The room is dark, sweltering hot and filled with smoke. I’m surrounded by black pads that are smashing into me from all sides. They part and a flash of white light illuminates one of the largest men I have ever seen. He takes a swing at me. I duck, my mind goes blank and my body takes over. I strike him. Again and again, anywhere I can find an opening. He throws me to the ground but I’m back on my feet, charging at him.
Amidst the chaos the safe word rings out and everything stops. The scenario is over. In all, it probably only lasted 10 seconds.
“Most street fights last between eight to 10 seconds,” explained Kris Greffard, adding it’s important to experience how exhausting that can be both mentally and physically. “The goal of that is to see what your body is capable of.”
I’ve spent the last six months training with Greffard and her husband, Francois, as a part of their integrated street combatives (ISC) junior program. The Langford-based duo owns and operates Sheepdog Self Protection Inc.
ISC is an “eclectic” style of self-protection – not self-defence, that term implies you’re already a victim. It’s a combination of mixed martial arts and law enforcement control tactics that are taught in a way so that they are easy to apply in a stressful situation.
What sets it apart from mixed martial arts is that students train in a variety of situations and scenarios. Greffard noted students are pushed to their limits, training in hot or cold, deprived of some of their senses, with or without lights, on all surfaces, in all weather.
“These are all things you’re going to face in a real life fight,” she said. “The environments we train in, there are no rules and there’s no cheating when there are no rules … The only rule on the streets is survival.”
In ISC everyone is given a nickname. This allows participants to train with the imagination and emotion required to mentally prepare for a physical altercation. When you’re training for a potentially life or death situation, it can be hard to mentally get to the right place when you’re facing off against a loved one, friend or teammate.
“It’s difficult for the body to go where the mind hasn’t,” Greffard explained.
I am Cucumber. I was given the name because I’m cool and collected in a stressful situation – namely when someone is yelling in my face. While that can be a positive when it comes to de-escalating a situation, it’s not the best when trying to get into that fighting mentality.
A large part of the beginning of the program is teaching students how to walk and talk their way out of a confrontation. “As soon as I go hands on with someone my risk of injury sky rockets,” Greffard said, adding you’re always better off avoiding physical fights.
But that isn’t always possible so ISC also teaches students how to identify potential attackers and increases your overall presence. As a significant number of attacks are crimes of opportunity, predators will usually look for someone that will be an easy target.
ISC helps students increase their physical fitness, build confidence, increase their situational awareness and become more assertive. “That’s what’s going to prevent attacks,” Greffard explained. “It makes you safer.”
But while nothing will completely protect you, ISC “provides you with the skills to come out on top.”
It’s a transformation, Greffard said she sees within a couple months from students. “That translates directly to how you carry yourself in the workplace and approach problems … It’s really nice to see that transformation.”
It hasn’t been an easy six months. Students are assigned a barf bucket at the beginning of class and some use them. I just didn’t eat anything after 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Instructors and senior students push you, sometimes close to breaking, but that’s the point – getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
Greffard started ISC when she was 19. A friend suggested they check out a class after a ball game. “It was an awful experience,” she said of that first class, adding it was the hardest 25 minutes of physical activity she had ever done.
In the midst of the workout, sweat pouring off, the instructor when down to a plank position beside her and proceeded to call her every derogatory name he could think of, adding that since she was a woman she had no place in the class and should just give up now since she wouldn’t make it past the second class.
“I look back at that and go ‘how dare you tell me what I can’t accomplish,’” she said, adding it motivated her to return.
It’s a tactic used by instructors to push students. It allows them to face the verbal and mental components of a fight and be prepared for that during a physical confrontation. “Everybody has these inner demons and it’s better to face those in a controlled environment and not on the street,” she explained, adding a person’s response can then be modified to one that would be beneficial in a fight.
“So many predators will use verbal intimidation to force their victims into submission … we take away that stimuli.”
Greffard went through the ISC program, advancing to the seniors’ level and after a few years, she started to help out as instructor, then a lead instructor and has been been involved for roughly 14 years. It inspired her to get into law enforcement.
“I trained Francois … and it’s been the best marriage counselling,” she added with a laugh.
Sheepdog Self Protection was founded in February 2016. At eight months pregnant, the founder approached her and suggested she go out on her own with the ISC program. “Within three months I had opened Sheepdog Self Protection, incorporated the company and had a baby,” she said. “It’s grown to be this wonderful thing.”
It also continues to evolve. The next junior or beginner-level program, which starts on April 4, will also include more physical components of the police officers physical abilities test and others for those that are looking to pursue a career with law enforcement, corrections, security, military or similar.
“Over the years there have been a limited number of females … [but] this next class that begins in April, the women are going to out number the guys,” Greffard said. “It’s a program where people always take away something from it.”
For more information go to sheepdogselfprotection.com.