INTRODUCTION TO “NOT ME!” SELF-DEFENSE TRAINING
After hearing about Al Horner’s self-defense classes for women, I sat in on one of his training sessions and came away determined to publicize his work. That resolve resulted in this feature article I wrote for Twin Cities Business magazine.
This is perhaps the most important article I’ve ever written. I wish Al could reach every woman out there with his critically important, self-empowering message and techniques. Please pass this link along to the women in your life.
NOTE: “Not Me!” online training is now available. CLick here for details.
Former Navy SEAL Al Horner is on a mission to train people how to avoid or escape life-threatening assaults
It was 3 a.m. and Carrie Donovan couldn’t sleep. She and a friend had flown to Manzanillo, Mexico, to spend a few days at a private residence in a beachfront gated community. Since she had the luxury of sleeping in, she slipped downstairs in the dark to gaze out at the moonlit ocean. Outside by the pool, a man walked by. Must be the security guard, she thought. He wasn’t. The next thing she knew, the man had come through a side door and was in the living room. “I jumped up and said, ‘What the bleep are you doing in here?’” Donovan recalls. “He grabbed my throat in one hand, pulled out a machete and backed me down on the couch. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is a bad movie, this can’t be happening.’”
Reeking of alcohol, the intruder started to slide Donovan’s pajama bottoms down. In that instant, Al Horner’s face popped into her mind. She heard Horner’s voice saying, “Do something now or risk getting killed.” Reflexively, she grabbed the machete blade with her left hand and began screaming for her friend who was sleeping upstairs. The man took off running.
A few days later, back in the U.S., Donovan and her husband dropped in on Horner in his Minneapolis office. “There was no way I could not go and acknowledge Al since it was he who saved my life,” Donovan says. “If I wouldn’t have had his training a few months earlier, I would have thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do in this situation; do I just lay quietly?’ But no, Al said you’ve got to do something. I severed the tendons in three fingers that will never go straight again but I can deal with that. I’m so proud of myself for doing what I had to do. If I can do it, any woman can.”
Until Donovan showed up in his office that day in 2005, Horner had no intention of turning his self-defense class into a business. He was too busy running Minneapolis-based Aaron Carlson, a $15 million architectural woodworking company he had purchased in 1995 and turned into the largest custom woodworking shop in Minnesota. Horner, a former Navy SEAL, had only begun training people earlier that year because a friend, Pat Fallon, now chairman emeritus of the eponymous advertising agency he founded, had asked him to teach his college-bound daughter and her friends some self-defense skills. Three weeks later, Fallon’s daughter was loading the back of her station wagon by Lake Harriet when a man came up from behind, lifted her skirt and grabbed her. She spun around, ready to protect herself, and the man ran off.
Grateful, Fallon asked Horner to conduct a session for the women in his downtown Minneapolis office, one of whom was Donovan, Fallon’s Director of Office Administration. “I consider the safety of our people as part of my responsibility, so I wanted to do everything I could to make sure they’re safe,” Fallon says. “No matter what else comes of this training, it’s been worth it just for Carrie and her family.”
After receiving a thank you hug from Fallon’s daughter and a tearful visit from Donovan, Horner knew he had no choice but to answer this new calling. “It took me by surprise when Carrie and her husband came to my office with her hand all bandaged up from fingertip to elbow,” Horner says. “The three of us were crying as they told me her story, and then they each gave me a big hug. I thought, ‘You know, I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This stuff really works.’”
Five years later, Horner has built “this stuff” into Not Me! LLC, a rapidly growing business offering mixed-gender self-defense training to clients such as General Mills, M&I Bank, Medtronic, Edina Realty and Ryan Construction. “The name Not Me! represents the courage and inner strength necessary to resist when threatened,” Horner says. “It represents the power that comes from knowledge, and a person’s refusal to be a victim.”
Horner, who brought on board three more instructors and a business development professional, has already trained more than 3,000 people in the Twin Cities. He wrote a book titled Not Me! and hosts a weekly Internet radio show that garners 40,000 listeners a week. “I don’t know where this is going to go but I don’t have to push it or feed it,” Horner says. “Women tell women, now men are telling men, and it just keeps growing on its own momentum.”
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EVOLUTION OF A BUSINESS
Horner started Not Me! by following his heart so it’s fitting that his business took off following his open-heart surgery. In May 2007, after an aortic aneurysm, Horner had his aortic valve and ascending aorta replaced. His wife, Diane, and son, Jason, ran Aaron Carlson while he recuperated that summer.
If not for Horner’s health crisis, Not Me! would not be the thriving enterprise it is today. “When I came back to work in September, I realized that my son and my wife were doing a fabulous job running the business,” Horner says. “I had just turned 60, Jason was in his prime and we were talking about a transition anyway, so the smart thing for me to do was just to stay the heck out of his way.”
Horner suddenly found himself with time on his hands. He continued going to the office four days a week but left the day-to-day operations to Jason, involving himself only in the company’s strategic planning. Though he is hesitant to ascribe the unfolding of events to fate, Horner began to see order emerging from the rubble that had been his comfort zone. “It seemed to me there might be something going on here where I had this heart event that took me out of the game after I had begun helping people be safer,” he muses. “And then I was presented with an opportunity to throw myself into writing Not Me! because I was no longer needed in the business as much and I wanted to get the training to women who couldn’t come to the classes. It seemed like the stars were lining up. The book was well received and the training started taking off, so I’ve just replaced the business energy I had invested at Aaron Carlson with the same energy devoted to Not Me!”
Horner quickly discovered, however, that no matter how much energy he poured into his fledgling business, he couldn’t keep up with all the inquiries generated by the distribution of his book. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is growing, the only question is am I going to suffocate it by making it a one-man show?’” Horner recalls. “If I was going to be true to my mission of empowering people, preventing pain and saving lives, I had to reach as many people as I could.”
Enter Alison James, who called Horner after attending a training session to tell him, “I feel called to be involved in this; I can’t imagine not helping women know that this training is available.” In April 2009, Horner put James to work as an outreach and development specialist, following up on leads, booking classes and introducing Not Me! to the Twin Cities business community.
Hiring James, however, created another problem. Teaching the classes was so emotionally draining that Horner couldn’t keep up with the demand. “We want participants to know what’s it like, both emotionally and physically, to face a threat,” Horner says. “As the instructor, I have to make that feeling real by sending threatening vibes to these women. But emoting that threat turned out to be very draining. I would literally need a day to recover from the emotional drain and the physical interaction.”
The word of mouth that filled Horner’s classes also brought him three passionate advocates for personal safety whom he could train as instructors. Diane Aulik, a produce manager for Lund’s and Byerly’s, came aboard in mid-2008. As a young woman, Aulik was raped at gunpoint. “I’ve known Diane for a long time and when she found out I was doing this, she said, ‘I want to be a part of helping women be safer, especially young professional women who are out on their own and are so vulnerable,’” Horner says.
Next to join the team was Roman Postle, who leads a group of IT professionals at Wells Fargo. Postle had 20 years experience in martial arts and had spent the last couple of years teaching women’s self-defense. “Roman read my book and said, ‘After 20 years of martial arts training and teaching, this is precisely the right philosophy,’” Horner says.
Kassandra Moore, who runs the SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) and SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) programs for 11 area hospitals, is the latest to join Not Me! Moore organizes, trains and leads a group of nurses who respond to calls from area hospitals when a sexual assault victim comes in. “Kassie and her team see hundreds and hundreds of assault victims every year,” Horner says. “She understands the real world of female and male sexual assault in a way that nobody else can because she lives in that world every day.”
The cost for Not Me! training is $60 per participant. Many companies pay 100 percent of the training costs, but some choose to arrange, host and sponsor the training while asking employees to pay part or all of the fee themselves. To further defray costs, some companies begin the training mid-afternoon so that half of the session takes place on the employees’ time.
General Mills employees are safer today thanks to Jill Robinson’s moment of terror in a superstore retailer’s parking lot. At nine o’clock on a winter night last year, Robinson, a Senior Scientist II in the General Mills Food Service division, was buckling her eldest son into her minivan. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw a very tall, authoritative gentleman walking briskly and purposefully toward my van,” Robinson says. “There weren’t many other cars parked nearby, so not only did I panic but I felt immobilized by fear. He walked right past us but came within two feet of me, completely invading my personal space. I went home and cried to my husband because I had visions of this gentleman pushing me into my minivan and taking off with me and my child, never to see my family again.”
As luck would have it, one of Robinson’s friends was setting up a group session with Horner and invited her along after hearing what had happened. “The class had a profound effect on my life,” Robinson says. “I’ve participated in self-defense programs before but nothing to this caliber. Al and his team taught me the skills necessary to get over that paralysis of fear.”
Robinson was so impressed with the class that she considered it her duty “as a humanitarian” to help spread the word. She had an enthusiastic ally in her husband, Jason, a Senior Engineer II at General Mills, who immediately brought Horner in to conduct training for frequent travelers employed in his International R&D division.
Robinson’s own division vice president enthusiastically agreed to incorporate Horner’s training into the group’s comprehensive safety and wellness programs. Four training classes have been completed so far and Robinson has fielded numerous inquiries from other divisions interested in booking sessions. “I wanted to share this and get the word out and do my best to protect my coworkers, who I care about deeply,” Robinson says. “I’m glad that General Mills is receptive to bringing in great programs that help their employees lead healthier, safer lives. At first, I had to rally to get people to participate, but then word spread like wildfire and helped populate the other classes.”
Those classes were easier to fill because they were open to both men and women. Until then, Horner had designed and conducted his training sessions exclusively for women. When General Mills asked Not Me! to conduct mixed-gender training, Horner and his team analyzed each component and realized that what they were teaching women was completely transferable to men. “Even though women are 20 times more likely to face a personal sexual assault than men, being alert to your surroundings, knowing what’s going on and responding appropriately is your first line of defense in every type of situation for both genders,” Horner says.
Mixed-gender training also makes good business sense, considering that many businesses sponsor company-wide wellness weeks and safety months. From a budget standpoint, it’s also easier to get a program approved if it’s all-inclusive.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Craig Claude, a Corporate Chef in Robinson’s division, believes men may benefit even more than women from Horner’s training. “Guys sometime think they’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof when in fact they’re often not aware enough of their own surroundings to know whether they’re in harm’s way or not,” Claude says. “Al’s got a great program and I recommend it to everybody, guys and gals, to raise their level of awareness. Three hours of Al’s training can certainly be the difference between life and death.”
Brad Chapin, regional president of M&I Bank, agrees. “We thought there was a lot of value, particularly for our female employees, in what Al was teaching,” says Chapin who brought in Horner for a series of sessions in 2008 to train nearly 150 employees. “We have employees who work late or get in early, and sometimes they find themselves alone in a parking lot.”
Chapin’s instincts are dead on. According to Department of Justice statistics, the most common place for assaults outside the home is around cars. “If I had to pick one thing that brings women to our class, it’s parking lots and parking ramps,” Horner says. “That’s the biggest fear, getting to and from their car safely as they go to and from work.”
The feedback Chapin received from bank employees was so encouraging that he’s planning on bringing Horner back for more mixed-gender training. “One of our employees called me and said, ‘Here is a hug from me coming through the phone to you,’” Chapin says. “That’s how meaningful it was to these women that we would offer them this kind of opportunity. This kind of a program is good for our employees; and if it’s good for our employees, it’s good for our business.”
That’s a key point, and one that male business leaders in particular tend to overlook. “Every time female employees walk out the front door, they experience a risk and a related fear that men can’t relate to,” Horner says. “To women managers it’s real, but men don’t have a clue because it’s not our world. So when guys like Brad Chapin and Pat Fallon care enough about their female employees to recognize this very real issue, and are enlightened and courageous enough to take action by arranging this training, it creates a sense of gratitude, respect and loyalty that may not have existed before.”
KEEPING IT REAL
Not Me! three-hour training sessions cover two topics: how to avoid assaults and how to escape from those that can’t be avoided. If that sounds like traditional self-defense training, think again. Most such training is either martial arts oriented or a list of do’s and don’ts taught by law enforcement officers. The first two hours of a Not Me! three-hour session cover avoidance and prevention; the final hour teaches Horner’s two signature moves—the cat move and the rag doll (see sidebar article at the end of this article). “There’s a lot more to being safe than kicking and punching,” Horner says. “We give people the know-how to avoid, manage and react to a variety of real-life, dangerous situations.”
Horner’s team analyzed hundreds of assaults and identified the two patterns that assaults follow. Attacks by people the victim knows follow a pattern called CIA: Connect, Isolate, Attack. Attacks by strangers follow a pattern called AIA: Abduct, Isolate, Attack. “Nobody has defined attacks in this way,” Horner notes. “That’s important because when we define the CIA and AIA patterns and people understand them, they come to own them. So instead of an assault being a traumatic blur, those who participate in our classes realize, ‘Oh, my God, it’s happening,’ as each of those stages unfolds. Then we teach participants how to prevent or respond to the assault at each of those sequence steps. Nobody else does that.”
At the heart of Horner’s training is prevention, and at the heart of prevention is a person’s personal threat alarm. This intuitive sense of impending danger typically manifests as an unsettled feeling in the stomach. “There are two things about the personal threat alarm,” Horner says. “One, we all have it. Two, it’s always right.”
Unfortunately, when a personal threat alarm goes off it’s often ignored, which too often leads to tragic results. “When you ask Kassandra what percentage of assault victims she’s counseled say, ‘I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t listen to it,’ the answer is almost all,” Horner says. “The only exceptions were when drugs were used on them and they never saw it coming or when they got too drunk to pay attention to their personal threat alarm.”
Horner consistently drives home the point that the best way to thwart an assault is to avoid being in a threatening situation in the first place. “We teach avoid, avoid, avoid; get physical separation from someone who sets off your personal threat alarm,” Horner says. “We don’t resort to anything physical until avoidance is impossible and the guy is about to assault you.”
Throughout the training, Horner emphasizes the importance of knowing what to expect, knowing how to react and why. “When people are given new information, they change their beliefs, which changes their actions,” he says. “For example, there’s a common belief among women that if they don’t resist so badly, that if they comply, the man won’t hurt them as much. That is diametrically opposed to what the statistics tell us, which is that around 75 percent of the time, when a woman aggressively resists, the assault is stopped. That’s because she either injures the attacker and escapes or the attacker determines that the woman will not be easy to overpower and control.”
The Not Me! training can be summed up in two words: rough and intense. “We tell the participants upfront that this course will involve language like they might hear from a real attacker, and will involve us grabbing them a little tighter than they’re used to,” Horner says. “It’s about inoculating them against the initial shock of being treated in a way they’ve never been treated before.”
The effect is transformative. In a role-playing exercise at the beginning of class, the instructor assumes the role of an assailant while one of the women plays the victim and the rest of the class looks on anxiously. When the same story is role-played again at the end of class, participants shift from just empathizing to pointing out ways to prevent the assault or escape the attack. “We then have them do a visualization exercise in which they use all the things they learned in an at-risk situation,” Horner says. “We have them smell it and feel it and own it. What happens is they typically say, ‘Oh, my God! That thing I was afraid of? I’m not afraid of it anymore, I know what to do!’ These women feel so empowered and so confident that they view life totally differently.”
Given that one out of every three to seven women will be assaulted sometime during their life, Horner feels a sense of urgency about empowering as many women and men as he can. “We know that if we get to 100 women, somewhere between 15 to 35 of those women are likely to use what we teach them to avoid getting raped or killed,” he says. “I get constant feedback from women who avoided becoming a statistic thanks to our training. That’s what keeps me going.”
NO ONE IS TURNED AWAY
If you’d like to attend a Not Me! training session as an individual or with a group, click here contact the Not Me! team.
If you want or need the training but can’t afford it, no worries. No one is ever turned away for financial reasons.
SIDEBAR ARTICLE: SIGNATURE MOVES
When he first started teaching the art of self-defense, Al Horner relied heavily on his Navy SEAL training, teaching women how to neutralize attackers with their hands, elbows, knees and feet. He quickly realized why that approach was all wrong: the pregnant women in his classes, as well as young girls and elderly women, weren’t able to physically execute such martial arts-type moves.
After studying, experimenting and listening to feedback from his students, Horner distilled that universe of choices down to two moves. “Our signature move is the cat move, where you straighten your fingers out and attack the guy’s eyes,” Horner says. “It disables him and you can escape; it’s that simple and anybody can do it.”
The second move is the rag doll, used when you’re grabbed from behind and can’t see the attacker’s face. You put your arms up, pull your feet up, go limp, slide down to the ground, then kick and scream. “It’s like trying to pick up a three-year-old child who doesn’t want to be picked up,” Horner says.
There’s another important reason why Horner only teaches two moves: too many choices can be a big problem. “Roman, one of our instructors, had just finished winning a martial arts tournament,” Horner explains. “At a bar afterwards, he was confronted by a big, muscular guy who reared back to give Roman a big roundhouse punch. Roman thought, ‘This is perfect, I’ve been training for this my whole life! I know a dozen different ways to take this guy out!’ Suddenly, he realized that the guy’s fist was about an inch from his jaw, so he turned his head slightly and the guy hit him a deflecting blow. It was a revelation to Roman: he knew too much! He says that what we teach is perfect because when you get out into the real world, you don’t have enough time to go through your choices; you just need to respond with one simple thing that works.”
Teaching a limited menu of choices is also practical from a training standpoint. “There is very little you can teach in one hour, but that is plenty of time to teach the cat move and the rag doll,” Horner says. “Participants will do each of those moves a dozen or more times until it becomes reflexive muscle memory. Now can they still at some point use their knee or elbow or heel of their hand? Yes, but we’ve conditioned them to react quickly and effectively with the cat move.”
The conditioning works. “The first couple of times doing the exercise with Al, I was thinking about what to do,” says Lori Day, Senior Vice President of Mortgage Banking at M&I Bank. “At the end of the class, I didn’t have to think. It was more instinct.”
The cat move is easy to practice. Simply ask someone you know to hold up a sofa pillow like it’s the face of an attacker, and practice the move on the pillow.
A MULTIPLE-CHOICE QUIZ ON THE ALARMING AND SURPRISING STATISTICS ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
1) What percentage of females will be assaulted sometime during their life?
10% 20% 30% 40% 50+%
2) What percentage of assaults happen in homes and apartments where women feel safe?
10% 20% 30% 40% 50+%
3) Other than homes and apartments, where is the next most frequent place for attacks?
Public bars Private parties Around cars Dark alleys
Answer: Around cars
4) What percentage of assaults involve either the victim or attacker
using alcohol or drugs?
30% 40% 50% 60+%
5) What is the date rape drug of choice used by most attackers?
Rohypnol GHB Ketamine Alcohol
6) What percentage of attackers are men whom the victim knows?
25% 40% 60% 75+%
7) What age group is most frequently assaulted?
<12 13 to 21 22 to 30 30+
Answer: 13 to 21
8) What percentage of assaults are stopped by women who actively resist?
<25% 26-50% 51 to 70% 71+%
9) What percentage of assaults do not involve a weapon?
20% 40% 60% 80%
10) What is the simplest and most effective place to strike and stop an
Groin Solar plexus Throat Eyes
Let me emphasize that Al Horner is a good-hearted man who is driven to protect and save women. After I e-mailed Al to thank him for working on this article with me, he wrote back:
Thank you for your efforts. I’m sure you realize this, but just in case it’s not completely clear to you—when we train younger women the statistics say that about 1 in 4 will face an attacker at some point during her life. To the extent that what you did helps us reach more girls/women you will have directly contributed to preventing pain and saving lives. That’s something worth doing.
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