How It Works

  PREPARE Portland’s IMPACT classes are experiential and hands-on. Students learn by doing. We teach practical self-protection strategies that are effective regardless of size, age, ability, or fitness level.  We support people to persevere with positivity as their skills are developing.


THE BEGINNING. Each class begins with students and instructors sitting in a circle. The instructors will tell you about the goals we are setting for that day and for the course overall. In the circle you can talk to us about what we can do to support you in the class.


STEP-BY-STEP TEACHING.   Our classes are organized in layered steps, which will help you get this information into your “muscle memory”, where it will stay— just like learning to ride a bicycle. We don’t throw you in the deep end before teaching you how to swim in the shallow end!


Each time we teach a new technique, it will follow this progression: 


DEMONSTRATION. Instructors will demonstrate a physical or verbal technique. Then we will break the technique into smaller pieces to give you the opportunity to practice each component. During practice, you will receive feedback to help you refine your voice and movements.

DRILLS.  After seeing a physical technique, you will practice in the air, learning what your body is going to be doing.

MORE DRILLS.  After learning a physical technique, you will practice on a pad or piece of the “Suited” instructor’s body armor to see what it’s like to strike a surface full-force.

And sometimes MORE DRILLS.  Many skills are practiced again after a simulation.

SIMULATIONS.  After learning a technique, you will do a simulation where you practice your skills against an assailant or in a situation in which it is necessary to assert yourself when danger is not present.  The “Suited” instructor plays the role of the would-be assailant.  The female instructor (the “Whistle” instructor) stands with you on the mat and supports and coaches you through the scenario. Simulations become more dynamic as your skills improve and your confidence increases.

FEEDBACK.  We recognize that everyone is on their own path of learning. Elements of class that come easily to you might be more difficult for others, and vice-versa. We will give you individual attention to help you meet personal goals and get the most out of your class experience.  After each class segment is completed, the class as a whole will receive general feedback, new goals will be set, and we will move on to the next segment.

GRADUAL PROGRESSION. The techniques you have just learned will be layered into the next segment. As the class progresses, scenarios become more challenging. We will thoroughly prepare you for each phase of the training.


PREPARING FOR CLASS. Come to class wearing comfortable clothing that you can move in, like clothing for yoga or aerobics class (no shorts), t-shirt, and a pair of clean, closed-toe athletic or tennis shoes.  Bring a bottle of water and light, energizing snacks like an energy bar, nuts, fruit, a sandwich, or salad. You will not have time to leave the classroom to get something once we get started.


BREAKS.  There will be a few short breaks during class to eat a snack.


AT THE END OF CLASS EACH DAY Students and instructors will sit in a circle to discuss the class. You will have the opportunity to talk about how you are feeling, if there were any challenges you may have encountered, and anything that you accomplished in class that you feel proud of. There might be a lot!  


SUPPORTIVE CLASS ENVIRONMENT.   PREPARE Portland offers a physically safe and emotionally supportive space. It is normal to feel anxiety or apprehension when you are learning to deal with stressful situations, and we are here to guide you through this experience while respecting your personal boundaries.

Students are encouraged to cheer for each other and be part of creating a positive learning environment. You learn more in a group than you could individually. Students actually teach each other through the example of their unique scenarios every time they step on the mat. By watching the experiences of each individual student, the class as a whole learns more than what they could personally experience themselves in the context of their own scenarios.


SUITED INSTRUCTOR. Students practice verbal skills in realistic role-playing scenarios. The “Suited” instructors create characters – would-be-assailants or people in our everyday lives with whom we need to set boundaries.  The Suited instructors react realistically to what students say and do so that students practice the skills in a dynamic way. The reason these instructors are called “Suited” is that they wear customized protective armor for some of the simulations. When we do role-plays to practice physical skills, the armor and the instructors’ training in receiving strikes allows the students to practice full-force, training our muscle memory to do the moves with all-out effort. The way you train is apt to be the way you will respond in a real situation. IMPACT trains students to respond appropriately and effectively to realistic, dynamic scenarios so that students are well prepared for real-life situations.


ADRENALINE.  Because of the realism of the simulations, our students experience the body’s adrenaline response: the condition we experience when facing fear or stressful situations.  Adrenaline prepares our bodies for decisive physical action (i.e. “fight or flight”).  Reason, logic, and fine motor skills are not available when we are adrenalized.  The part of the brain that is available and working (the “mammalian brain”) – what we refer to as the “subconscious” – is the part that controls our actions. The stress (and for some of us, the trauma) we have already experienced in our lives has conditioned our brains to react in the way we reacted during that stressful (or traumatic) experience(s). Our goal is to replace the subconscious information or trauma currently stored in your brain with clear and easy responses to most kinds of verbal or physical assault. As you defend yourself in the scenarios, the lead instructor may modify your technique. The brain will receive this information and incorporate it into muscle memory. In this way, the class conditions our brains to react effectively in stressful situations so that we do not have to rely on inaccessible reason and logic.


BEYOND PERSONAL SAFETY TO PERSONAL GROWTH.   Graduates often tell us that they have become more self-confident and find it easier to speak up for themselves. Some feel they have finally healed from past trauma.  Many are surprised to find that they are suddenly thinking clearly under everyday stressful situations, at work or with family.

IMPACT gives people the experience of being scared and powerful at the same time. As with everything, practice creates more familiarity and comfort with things that were once uncomfortable. Our students don’t stop feeling adrenaline (and we wouldn’t want them to), but they do develop skill in managing it – taking advantage of its benefits and mitigating its challenges. The more you practice difficult, stressful things in healthy, appropriate ways, the better prepared you will be if and when you need to call on those skills in your everyday life.
As some graduates put it, once you have knocked out someone bigger than you who intended to hurt you, it’s a lot easier to “just” have a hard conversation with your boss or mother.

What happens during simulations is that students become adrenalized (they feel fear, higher cognitive functions are limited), and then experience tremendous success, power, and accomplishment when they defend themselves. Our bodies and mammalian brains don’t know the difference between a real assault and a mock assault, so our students’ bodies and subconscious experience and record success after success. A sense of success on this level often ripples into unexpected aspects of people’s lives and relationships, and how they feel about themselves. Graduating from an IMPACT class gives students evidence that they are brave, strong, and capable even when the situation is hard and they feel fear.