The Power Of Self Defence: Our Zoom Interview With Mimi Chan

"Educating children is preventative...Educating children from the youngest age possible will give them the power to speak up and say no to some of the situations or at least the knowledge"

Mimi Chan (@sifumimichan) is one of the world's foremost martial arts instructors and performers. She was the life model and martial arts video reference for Disney’s animated classic, Mulan (1998). Mrs. Chan is passionate about the preservation of the Chinese culture through her work at the Wah Lum Kung Fu Temple. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Mrs. Chan is an advocate for helping others and social justice. She is also the host of The Sifu Mimi Chan Show Podcast, which explores a variety of topics through conversations that are inspiring and thought-provoking.

SWY: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

MC: Well, Marina, thank you so much, first of all, for inviting me to share in this space, and also to raise awareness on what's an unbelievably important issue. But one that is often, maybe not discussed as much as it should be, because it's uncomfortable. And as somebody who has a podcast, I completely understand that sometimes it's hard to get people that want to share it and open up and I often say, anything that's really uncomfortable to discuss should be, because it's definitely a conversation that needs to be had and more than once, so I applaud you and your organization for your efforts and helping bring awareness and having these open conversations.

For me, it's definitely something I'm very passionate about because of course, as a survivor, you just don't want to hear or see that this happens to anyone else. But at the same time, for me on a personal level, it wasn’t that long ago that I came to terms with being public about it. So I feel that I continuously have a lot to learn. But a little bit about me and my background, my name is Mimi Chan. I'm in Orlando, Florida, I'm an Asian American, and I teach Kung Fu for my career. People often find that kind of interesting, a little bit different from your everyday job. But through that I've experienced so many other facets of life from film work to podcasting and doing live shows. I also do performance based things but just in general though, as a teacher, I find that I'm constantly learning. I've been fortunate to help enrich the lives of others and a big goal of mine is to always be able to give back and reciprocate that learning experience.

SWY: If you don't mind, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your story with childhood abuse and trauma?

MC: Don't worry, I have my tissue box here. What's interesting is that I'm a public speaker and an activist and I do a lot of different presentations but it really doesn't matter. And every time I revisit this, it is emotional. And I think that there's some stereotype that you get desensitized because if you talk about something more and more, it doesn't affect you as much and I think it's actually quite the reverse, thinking affects you more and more each time because you explore and you learn something different each time you share. Honestly, this is the first interview I've done outside of my own discussion on my podcast. I haven't really spoken to anyone else. So this is the first one I'm doing here and I went back and I read my original blog post and said, “Okay, what did I share? How did I start?” and it was a lot, I had to take a moment to meditate and prepare for this. So, by no means does it get any easier.

My background, like I said, is a kung fu teacher and so I know people always see me as very strong. It took a long time for me to realize that the 10 year old self and the 40 plus year old self now are two different people. I had to be very protective and mindful of that 10 year old self. My trauma began when I was between the ages of 10 to 12 and I was molested by my older cousin who was much bigger than me as well. Four years my elder at the time, you don't really process things in the way that you do as an adult. So it's an interesting dynamic to go back and think about because you think of it as you're an adult but it's just trying to really remember what it was like as a child. As a child, my recollection is that I really thought I was doing things I saw on TV, I thought that was normal and that it was okay and I was secretive. It happened on more than one occasion and often. It was always when my parents were not home, when I was being taken care of.

SWY: Can you tell us a little bit more about your podcast, Culture Chat Podcast?

MC: I appreciate the break, by the way. I started Culture Chat Podcast in 2017. I was really angry after the results of the 2016 election. I noticed you're in Canada so you get to watch our reality TV show that is America. But I felt that this country was more divisive than I had ever witnessed in my lifetime. Obviously, it's gone through a lot of iterations of divisiveness but I had really felt angry and frustrated and I am someone that wants to put my feelings into action, as you've noticed. So I thought, one of the best ways for people to learn is through empathy and I think the lack of empathy is also what brought us to that brink of why, in my opinion, the President that was elected should not have been. I thought that it was because people didn't have empathy and they didn't understand what was happening. I was trying to have empathy to understand why there was this move towards these ideologies that I could not get on board with. I have a really unbelievably diverse network of friends and people I know through my profession that I thought, maybe their stories of other cultures having other experiences would help promote that empathy.

So over the years, I've been fortunate to share stories from survivors, immigrants, LGBTQ+ struggles, and moving towards a really strong emphasis on social justice. Actually, this year I changed the name to the Sifu Mimi Chan Show. It's because beyond just the cultural aspects of the show, it's evolved into me learning with every episode, I call it selfish learning. I have this podcast that's for other listeners but really each episode I get to learn.

‘Sifu’ means teacher in Chinese and that's my profession as a kung fu teacher. I'm supposed to be there to guide others, teach others and mentor. I feel that I really get to learn every day through those experiences. So, since the consumption of the podcast, I've had everything from light, fun conversations, and pop culture to really focusing on helping listeners understand the inequities of the world and what actions we can do to help focus on a lot of the social justice things that are happening right now.

Of course, lately I've been quite an advocate and activist for the anti-Asian hate crimes that are happening. So it started because I wanted to share culture and stories and then it's really evolved into me having these deeper conversations with people that I get to learn from and through that, I hope that listeners also get a chance to learn. So what started as a passion project still very much is, it's not my profession, I don't get paid for it. It takes up a lot of time but it's really become part of my routine, who I am and what I do. So with each week, I just hope my listeners get to learn alongside me.

SWY: In your podcast, you talked about other survivors of sexual violence in the media affecting your decision to come out about your own experiences. Can you share why you decided to come out about your experiences with sexual violence?

MC: Well, I had mentioned I'm in my 40s and I only really began publicly sharing three years ago. When I think about that, I get a little bit uncomfortable but I was motivated by anger. I get motivated by anger a lot. I think it's because as a martial artist, I'm trying to channel that in a positive direction. So I remember clearly after the Kavanaugh hearings that I was so frustrated in the way Christine Blasey Ford was treated and thinking as a victim, someone who's coming out has no benefit from sharing, just getting completely annihilated in the media. Then because of that there were flashbacks on the Anita Hill testimony and just seeing and hearing how she was attacked and chastised. It made me sit down and start writing and this was the moment I knew that I wasn't just writing from my therapy, like sometimes you write to get words out, to get emotions out, I knew that this was going to be the moment I decided I was going to be sharing this experience with the world. It was like the pen was on fire and I was on fire - I just kept writing and I knew that I didn't want to be silenced anymore. And so after being enraged by those feelings and seeing what happened to those women, it was also after the swing of the Me Too movement. I really felt this overwhelming strength through the other survivors, where a lot of women came forward to share in that. I also saw the immediate impacts that it had for them as survivors, but also, it's suddenly like a light bulb went off to how it could also prevent this from further happening.

Yes, I thought I had come to terms with it a few years ago when I wrote the blog. But then every time I'm asked to share, or I think about sharing, or it's Child Abuse Prevention Month, which we're speaking right now, I don't know when this will air, but every time something happens, that wound opens. And so it for me, though, means it's another opportunity to continue to heal that. And so I don't think it's like reopening a wound in a sense that it's unhealthy. But I do think that when you reopen that you discover something, and then you're able to heal again, which hopefully, in the long run is. But yeah, that was my motivation for sharing. And why I felt at that time, it was the right thing and circumstances really what brings me to share today, you know, you reached out and I felt that it was a right time for me.

After I shared, I had such an overwhelming sense of support from the people that matter to me and what was really impacting was hearing people tell me that they were going to start having discussions with kids and the things that I had asked for in that blog post, which was, you know, educate. And I know, that's one of your questions that you have coming up next. But like, if anything I share resonates with one person, whether it's on the podcast, whether it's through this storytelling or whether it's, you know, when I teach like, that's, then that's worthwhile. Like, that's the goal. You know, yeah, I'm not trying, I mean, it would be amazing to reach 5 million billion people, but if it resonates with one person, and if it can help or save some one person, then that's amazing.

SWY: In your podcast, you also discussed educating our children before it’s too late. Can you explain what this means and why you believe educating our children before it’s too late is important?

MC: Absolutely. So as you know, I'm a martial artist and one of the top questions people always ask is, you know, do I teach self defense? Or can you defend yourself? And I often answer, not snarkily. But it's an answer people never want to hear which is okay. The best defense is being preventive and being aware and being defensive in that regard versus actually, like, you know, doing physical combat, right, of course, we teach self defense, physical self defense, but if you're cautious of your surroundings, if you have awareness, if you are having good posture, and you carry yourself with confidence, you are less likely to be bullied. Those are just facts, because bullies pick on people who are perceived as weak.

So I always teach being preventive and for me, education, and educating children is preventive. I can't speculate what my experience would have been had I had sex education at a very, very young age, not when I was in middle school. And it was definitely by far too late at that point, because anything I'd seen on TV had superseded that 130 minute video they showed you in PE. I can't speculate that had I known more about my human anatomy, and was told this is right. And this is wrong, and people should not touch you here. People should never ask you to undress. That's not okay. I mean, just a simple conversation. That doesn't even have to be scientific. I think, in my culture, it's a very taboo thing to talk about. It is uncomfortable. And I understand generationally that it wasn't something that was easy for that of my parents generation, because their parents generation was probably even more disconnected and less about having education. And it's hopeful we're progressing in the right direction here. But um, so I won't say that maybe I wasn't, I wouldn't have been a victim had I known. But I will say that I believe that educating children from the youngest age possible, will give them the power to speak up and say no to some of the situations or at least the knowledge because you know, knowledge is power. And the more knowledge we have, the more power we have, and the more self defense we will have, and the more we will have to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves.

I really believe children need to learn about personal space, body safety, immediately. I mean, as soon as there's words being formulated, I think parents should not fall into that stigma of it's uncomfortable to talk about, let's name this something cute, like, pickle and whatever. I feel that it's science, it's medicine, it's health, and we need to teach them that because they will not assumably know what's right and wrong. They don't. They don't know. Otherwise this wouldn't be happening. Otherwise, the statistics which I'm sure you have, but are horrific. It's like one in five or something kids, you know, and I just did an interview at a Child Advocacy Center and just child abuse in general, is that the numbers are horrifying. And so children don't know we assume too much. And we're we are uncomfortable with our ability to communicate that there are other tools. There are books that that are made for children, there are therapists, there are people that are versed in this and so on. Don't put the blame on parents who have discomfort. But I do think it's their job to get educated and then educate their children, right? Because you're a parent, that's your job, we should teach our children. And we need to be mindful about what they watch on TV, and how much access they have to the internet. Because sex is romanticized. And it's so easy for older teenage children to manipulate younger children. I mean, it's one of the most common statistics. And it happens more frequently than we want to believe. And it happens within family, it happens often within older siblings or cousins. And I'm not saying there's malicious intent from a 15 year old necessarily, it's because they're not educated, right. And they don't know that it's wrong to do this, as well.

So on both sides on the child who can protect themselves from saying, No, you don't touch me in my vagina. You know, I think if an adult heard a three year old say that, it would be very jarring, and it shouldn't be kids should know, their body parts. And it should be very, it should be the mainstream and not be, oh, wow, that's amazing. You teach your kids that way, that should be the normal, we need to change the normal to be more open with our children. And again, I put that on the parents to educate themselves, if they don't know how to do it, I don't blame you. You're a first time parent, you know, there's a couple manuals, but that doesn't teach you what it's like to be a parent, once you have this tiny human you're completely responsible for so then you take it upon yourself to educate yourself or find the resources to help with that, you know, I don't blame them for not knowing how, but I do blame them for not teaching their children.

SWY: What do you think society as a whole can do to help survivors of sexual violence and childhood abuse overall?

MC: The first thing is to believe, you know, to believe them to believe a survivor, if they share their story with you believe them. Because it's really surprising how often that doesn't happen. Even within my own circles, right? I mentioned I had immediate support from those that mattered. Because immediately I realized who mattered and didn't matter in my life, by those who believe me. And I think that's the first step.

The second, of course, is back to education, inform yourself on the trauma that happens and what effects this has on somebody, understand it, talk to a survivor, show them compassion, and ask questions, if appropriate, and just be there, right, so if someone shares with you, they are trusting you, they're trusting you with something that is the most vulnerable part of themselves. And they're opening up to you in a way that really no words for and so you just have to kind of be open to showing compassion, and showing that you care.

So other than having those open conversations and educating our kids, I think we also can do our part as adult human society to keep our eyes and ears open. Nobody wants to hear about childhood sexual abuse, or any sexual abuse. It's too uncomfortable, but we need to keep having these conversations. We need to push past that uncomfortable and then we need to take action. I just had the CEO for kids house that child Advocacy Center on my show, and it's surprising how many people have said to her, "Oh, I wish I knew this was happening, you know, as an aunt or an uncle who are now in care of these children because a parent has been taken away into custody because they were found out or, or a parent saying I wish I had known this was happening because the babysitter or or somebody else, right?" And so how often do we say I'm really glad I reported that because now I've prevented it from happening. I'm really glad I was able to intervene before this happened, right? We don't get to hear those stories, because they're not as frequent. Right? We don't even know the hotline, which is in America at, say 896 abuse. And it's really one of the best ways to allow the professionals, the investigators to do their job.

And I know you feel like well, what if it's not true? Or what if I'm overstepping The thing is, what if you weren't? Isn't it better to have tried to save a life and then knowing that, okay, the investigation ended up and it was fine. It's better to be preventative, it's better to take action. So I think that most of us would feel pretty good about the fact that if they made that call, and they then stopped child abuse from happening, prevented it from happening, or saved that child's life, that that would feel pretty good, right? And I, I'm just as guilty of going well, let me think back, like, have there been things have been red flags, did I make a call, I'm very confrontive with parents, but when I have kids in school, I say, "Hey, you know, this kid's not behaving or whatnot." And have I been mindful enough about making sure I'm paying attention. So again, we're not, it's not our job to investigate and figure everything out. But it is our job, to if we see something to say something and to take action, and to be more aware. And so it starts small, go on any of these resources, this kid's house, or organizations like RAINN, and others do all this amazing work for you. There's resources out there, your organization, who are trying to share awareness, like there's resources that you can just have 10-15 minutes to have a little bit of awareness and understand what this is like, what the ramifications are, and what you can do to help. Or you could just support some of these organizations like yourself and let them do the work.

But there are actions we can all take to help prevent this. Volunteer your time or you know, there's just there's so many ways to get involved. And I hate to sound like a broken record. But just going back to educating yourself, being aware that it's happening, being aware of what you can do to prevent it, what organizations are out there that you can support in whatever way you can. I know monetary is not always everybody's, you know, is always feasible for people. There are lots of ways that we can do things that don't impede upon our very comfortable lives. Right. And we need to feel okay, being uncomfortable with things and being able to step outside of that. But in terms of just support, you know, be there for people if they reach out to you.

SWY: Do you have any advice for individuals who haven’t shared their experience with sexual violence?

MC: Sharing is a personal decision and one of the things that upsets me is when people say, “Well, I don't really believe that happened because why would you come out now 30 years later”. And that's really frustrating because nobody knows what's going on in my head. Nobody understands what's happening internally and they don't really have the right to. It's not their place to have that information if I don't decide to share it, right. So it's a personal decision, I do believe that. My choice and not being silent can be helpful and so that's my choice. I would never push somebody to take the route I took but I would say that if there is a survivor out there that hasn't shared with at least one person to find support for whatever reason, if it's because you're afraid you won't be believed or if it's because you're ashamed or it's too painful or the myriad of other reasons that we don't feel comfortable sharing, I would hope that there is at least one person that that you feel that you can reach out to because you are believed, you are loved and you are not alone. And that's pretty much the advice I would give.

We would like to thank Ms. Chan for taking the time to speak with us about her story with trauma and ways that we can combat childhood sexual abuse together.