True Life: Working at Girls Fight Back

Below is a post written by Chicago gal Bree Swartz, the newest addition to the Girls Fight Back speaker team. She’s a rock star, and she’s been in training for close to a year. Yesterday she hit the road, in what will be a whirlwind spring tour across the USA along with me and our East coast super-speaker, Heather Maggs. In case you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work for GFB and be a speaker in general, Bree offers you a first-hand account. Enjoy!

I’m not a planner. Some might consider this a fault, but I like to think of it as adventurous. And honestly, I can’t help myself because over the years the events and moments that are the most unexpected are nearly, if not always, the milestones that define me. I now realize that my involvement with Girls Fight Back is no exception.

Last summer as I was flipping through Craigslist ads, I stumbled across a post for a job to travel around the states speaking to high schools and colleges and teaching basic self defense. Huh. That sounds fun, I thought. Traveling, I love. Motivational speaking has always been a job I thought I might be decent at if I had anything awesome to say. And I’ve always wanted to take a self defense class! Sure, why not submit my resume? Little did I know…

Fast forward through four interview stages, video submissions, a couple 500-word essays and a three-day self defense class (just to get accepted into the training program), I’m sitting on a plane headed to Boulder, Colorado for my Academy Training to become a speaker for Girls Fight Back. So many things were running through my mind: Had I studied the material thoroughly? What kind of self defense training was I getting myself into? What was this cabin in the mountains we were retreating to like? (AMAZING!) But the thought of ‘what are these people going to be like?’ surprisingly never really crossed my mind. Yet again, the unexpected was the best part.

My first encounter of the warm-hearted GFB team was the minute I landed in Boulder. Jenn, a mentor to the program and my ride to the cabin, called to tell me she was waiting at the baggage claim for me. Really? That’s an awfully nice gesture. I would’ve been pleased with a pick up outside, but parking and coming to greet me? How thoughtful! Maybe this group isn’t a bunch of crazy men haters.

The next afternoon I met the man who has the gentlest soul, and yet, the meanest growl I’ve ever heard (literally!), Bill Kipp, founder of FAST Defense. He’s a genius in the field of adrenaline response self defense. Aside from knowing every physical aspect of the trade, he makes himself a genuine expert by understanding beyond the theory of his methods: how our bodies and brains work under adrenal response, understanding predators strategy when hunting their prey, fighting asymmetrically vs. symmetrically…the list goes on. With 24-plus years experience in adrenaline combat, you would expect Bill to be this crazy drill sergeant. And although he plays a mean mugger, my favorite trait about Bill is his compassion.

There is so much emotion in his learning environment: sometimes it brought me to tears, sometimes is brought me to laughter, but it was always empowering; not something you find in your everyday fighting machine. He was so understanding of each individual’s situation, I felt like I knew him for years. This, I’m sure, is what makes him not just a good teacher, but a guru… his passion for his work and the people he encounters is inspirational. To hear him laugh with joy after he takes in the technique he just taught (say a palm strike to his head or an extended kick to the groin), you know this man absolutely loves teaching people to defend themselves, even at his own expense. In a mere few days, Bill gave me several invaluable gifts that I’m so very grateful for, but most of all, that of a mentor and friend.

But it’s the founder of GFB, and the most un-pregnant knocked up lady I have ever met, (no joke – I am embarrassed to admit how many times she opened doors for me and dropped me off while she went to park the car), who I am in debt to for introducing me to her wonderful crew. I knew Erin Weed and I had to work together after I left my interview last fall; I called my mom as soon as I left our meeting: “I legit have to hang out with this chick. She’s so bad ass.” And my thoughts were confirmed the minute Erin walked into the door for day one of our training. “Alright everyone, give me some love,” this 5 month pregnant CEO sang. Not exactly a back breaker of a boss.

Anyone who knows Erin will most likely agree that her core values are seen in the way she runs her company. Comfortingly, they remind me of the way I was raised in small town Indiana: The Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated, even when others aren’t following the rule. Honest and forward, no room for drama or BS. If you’re going to do a job, you might as well do it excellent (I think that was “do it right” when I was growing up, but in all fairness, my parents were just hoping I’d do my dishes) Self care is part of your job; you don’t benefit anyone if you’re not at your best.

In a nutshell, this is how Erin confidently carries herself, her company and the rest of our training.  She guided us through our intense speaker training often leading by example, not willing to put us through anything she wouldn’t do, even in her second trimester of pregnancy. She was always noting how it can turn into chaos when you forget where you’re at on stage or something isn’t working, but it doesn’t matter. “It’s always about them, never about you.” So selfless, which is rare in the world.

By the end of our speaker training, I felt blessed. Blessed to be learning from such amazing mentors, to be able to grow as a person with the guidance from these noble people. Blessed to be carrying on the legacy, and it IS a legacy, of an organization in honor of a dear friend whose life will touch so many people, just as it has mine. And certainly blessed to be able to take on the role of empowering women by teaching basic skills that could save their own life someday.

Our academy training came to a close and I sat absolutely thrilled having a celebratory dinner with icons in the self defense and entrepreneurship world. I’m certain I was comparable to that annoying girl in class who is constantly raising her hand with umpteen hundred questions. I just didn’t want to miss the opportunity for all that it was worth. I can’t get enough of people like Erin, Bill, Jenn and the rest of the crew at GFB whose energy is absolutely contagious.

The GFB Academy had been so much more than just training. It was a milestone. And whenever I think back to these unplanned moments that have shaped me into the person I am today, I vividly remember  the people –the friends, family, mentors, competitors, supporters, teammates, etc- are what truly made it such a memory. My training with GFB was no different.

So thank you Erin and the rest of the GFB team, for welcoming me into your family. And for this unexpected milestone in my life.  I am forever grateful.

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