to me that I do a good job for you. It matters to me that I know what I’m talking about, that I’ve done my research, that I am sharing my experience and that the information I’m giving you is true, important and the best that I can possibly give you.

Inclusion Statement

I read a disclaimer before my classes and I think it would be good to say it right here:

Every participant brings with them a unique perspective, life story and individual awareness of our place in the world of politics and power, which informs our understanding of violence and safety. As an expert in self-defense, and empowerment training, I’m doing my best to understand how these differences affect not just my teaching, but all of us in this shared space. I teach universal tools and concepts you can use in your everyday life as you move through the world. My hope is that you find this to be a safe space. Thank you for your trust, and welcome.

What is my Bias?

I thought it would be a good idea to tell you what you can expect from listening to the various episodes of this podcast. But first, since this is our introduction, and you’re just meeting me for the first time, I thought it would be also good to lay down my bias, so you know upfront what I believe in, what my values are, and what my perspective is.

Men need to stop raping. Yes, women perpetrate violence to but in far fewer numbers. Men are perpetrators most of the time in fact When we look at statistics, it’s like, almost 100%. It’s like 96% of perpetrators are men. Until they stop this madness. Those of us in vulnerable populations can learn to protect ourselves.

No Victim Blaming

That does not mean that when assault happens, it’s our fault because we did, or we didn’t take a class. Because we did or didn’t use what we were taught. No. To be clear, you, me, all of us. None of us asked to be assaulted. None of us the fault. The blame? It lies directly in the hands and at the feet of the assailant. Period.

To be clear, this is a safe space. No victim blaming here not ever. What is victim blaming? Here’s an example because in our culture We often blame the victim and it drives me nuts. Here’s an example:

Say my husband, Jeff, is walking around in downtown Portland. Maybe he’s looking for the best birthday present he can find me. I don’t know. But say he’s walking around and he gets mugged. Someone attacks him, takes his wallet and runs. Victim blaming would be to say to my husband, something like this. “Well, Honey, what did you expect? Why were you walking around downtown with your wallet in your pocket? That’s ridiculous. You know that. That’s just inviting mugging!”

Right? Does that make sense? That is what victim blaming is. And I don’t do it. Not ever.

No Guarantee/An Interruption

Learning about self-defense is no guarantee but I firmly believe and I have experienced that self-defense is an interruption. What do I mean by that? Taking classes, thinking about strategies, practicing, planning, implementing and integrating empowerment self-defense strategies works to interrupt the cycle of violence and it keeps us safer. We’ll have lots of episodes dedicated to the research and experience which backs this up. But in the meantime, here’s my bottom line. I believe you are worth protecting. And if there is anything that I can do to help you in that quest, I will do it because I believe it and it bears repeating. You are worth protecting.

Okay, take a deep breath.

I often stop and take a deep breath.

What we’re talking about violence, sexual assault, it’s sometimes hard to listen It’s hard to think about. And an antidote to the feelings that crop up is breathing.

I do it a lot, like, intentionally Take a deep breath. I’m going to remind us occasionally to do that.

My Goals for this Podcast

Since this is the first episode, and it’s an introduction, I wanted to let you know some of the things I’ll be teaching and what my goals are for our time together.

  • First off, my goal is that you feel empowered. Right? The name of this podcast is not “Be More Fearful”. It’s not anything like that. It’s “The Empowerment Project”. My goal really is that with the tools, with the knowledge, armed with in real information, real facts, you can make choices and feel less fearful and more empowered. That’s my goal.
  • We’re going to talk about violence and sexual assault, what it looks like how it’s perpetrated, who the perpetrators are, what kind of behaviors and types of manipulation they use.
  • And in the face of all of that, I’m going to teach you how to keep yourself safer. I’m going to give you a basic understanding of facts, expand your skills and strategies. This is what I like to call your self-defense toolkit. In fact, I want to focus on one or two tools for your toolkit.
  • I’m going to drop names of books and resources throughout each episode.
  • We’ll interview self-defense instructors who are doing amazing work, and you’ll hear from survivors who have faced down violence and want to share with you what worked.
  • If you get inspired and you want to find a place to practice these skills and the physical skills that come along with empowerment self-defense, in a safe, empowering and supportive of environment, I’ll tell you about programs out there that I trust.

Getting on the Same Page

Today in this intro, I want to take just a little time to get us on the same page and set the stage for the rest of our time together.

There was a study done a while back, some social scientists did a gender study. They took young men and women from various places around the country and separated them by gender then asked a variety of different questions to the young men and to the young women. They found a lot of interesting things. But the one that I find most interesting, the one that pertains specifically to self-defense was the question about fear. They asked the young men and young women the same question about fear. What they asked was, “If you’re thinking about the opposite sex, what brings you the most fear? What’s the scariest thing that they could do?”

Across the board. The young men said things like, “I’m afraid that I’m going to ask someone out, and she’s gonna laugh at me.” “I’m afraid that they’ll humiliate me.” “I’m afraid that she’s going to tell her girlfriends and they’re all going to think I’m stupid, because I asked her out.”, Relational types of things, reputational types of fears, right?

They asked the same question to the young women and across the board, the young women had the same fears: rape, torture, and murder. So, what you can see from those responses is that we walk through the world with a different lens, a different filter, a different perspective. The fear that we hold is very different. And the fear that women hold, in particular with regards to this study, affects every part of our life in so many ways.

Not every woman is affected in the same ways, and some men have the same fears. But just this one particular study, I think is so interesting.

To make it clear, although women are assaulted at higher rates than men, men are assaulted to. There’s a really interesting book, and this particular study is cited in that book. It’s a book by Gavin de Becker. And it’s either in “The Gift of Fear”, which is a great book, or in “Protecting the Gift”, which is also a good book, but is more focused on children. If you have a sec, grab one of those books and read it. Gavin de Becker. Laying the groundwork, that’s an interesting study as it looks at this lens of fear.

Power Dynamics

But there are other ways that I want to continue to get us on the same page for the rest of our time together, which is power dynamics. What do I mean by that? Power dynamics play a role in how people experience violence and sexual assault. We could talk all day about power imbalances, racial inequality, homophobia, transgender violence, poverty, people experiencing homelessness. We could talk about how children are so very vulnerable in our society, they’re vulnerable to sexual assault and human trafficking. Not to mention elder abuse.

I mean, there’s so much. In fact, over the course of our time together, we’re going to break violence apart, and we’re going to look at it from a variety of different perspectives. In some instances, the tools for various populations will be universal, but there will also be times when we need to be a little more specific. I don’t want to bore you with a ton of statistics, so I’m going to pick just a few examples to illustrate my point on power dynamics so you can see what I’m talking about.

First, take a deep breath because these statistics aren’t always easy to hear. In fact, they’re not easy to hear. Deep breath.

  • One out of three girls and one out of five boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. That’s from an organization called Do Something.
  • As we know people experiencing homelessness faced harassment, verbal and physical abuse, intimidation, threats and murder.
  • Hate Crimes and violence against the LGBTQ community is a global issue. It’s reached horrendous proportions. Estimates by the CDC are that nearly half of all lesbians bisexual women, gay, bisexual men and transgender and queer people have experienced violence. Fifty percent! But get this, the numbers among transgender Black, Indigenous People of Color is even higher, it’s 65%.

By the way, we can do our best to find statistics. But in many cases, these crimes go unreported or at least underreported. That means the numbers that we have, just begin to scratch the surface. This is a lot, right? This is getting us on the same page. These are just a few examples. But basically, in a nutshell, people in vulnerable communities have to deal with violence at incredibly high rates.

Historically, violence and sexual assault is nothing new. This has been going on for centuries since the dawn of time. Rape is an act of war. Domestic Violence has been around for ages and eons. Terror and sexual assault on women and marginalized communities is nothing new. It’s been going on. It continues.

Take a deep breath.

Here we go. And here’s my point.

At its deepest and most internal gut level, self-defense is about empowerment. It’s about living fearlessly, and confronting the dynamics of power, even in the little things – when it’s safe to do so. And I have to add that caveat, because sometimes speaking up puts us at risk. So that’s a call each of us has to make, but it’s one I just want to mention. It’s always in our hands.

This violence this sexual assault is not going to end let’s be clear until men stop raping until haters stop hating, period. And as a reminder, people who are assaulted or not to blame. Never.

This is also part of my point, self-defense becomes community. And by that, I mean, it’s incredible to find support and be supported by other people who are doing the same work. When each of us is fully empowered, when we stand up, speak up, make our voices heard, when we hold space for the voices of people who are vulnerable, when we hold hands with our brothers and sisters, we can face down this dysfunctional balance of power and the violence that goes with it.

People this shift is deep. It’s internal, intentional, and I believe in us. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in us together. Self Defense has the power to change your life from this day forward. And by the way, not just for you, but for your kids, your family, your friends, your co-workers, everyone you come into contact with from now on, period.

Take a deep breath and let that sink in.

Self Defense as Healing

We’re almost at wrap up time. But there’s one more thing I want to mention just to get us on the same page. And that’s this: Self Defense is healing. It can be really healing work. It’s not therapy. In fact, most self-defense teachers I know are not therapists. I know I’m not a therapist, but there’s a component of processing and healing that comes with this work.

Trauma is stored in the body. We know this. There’s a really great book called “The Body Keeps the Score” by Russell Van der Kirk. I recommend it. He talks about how our neurons are imprinted with patterns of trauma that keep reactivating in our body and our mind. We know about muscle memory and how trauma can be stored in various and sundry parts of the body, in specific areas. Self-defense work is really cool because it affects us on not just a psychological, psychic, mental plane, but also physical. That’s why I always say, this information is crucial to your self-defense. But the physical practice is really important too. It’s cathartic. You’re yelling, you’re hitting pads, you’re empowering your body and your soul. And so it all comes together in this beautiful package of healing.

Those of us who have experienced trauma in the past find healing through this work. And those of us who have experienced any sort of – even like minute – trauma on the continuum of sexual assault and violence also can experience healing and empowerment in this very deep altering way. This is so inspiring for me as a self-defense teacher. It’s what keeps me excited about this work. Watching people just step into their power is so cool. I love it so much you can tell, it’s true.

Wrap Up

So, we’re at wrap up time. One last thing, just to say it again, just to be clear. You are worth protecting in all ways, in every way. I believe in you. Next week, I want to talk about this thing I just mentioned this continuum of sexual assault and violence, because I want to start to pull apart what it looks like, what violence looks like at its most minute, but also at its most ugly. This continuum is going to give us a common vocabulary kind of a language, as we talk about your toolkit. Because depending on what’s happening, and where it lands on this continuum, it’s gonna affect how you want to respond, and which tools work best. So, it’s really cool. We’re going to talk about it next week.

But right now we’re wrapping up. 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 belong.

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.