Chimera is a self-defense class teaching effective safety and self-defense skills designed for women, emphasizing self-empowerment and assertiveness.

Developed in the 1970s, Chimera first began in Chicago and later opened up chapters throughout the United States, Chimera instructor Natalie DeMaioribus said. Now, the Chimera program at the Rape Crisis Center in Madison is the last existing chapter in the country .

The classes are dispersed sporadically throughout the year and average 15 people per class, but the cap is 25, DeMaioribus said. Annually about 200 people take public Chimera classes.

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To build trust, Chimera groups begin and end with the same participants, DeMaioribus said. There are no drop-ins or observers, and the classes are strictly women only.

“Often it’s a very intense, emotional place for people who take the class,” DeMaioribus said. “It’s really important this is a safe place for them to express their fears and deal with their emotions with the larger group.”

The classes teach a variety of self-defense techniques, DeMaioribus said. Chimera does not focus on giving students a “script” to follow based on specific situations, but rather provides a variety of tools so that people have options to build-up their own defenses.

Chimera teaches physical techniques, like strikes and ground-fighting, which can be utilized in a violent or physical confrontation, DeMaioribus said. It also teaches hold-breaking, moves designed to break free from an attacker. These moves range from hugs to chokeholds and everything in-between.

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“It’s useful because it makes students feel much more confident,” DeMaioribus.

DeMaioribus emphasized Chimera spends a lot of time on learning assertiveness. How to stand, structure language and eye-contact are all components of assertiveness, she said.

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“Setting boundaries sounds ordinary,” DeMaioribus said, “It doesn’t sound like self-defense, but it’s something most women don’t know how to do effectively.”

A red flag of when to act further or seek help is when you assert yourself and say what you want, DeMaioribus said, and the person continues to disregard your wishes.

Chimera not only teaches assertiveness and physical defense mechanisms, but also focuses on the psychology of violence and attackers, DeMaioribus said.

DeMaioribus referenced a move called “the five-point stance,” which is effective if someone is following you. Point your hips, shoulders and face directing the person who is following you, and ask, “Are you following me?” She said people are shocked by this confidence and will usually leave you alone.

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“If you can get an attacker to leave you alone before they start the attack, that’s really the ultimate self-defense,” DeMaioribus said.

DeMaioribus noted there has been a spike in class attendance in late summer and early fall. Parents are enrolling their daughters who are college freshman in preparation for the school year, she said.

Most of the public classes Chimera hosts are near Meriter Hospital, DeMaioribus said. A fair number of University of Wisconsin students attend those classes.

“I wish the NAT or the SERF would consider having Chimera classes for students,” DeMaioribus said. “People need to know you have a right to draw a line, and it’s not ok to push past that line.”

Chimera will host workshops on campus Nov. 11 at Gordon’s Commons, and has more public classes available near Meriter Hospital Nov. 5 and Nov. 12. Pre-registration is required for the classes near Meriter.