The suits they wear after work -- the ones that make them look like Saturday matinee spacemen -- enable this pair to endure kicks to the groin, jabs to the eyes and repeated blows to the knees and head, all while their opponent is being cheered on by a line of women helpfully shouting "eyes!" Or "groin!" Or "ax kick!"
The blows are nothing new to Stephen Kovash, a contract specialist for EPA, and Jim Sorrentino, a lawyer for HUD, who are instructors in the women's self-defense course called "D.C. Model Mugging." The two take turns playing the role of an assailant, and their protective helmets and heavy padding allow the women in the course to fight without pulling any punches.
"We try to simulate your ordinary attacker," says Sorrentino, who, like Kovash, is a black belt with years of martial arts training. "The ordinary rapist isn't looking for a fight, so we try to play someone who is not looking for a fight, is surprised to find himself in one and tries as best he can to defend himself with normal male skills."
Since an integral part of the course -- which costs $650 for five five-hour sessions -- is to accustom the women to the verbal threats and abuse that usually accompany an assault, the "muggers" must also simulate common street harassment and specific threatening situations.
"Making the separation was hard," says Kovash. "Making it to where I understand intellectually that it's just a character, that it was not a dark side of me, that I'm not being mean. There's nothing in me that's related to the characters that are portrayed."
Says Sorrentino, "It really breaks my heart that some woman had to experience this, and I have to go back and put her through it again and do it effectively, because if I don't fill her with both fear and anger, then she won't learn to fight in that adrenaline state."
Both say their daytime co-workers are supportive of what they do in Model Mugging, although, Kovash says, "they wonder why I let my body be so abused."
The fight is over only when the mugger falls back and puts his hand over his face, and the supervising instructor blows an ear-piercing whistle, while the woman delivers a final stomp next to his head and runs for help. The mugger can't help but feel battered.
"I've always compared it to being in a car accident," says Sorrentino. "You get jarred around a lot, but if you wear your seat belt, your head doesn't go through the window."