Heather Winkeljohn

V.22 No.38 |
She's not playing around.


Smart Girl Self Defense

Helping women tap into their animal brains

You know that little feeling that something isn’t quite right? More than just a funny feeling, it’s actually your brain processing several conscious and unconscious cues, and arriving at the conclusion that something isn’t cool, explained Heather Winkeljohn, co-instructor of the Smart Girl Self Defense course being taught at Wink’s Gym.

“Women are conditioned to ignore that feeling that something’s wrong. Maybe they don’t want to rock the boat, or come across as a bitch, so they go along with a situation, even though they’re scared.”

Winkeljohn roped her husband Mike in to help teach the course, which is focused on paying attention to the conscious and subconscious cues that can help people avoid danger, if they know how to listen. An expert on victim psychology, Heather has done research on intuition, fear and other emotions that have offered survival advantages through the ages, and the main focus of the course is to identify and tap into these emotions, listen to them and derive power from them if necessary. The course is all about avoiding dangerous situations, but for times when that is not possible, Mike Winkeljohn will teach the women how to throw down when necessary, and make the perpetrator wish he’d chosen another victim.

Mike Winkeljohn is a former world champion kickboxer, and striking coach at the Jackson/Winkeljohn MMA academy, where many of the world’s top pro fighters come to train. He handles the physical self-defense side of the course, teaching the skills needed to survive, and win, a physical encounter. He told me that if the women who take this course never have to use the techniques he teaches them, then he’d consider the course to be a success.

The course looks at the biological basis of fight-or-flight reflex and focuses on how to make best use of intuition and gut feelings, which are the domain of our “animal brain,” as distinct from the “logic brain.”

Heather says that all too often the logic brain can overthink situations, thanks in part to societal expectations that women internalize which can jeopardize their safety.

“Unfortunately, the logic brain can override the animal brain when you’re in danger. Say you’re about to get into an elevator with a creepy looking person. It's the difference between deciding not to get in and convincing yourself against your better judgment that it will be OK. Intuition is kind of like a smoke detector. It could be a false alarm, but you’re better off listening to it.”

This kind of information is augmented by an analysis of common traits of survivors, many of which came to light via psychologist Al Seibert’s 50-year career studying survivors. “Survivors follow their hunches and use their intuition, and they never give up," Winkeljohn said.

The same can be said for good fighters, like Mike Winkeljohn’s protégé Jon “Bones” Jones, who survived serious adversity at UFC 165 last weekend and gutted out a victory against Alexander Gustafson to defend his light heavyweight title. We admire qualities like heart and perseverance in fighters, in part because we recognize these traits are the same traits of survivors. These are good qualities to have on the sometimes mean streets of Albuquerque.

For more info on the course, call Wink’s Gym, at 822-6326.