It takes someone special to be an IMPACT instructor and yet our instructors are ordinary everyday people. Teachers, executives, salespeople, scientists and artists – all our instructors felt the need to give back.
All instructors work for us whenever they can and would like to. Most classes are on weekends so for most of our staff, teaching for IMPACT is a sideline. Between our Lead Instructors, our Padded Assailant Instructors and our Assistants, we have a teaching roster of over fifty people.
Our Lead Instructors
Most of our lead instructors came to take a class and fell in love with the work. They typically assist in various classes and learn the mechanics of the class behind the scenes while developing their fighting skills. Some express an interest in being an LI early on and some assistants stand out and are asked to join our training program.
Once an instructor is identified, she/he goes through an extensive instructor training program while shadowing a senior instructor in ongoing classes. In training, she/he learns how to convey all of our valuable information, demo the fights and techniques, and manage each student to success.
Graduates interested in becoming instructors should contact Lisa Gaeta.
Our Padded Assailant Instructors
Many of our Padded Assailant Instructors (in LA, they are all men, but there are female padded assailants in other IMPACT chapters) have martial arts backgrounds but it’s not a requirement. In almost every case, they had a female in their lives take the Basics course and they were hooked by the amazing transformation they saw at her graduation.
Our PAs go through a lengthy process to get kicked in the head for a living. First they are vetted by our senior staff to see if they have the temperament and heart for this work. No shifty or selfish characters allowed. After passing a full background check by our colleagues at Gavin De Becker, Inc., they take the Men’s Basics Course so they see what it feels like from outside the suit. Then they go through an extensive instructor training course where they learn how to wear the suit of extensive padding, absorb blows and react realistically, fight to different levels of different classes, and give constructive feedback to female, male and child students. During this time, they also develop their mugger persona – the bad guy they become when they put their helmets on, and shadow senior PAs in ongoing classes.
One thing that makes IMPACT unique is “the suit.” Perhaps you’ve seen them on TV or at a local event.
Our padded assailants wear specially designed, protective armor so that our students can strike full-force and find out what it really takes to confront a larger person or to deliver a knockout blow to an aggressor. They are protected from head to toe, providing students with the unique opportunity to fight back using all of their strength and without hesitation.
The protective gear, Rhino Armor, and the classic armor is designed and built by Johnny Albano, IMPACT Lead Instructor and Instructor Trainer. One instructor described what it’s like wearing the suit: “it’s like being in a bumper car; you can feel the impact but not the force.”
Our protective armor is in constant development incorporating the latest materials and research. Each padded assailant suit is custom-made for him or her.
Lisa Gaeta – Founder and CEO:
I took my first Basics Class in September of 1984, before IMPACT was an official organization. While I finished my master’s program, I took the class multiple times and with my partner, Al Potash, started IMPACT Personal Safety. In December of 1986, I was certified to teach by the originator of Model Mugging, Matt Thomas. (We changed our name from Model Mugging to IMPACT Personal Safety early on.)
Over 30+ years, I have personally trained hundreds of women and men to teach the IMPACT Personal Safety system all over Los Angeles, the USA, and even Europe, Asia, and South America. I have also personally taught thousands and thousands of women, men, teens, and kids. (We teach over 500 teens and tweens a year in our school programs.)
Our program has many facets to it, including: empowerment, physical power, and boundary-setting. While we are known for our fighting skills, it is our boundary-setting skills of which we are most proud and that our clients employ (way) more than physical skills.
I began developing and teaching boundary-setting skills and verbal strategies in 1987. There were no self-defense programs teaching women how to talk their way out of a situation up to that point. It was my education in negotiation skills and people management that came in handy to help me develop and evolve these strategies over the years.
Our Administrative Staff:
LIZ CAVA – Office Manager and Student Wrangler
Liz Cava is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts/West. She learned about IMPACT Personal Safety while playing Saint Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s, “Saint Joan”, in a 99-seat Equity-Waiver theater in Los Angeles. Her director’s wife had just taken a Basics class, and he described the Graduation as “more riveting than any piece of theater he’d ever seen.”
What could be more riveting than theater?
As it turns out, he was right. Liz took a Basics class in 1988 and was immediately hooked. She took another Basics class then became an Assistant. She took the Defense Against the Armed Assailant (Weapons) class and the Defense against Multiple Assailants (Multiples) class. She became an instructor and taught for 10 years.
IMPACT’s training was something she’d been looking for since moving to Los Angeles to attend drama school (at 17!). A way to truly be able to defend yourself, whether it’s against a workplace bully or a physical assault, she believes IMPACT training is essential.
Liz is honored to have taught so many students, along with the IMPACT Padded Assailants, whose expertise and gentle souls are invaluable to the teaching.
Over the past 40 years in Los Angeles, Liz has personally rescued 35 stray street cats who have shared her home with her over the years (not all at once…). The cats’ street stories are harrowing, but their resiliency and grace are a constant source of inspiration for Liz. The current dog love of her life, Beauty, is a great protector and companion (as well as an excellent cat herder!).
Liz loves being part of the IMPACT Personal Safety team. Whether it’s wrangling the Gmails, student signups, or public class schedules, she feels honored to be part of a non-profit organization that truly makes a difference to every student’s life.
Liz’s hope is that the more peaceful warriors there are, the fewer times violence will rear its ugly head.
Our Teaching Staff:
JOHNNY ALBANO – Lead Instructor, Instructor Trainer, Protective Gear Engineer
Johnny Albano joined IMPACT Personal Safety in 1989. He was certified as a Mugger Instructor in 1990 and has taught all of the classes and workshops IMPACT offers. Johnny retired as a Mugger Instructor in 2011, but still functions as a Lead Instructor in many of the workshops and classes.
Besides teaching, Johnny also trains and supervises instructors and assistants and advises on curriculum. He was instrumental in developing specialty classes and workshops such as IMPACT’s Kids Class, Parents and Tots Workshops, Workshops for the Physically Challenged, and Workshops for the Blind.
Johnny also builds protective body armor for Mugger Instructors. As president of Rhino Armor, Inc., he continues to build safer products, and created a helmet that eliminates head concussions. With this new helmet, several “older” muggers left retirement and returned to the world of instructing/fighting.
Through IMPACT, Johnny has worked with some of the most notable and knowledgeable safety experts and martial artists. Johnny enjoys teaching IMPACT because he loves seeing women and children gain confidence in their ability to be safe.
Johnny holds a BS in Aeronautical Engineering and an MS in Computer Sciences from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. As an Aerospace Engineer, he worked on the Apollo missions. As a Software Engineer, he designed and implemented programs that tested the Space Shuttle Avionics System. He also designed and implemented programs that monitored Energy Management Systems, automated Wind Tunnel Data Acquisition and Control Systems, and provided Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing applications.
Johnny served in the United States Army as First Lieutenant, Field Artillery. He studied Turkish at the Defense Language Institute and was stationed in Turkey as a Field Unit Commander, Security Officer, and Liaison with the Turkish forces.
Johnny trained in Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, and IMPACT. He stays fit by teaching classes and workshops, taking 10,000 steps daily, and keeping up with his young children.
Johnny’s sources of pride, joy, and love are his wife Joan, kids Bernadette (Bernie), Tobias (Toby), and Nicole, and Nicole’s boys, Jacob and Ethan (grandkids!) and Paul (son-in-law!). All but Nicole’s boys are IMPACT-trained.
JENNIFER BUNTING – Lead Instructor
Jennifer Bunting took her first Basics class in October, 2002. She went on to take all of the courses IMPACT offered in quick succession. Jennifer began assisting classes in 2003, and honed her skills for six years before starting Instructor Training in 2009. She now teaches all levels of IMPACT classes.
Jennifer grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. In the late 80’s, she went to Centre College, a small liberal arts college in Kentucky and then on to film school at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois. She began working in music management in Nashville, Tennessee in 1993, then moved to Los Angeles in 1994 to work in music licensing for film and TV.
Jennifer comes to IMPACT with a specific perspective, as she has been mugged twice. She thought that she could mentally handle the aftermath of her assaults, but after a man who was having a normal exchange with her said, “I’m not going to hurt you…” she realized she looked like a victim. She thought she was doing a good job of covering up fear, but people could literally read the fear on her face and in her body language.
Not long after the second mugging, she took a self-defense class provided by a local police department in Kentucky. Jennifer knew she needed to do something to keep herself safe and to lower her fear and anxiety, but she didn’t really remember what she learned in that workshop. Jennifer was in Los Angeles when an employer of hers encouraged her to take IMPACT and even paid for her class. Once she took her first Basics course, Jennifer had a complete paradigm shift, a completely new understanding of just how powerful she really is. Once she felt that shift, she knew she had to become involved and spread the empowerment to other women.
Jennifer says her level of ability to fight and her body awareness, once she was shown how to do it, was like a fish to water. “Lisa Gaeta always says ‘we don’t so much teach students what to do as introduce them to what they are designed to do and what comes naturally…’ I was athletic but what I had to get over was the fear that comes with wondering if it will happen again.” She no longer carries that fear. She knows she will defend herself at all cost and without hesitation.
There is something so fulfilling for Jennifer in teaching at the high schools where we help develop a culture of girls standing up for themselves and becoming powerful. She laments – as do many of us – at how much she would have loved to learn IMPACT in her early teens.
Jennifer lives and teaches in Los Angeles. “In this particular climate, it feels as if we are moving toward the age of women. A shift in society, being on the cusp of the future, and being in the place where I can contribute by teaching IMPACT is what I leave as my legacy.”
KRISTEN FILONCZUK – Lead Instructor
Kirsten Filonczuk took her first IMPACT Basics Course in 2004, at the age of fifteen, when her mom signed her up stating, “You’re not driving until you can protect yourself.” That was the beginning of a life-changing series of events so many IMPACT graduates experience.
Kirsten learned the importance of looking like a “bad target” and how being 5’-11” at the age of 16 didn’t mean she was exempt from catcalls, bullying, or any number of annoyances and threatening behavior. Through college she assisted with IMPACT classes and became energized by empowering women, feeling the rush when a meek woman, often with some history of assault, was able to break free of her shell and fight with ferocity.
In 2015 she was approached by (CEO and Founder) Lisa Gaeta and (Instructor Emeritus and former Board member) Christy Adair to become an IMPACT instructor…and there began her year-long training and journey in educating others on their own awareness and intuition, and doing it with humor and–she hopes–grace.
Kirsten now finds herself teaching young women who are the same age at which she took her first class. She enjoys helping them with their managing of daily struggles with peer pressure, being aware in a world full of distractions, and how the media paints women. She is grateful for the opportunity to help them grow into strong, self-aware, powerful young women and hopes to see a world where women’s “No’s” are taken seriously and no longer an opening for negotiation.
In addition to being an IMPACT Instructor, Kirsten is a professional photographer (www.pinkdahliaphotography.com) and spends her “free time” on craft projects. She lives in the San Fernando Valley with her fiancé, Travis, and their dog, Abbey.
MATTHEW HARRIS – Padded Assailant
Matthew Harris has been teaching self-defense since 2010. He came to IMPACT SoCal after seeing a demonstration and wanting to know more. Matthew has been teaching the IMPACT high school classes for the last 5 years, and he loves the idea of having such a positive impact on young women at such an early stage in the development of their self-esteem and personal power.
Growing up in a rough area of Stockton, CA – with a bunch of sisters – Matthew has had a longtime passion about self-protection, and the idea of no one being victimized. This led to a pursuit in the martial arts and combat sports such as boxing, and while Matthew enjoyed learning, he began to wonder about more practical forms of realistic techniques.
Coincidentally in 2008, at a company-mandated sexual harassment seminar Matthew attended, the seminar spokesperson mentioned realistic self-defense classes. When Matthew asked follow-up questions, he was directed to two former IMPACT instructors who introduced him into the world of the Padded Assailant, and Matthew hasn’t turned back since.
He feels absolutely privileged and honored to be a part of IMPACT, which gives people tools and tactics to be able to walk through life with a perfectly justified entitlement to safety.
Matthew and his wife, Vanessa, and their two-year-old daughter, Matilda, live in Los Angeles. When he’s not teaching, Matthew is also an actor and a comedian. Seriously, IMDB him!
DONALD (Don) HART – Padded Assailant, Instructor Trainer
Donald (Don) Hart was introduced to IMPACT by his girlfriend, (now wife) Deborah, who took the class in the mid 1990s. Don has a background in martial arts, studying Tang Soon Do, so he was supportive of her taking a self-defense class. As he describes it, he went to her graduation “arrogantly thinking she would have learned how to kick the guy in the shins and run away.” Of course, what he saw was a room full of women defending themselves like he had never seen before. At that moment, he knew he wanted to be involved. Don began his training to become an IMPACT Padded Assailant in 1996.
Don came to Los Angeles from Michigan in 1986 to pursue a career in commercial photography. After 15 years in the photographic industry, he went back to college, got his Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Studies and his Teaching Credential in Special Education from California State University, Northridge and changed careers. Don went on to become a Special Education teacher with LAUSD at Hamilton High, then Almansor Academy.
Don has always been involved in volunteerism, spending many years as a YMCA Camp Director (summer, wilderness, and leadership camp), and Youth in Government Advisor in Hollywood, California, as well as working with A.R.T.I.S.T.S. International, teaching photographic skills to urban youth.
After 20 years in the special education field, he recently retired from academic instruction and now spends his time individually tutoring academics and teaching IMPACT in private schools (in addition to the public classes he also teaches). Don is also an Instructor Trainer for IMPACT Personal Safety.
Don, his wife, Deborah, and their dog, Sid, live in North Hollywood where they enjoy gardening, hiking, long walks on the beach, and motorcycle riding. And whenever something goes wrong at a staff meeting or training, it’s always “Don’s fault”!
MOMI ONO – Lead Instructor
Momi Ono took her first IMPACT Women’s Basics Course in 1994 as a way to “take back” her body after her first set of breast cancer treatments at 30 years old. She started assisting in classes in ’95 and started to teach Kids’ Classes and Intro Workshops in the early 2000’s.
In 2000, after she’d participated in several of our Advanced classes as a student and also as a class assistant, she took our Defense Against Multiple Assailants class for a second time as a way to “peak” and feel at her most powerful as she entered treatments for a second cancer. Momi is still here and much of her positive, “kick-ass” attitude is due to what she learned in our classes about our own strength, power, and bravery – especially in the face of the worst of what life can throw at us.
As Momi says, she has “too much” education that includes a BS in Physics from MIT 1986 and a PhD in Geophysics and Space Science from UCLA 1998. She is currently the engineering director at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Sector…yes, she is a real rocket scientist!
Momi says, “IMPACT Personal Safety has been a cornerstone in my life since I found it. I learned to set verbal boundaries, to be polite and firm, to commit to caring for myself, to break choke-holds and ax-kick – and I also learned about community, about bringing a diverse group of people together, united in a part of all our lives by a single cause: our safety. It was a miraculous and beautiful experience, one that I get to re-live again and again in every class I teach and in every student I see on the mat. This is truly a community that has become part of my family. I’m honored to be a part of IMPACT Personal Safety.”
Momi lives in Playa del Rey in a home with an amazing view of the Mighty Pacific with her husband, Paul. She is a single malt scotch drinker, loves to cook, run trails, and identifies as the big Q in LGBTQ!
MICHAEL PEÑAFIEL – Padded Assailant, Instructor Trainer
Michael Peñafiel is a Senior Instructor and Instructor Trainer for IMPACT Personal Safety, SoCal. In addition to his 17 years with IMPACT, Michael is an experienced martial artist of 26 years who’s training includes other reality-based self-defense programs, grappling, and striking arts. He had a stint as a professional MMA fighter and competitive BJJ tournament athlete. Michael currently is a first degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; he teaches and trains in three locations in LA County, and trains in knife and stick fighting with the Lab Rats of Pasadena and North Hollywood Dog Brothers.
Also an academic, Michael has a BA in art and creative writing, an MA in marriage, family, child counseling, and a passion for studying research in neurobiology and behavior.
He first discovered IMPACT at the University of Redlands in 1997 by attending a friend’s graduation and was “impacted” with the program’s message of empowerment through self-defense. As a natural helper, he wanted to be part of a team that taught anyone the skills necessary to physically defend themselves as well as competently stand up for themselves. Experiencing the program resonated with that part of him.
Michael graduated from the Men’s Basics class in January of 1999, and started training in the summer of that year to be an IMPACT Padded Assailant. He took as many training and teaching opportunities as he could in his early years to learn the pedagogy and technical aspects of his role. He took his training seriously and did extracurricular conditioning to take “mugger craft” to the same level as he did when he competed professionally. He still thinks there is much to master and room to get better. His mindset of constant improvement and on-going learning contributes to IMPACT’s efforts to improve their methods of training for staff and students.
When not getting beat up for the benefit of others, Michael is a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with behaviorally challenged children and adults as a vice principal at a special education school in South Pasadena.
Michael and his wife, Jackie, and their son, Maverick, live in Pasadena.
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT #52733) specializing in interventions managing aggressive/violent behavior, depression disorders, substance abuse disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia, multi-cultural/multi-gender issues, anxiety disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and PTSD.
- Faculty member and classroom instructor for Institute for the Redesign of Learning’s graduate level course for Taking Charge model of linguistic coaching.
- Certified trainer of CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) and Pro-ACT (Professional Assault Crisis Training) models of non-lethal crisis intervention methods with behaviorally challenging
- Developer and instructor of behavioral crisis and containment protocol for Institute for the Redesign of Learning’s Almansor Academy Day School, Westmoreland Academy Day School, Transitional Adult Services Program, Day School Mental Health Department, and Transportation Department.
- Black Belt under Pedro Carvalho of Pedro Carvalho Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; First Degree Black Belt under John Ouano and Perry Hauck of Tsunami Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor with Versus Fitness in Montebello, CA and Claremont Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Claremont, CA.
- Trained by Senshido International Reality-Based Self Defense, and Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection.
- Trained in Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts at Team Diamond Muay Thai of Upland, CA; fought MMA at professional level with Team Diamond from 2005-2010.
- Instructor under Robert Redfeather with Apache Knife Fighting System.
NICOLE SNELL – Workshop Lead Instructor
Nicole Snell began assisting with IMPACT in 2015. By the end of 2016, she was certified to teach the Intro Workshop. It is her goal to be certified to teach Basics by the end of 2018!
Nicole received a full scholarship to Cal State Long Beach as a President’s Scholar and graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Speech Communication.
She is a passionate advocate for social justice and gender equality. Her self-defense training, in addition to IMPACT, includes FAST defense and the Girls Fight Back (GFB) Speaker Academy. In addition, she is a National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP) Credentialed Civilian Advocate to crime victims. When not traveling with GFB, Nicole works as a lead facilitator with a company that is contracted with the Department of Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to provide bystander intervention training to service members at military installations worldwide. Nicole is also an active volunteer for Taking the Reins, an LA based non-profit organization that teaches leadership, responsibility, and confidence to underserved middle- and high-school girls through horse care, riding, and urban farming.
In her spare time, Nicole rides horses, hikes (she is Wilderness Survival and First Aid Certified), practices archery, SCUBA dives, and loves to travel and explore the world.
CARLA YOUNG – Lead Instructor
Carla Young took her first IMPACT Personal Safety class in 1996. As a woman socialized to be a people-pleaser, she found it a life-changingand empowering experience. In 1997, she began assisting IMPACT classes and in 2004 she began instructing. In 2014, Carla’s own spinal and joint issues forced her to quit teaching IMPACT’s Basics courses and set her on a mission to find a niche for her continuing desire to teach personal safety.
Carla now heads up IMPACT’s firearms training courses, Pistol Basics Intro, Pistol Basic I, and Pistol Basics II, with Gus Themaras. IMPACT’s instruction style of positive reinforcement and layering techniques is also used in these courses. Carla’s goal is to make the class a safe, supportive environment and help each student reach his or her potential. She would like her students to walk away with an increased sense of personal safety and empowerment.
Carla keeps herself physically fit with circuit training, Zumba, Pilates, and yoga. She enjoys hiking, camping, mountain biking, target and sporting clay shooting. She is here to help her students overcome challenges, help them feel safe, and hopefully have some fun!
Her training and experience include:
- Special Agent, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General. She specializes in white collar crime, government fraud, employee threats, assaults, misconduct, workplace violence, animal fighting, and agricultural smuggling. (2001-present)
- Certified by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center as: Defensive Tactics Instructor, Non-Lethal Training Ammunition Instructor, Chemical Weapons Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, and Active Threat Response Instructor
- Certified by Force Science Institute Ltd. in Force Science Analysis
- NRA Certified Pistol Instructor
- NRA Certified Rifle Instructor
- NRA Certified Personal Protection in the Home Instructor
- NRA Certified Personal Protection Outside the Home (CCW) Instructor
- NRA Certified Refuse to Be Victim Instructor
- NRA Certified Range Safety Officer and Chief Range Safety Officer
- Trained by Senshido International in Reality Based Self-Defense and in Tony Blauer’s S.P.E.A.R technique
- Trained at Inosanto Academy of Marital Arts in Filipino Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, American and French Style Kick Boxing, Boxing, Kali, and Escrima. (1994-2006)
- Received training certified by Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission in Interviewing Sexually Motivated Offenders
- Certified in Adult/Infant CPR/AED/First Aid
- Trained in Tactical First Aid