Melanie Thomas remembers the exact moment she decided to teach young girls self defence. After speaking about martial arts at a career seminar, a teenage girl approached her. “This fourteen-year-old girl changed my life,” says Thomas. “She told me something had happened to her, and I could tell she really wanted to talk but didn’t know where to start.”
The girl went on to tell Thomas that she had been assaulted by a group of guys at her local park. She hung out there most days because her older brother was abusive, her father had committed suicide and her mum was working two jobs. After telling Thomas how the group of guys grabbed her and how no-one was around to help, the girl said, “What did I do wrong?”
“I still feel emotional thinking about that moment,” says Thomas now. “I felt so privileged that this kid opened up to me, but I knew it wasn’t just her [that had been in that situation]. How many times have you asked yourself the same question? What did I do wrong. I still ask myself that question as a woman in my forties. That’s when it dawned on me that girls need to be taught life protection skills.”
Having grown up in a house with domestic violence, Thomas related to the girl’s experience. “I grew up in an environment where it was normal to handle conflict with violence. It was normal to yell instead of sit down and talk calmly.”
“It never occurred to me that I could protect myself, until I was introduced to martial arts in my early 20s,” she explains.
Wanting to share her knowledge of martial arts and help young girls like her, Thomas decided to start a self defence organisation. The KYUP! Project was born in 2013 to empower girls to find their voice through martial arts.
Kyup is the Korean word for “shout” and Thomas says, “The power of the voice is the most significant thing that girls take away with them [from the workshops]. It’s not just about shouting to protect yourself, it’s about having the confidence to stand up for yourself.”
In the last three years, 10,000 kids have been through the KYUP! program, and Thomas hopes she’s started even more conversations about personal safety and domestic violence.
“It’s important that people like me speak up and break the silence,” says Thomas on ending the cycle of domestic violence.
For more information on the KYUP! Project visit: kyupproject.com.au
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