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Lately crime has taken a toll in my neighborhood. Within the last two weeks, my friend got held up at gunpoint on 13th Avenue, and a couple guys walked up my driveway and broke into my car. I’m not sure what I’d have done if I ran into the thieves before they stole my stereo. When I was in high school and a guy pulled a knife on me, all I could do was run.

Next time I feel threatened though, I want to kick criminal ass—just like the femininjas I used to watch on TV in the ’70s. To do this, I’ll need a mentor to teach me street fighting in real life.

Enter Helen Grieco. She’s the daughter of a marine and a 25-year of veteran N.O.W. She believes in “the sovereign right of women to defend themselves by any means necessary.” And her self-defense training course begins next week, in Oakland.

Grieco certainly has a lot of fight in her. Her story of survival spans from New York to California, and over decades of domestic abuse, drug addiction, eating disorders and dysfunctional relationships. But one day on a San Francisco doorstep, she saw a glimmer of hope.

“I was in the midst of an abusive relationship,” she said, “and only had a few dollars to my name. Suddenly I saw this shiny penny on the ground and thought, ‘See a penny pick it up; then someday you’ll have good luck.’ I took it as a token of better things to come.” Grieco held onto her good luck charm through the next several years of therapy and worked through her issues. She also got a masters in clinical psychology and became a therapist for women and girls.

You could say she came out swinging. With her loving husband Patrick Phair, she co-founded Building Resources for Anti-Violence Education (or, BRAVE People). The pair have since taught nearly 10,000 women the art of self-defense. Phair, whose dad also worked for the military, gave shape to their shared teaching style. What makes their course different from most is its basis on a police and military combative training. Its techniques informed WW II combatants and now, under the instruction of Grieco, teach women how to defend themselves in real-life situations.

The women enrolled in the self-defense are called the Fighting SHE Weezels—a mascot that represents the weasel’s ability to attack other animals several times its size. And the course is just one part of her multi-pronged approach to empowerment. With the founding of her new, Bay Area-based organization, the SHE Institute, her mission is dedicated to “sustainable living and leadership educating safe, healthy, economically responsible advocates and leaders.” Not only will the Fighting SHE Weezels of the self-defense course battle their own demons, but also learn how to form partnerships with people, communities and governments to promote women’s rights.

“When women know that in the face of an imposing male that they can hold their own,” Grieco says, “it changes everything.”

Sounds like a winning strategy to me.

The details:


SHE is Wise Workshop Schedule
Sundays, 10 a.m.–noon
12 weeks – $360
(Payment plans available)
For more information or to confirm your place in the workshop,
or call 415 531 1774