‘Her Own Hero’ brings a history of self defense into the present

Collyn Burke

Come Saturday evening, Austin bookstore BookWoman will be transformed from a female-centered book store to a self-defense dojo.

This dojo is the main attraction of Her Own Hero, an event inspired by Wendy Rouse’s book of the same name. The book, which focuses on the origins of women’s self defense in the early 20th century, was published back in August 2017. Rouse will be present along with Joy Williamson, lead sensei at Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, who will demonstrate several self-defense techniques.

Rouse, sociology and interdisciplinary social science professor at San Jose State University, said she was partly inspired to write “Her Own Hero” was the lack of recorded women’s history
she’s seen.

“We have this tendency to ignore women’s history or to gloss over it to talk about a few prominent women and then move on and say we’ve covered women’s history,” Rouse said. “I want people to understand the history of women’s self defense is the history of everyday, common women speaking out and speaking up against sexual harassment and violence against women, and really trying to raise awareness about the issues that women face every single day.”

According to Rouse, another factor that went into her writing the book was her own background in martial arts and self defense. Her inspiration for the novel originally came from a photo she stumbled upon of an early 20th century woman using a jiu-jitsu technique on an attacker.

“It’s kind of funny that I didn’t write it sooner,” Rouse said. “I was training in martial arts since I was 10. I studied all different kinds of martial arts and I had even taught self defense at one point but I had never really thought of writing a history of it.”

Rouse also noted that once she started researching for her book she was surprised to find that the issues women were fighting over 100 years ago were very similar to the ones women are speaking out against today.

“It’s interesting because when I jumped into this history the issues women were talking about in the 1900s were the exact same issues we’re talking about now,” Rouse said.

After doing some research, Rouse said she chose to host her book event at Austin’s BookWoman because it is one of the longest-running feminist bookstores in the country. After getting in touch with BookWoman owner Susan Post, Rouse chose to include Sun Dragon in the event to provide self defense demonstrations.

“I really wanted to bring them in and talk about the book and about the work that they’re doing that has direct ties to the women that I studied in the past,” Rouse said.

Williamson will be demonstrating the self-defense techniques at the event. She explained how important it was for women to educate themselves in self defense and prepare for the worst
case scenario.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly is going on,” Williamson said. “If we have a sense of kind of how violence works and how gender violence works in particular, we’re better prepared if we are in that situation to notice sooner what’s happening and then to have some skills to get out of that situation.”

Post said that she is always willing to collaborate with women like Rouse and Williamson who work to inform the public on important topics such as self defense, especially at a time when many women feel unsafe.

“I’m always thrilled when authors want to present topics of importance to a broad spectrum of women,” Post said.