Violence has always had a place in Mel Thomas’ life.
She grew up in a household terrorised by an abusive and alcoholic father, only to fall victim to school-yard bullying and violence at the hands of a partner after she escaped home as a teen.
Now a mother herself, Thomas is a passionate advocate for children living with domestic violence and is taking a fresh and empowering approach to breaking the cycle.
“[Domestic and family violence] is a big problem that’s not going away, and it’s something that’s going to take a big solution,” she tells The Feed.
“We need to move beyond awareness campaigns and into strong-hearted, cool-headed violence prevention.”
The result is the KYUP! Project, a series of workshops founded by Thomas that are designed to arm women and girls in self-defence by drawing on her own background in martial arts.
Thomas was first introduced to Hapkido, a Korean form of martial art, by her husband, and says it’s been a huge part of her journey to healing.
“I was really excited about Hapkido because I could feel strong, I learnt a way to defend myself and it never occurred to me that I could,” she explains.
In the 15 years since, Thomas has become an instructor of the discipline and applies its techniques of redirecting force and leverage to empower women to defend themselves regardless of their size or physical strength.
Her workshops are offered to schools and give students from kindergarten to Year 12 tips on staying safe as well as simple self-defence moves.
As Thomas explains it, “the KYUP! Project is on a mission to create a nation-wide army of ninjas”, but replacing fear with confidence, empowerment, and breaking the cycle of violence or bullying by speaking out are also at its core.
Watch the video to see Mel Thomas' story and the KYUP!'s fight club in action.