Smile at Strangers

Susan Schorn led an anxious life. For no clear reason, she had become progressively paralyzed by fear. Fed up with feeling powerless, she took up karate.

She learned how to say no and how to fight when you have to (even in the dark). Karate taught her how to persuade her husband to wear a helmet, best one bossy Girl Scout troop leader, and set boundaries with an over-sharing boss. Here this double black belt recounts a fighting, biting, laughing woman’s journey on the road to living fearlessly—where enlightenment is as much about embracing absurdity and landing a punch as about finding that perfect method of meditation.

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Praise for Smile at Strangers
Eat, pray…kick ass. Smile at Strangers is the ultimate self-defense guide—from the liberation of the word ‘no’ to protecting yourself from overzealous Girl Scout troop leaders—all the while cleverly disguised as an insightful, grounded memoir with bursts of hilarity that hit you like a roundhouse. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn’s life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who’s ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who’s ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. In fact, Schorn’s skill at karate is only outmatched by her mastery at prose. Like the fighter herself, you can’t put this one down.
Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You’re Expecting: Clear, Comprehensive, Month-by-Month Dread

Funny, focused, and fierce with wiry wisdom, this memoir is a muscular meditation on living fearlessly. It’s a sort of ‘Code of the Samurai’ for every 21st century person, written by a witty literature professor with a second-degree black belt and a keen eye for spotting human folly. Schorn breaks down our conventional understanding of confronting menace in the world with the same ease that she breaks planks of wood. A perfect, engaging read for tackling college, the workplace, marriage, or prison—basically anywhere humans congregate with complicated motives.
Joe Loya, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber

Susan Schorn is a badass black belt with a huge heart and generous wit. This inspiring, often funny tale of her journey—from a cowering, self-confessed “neurotic” to a martial arts master—is not just about the kick. It’s about how the lessons of karate can be applied to women’s daily lives to make us stronger and less fearful—as friends, mothers, wives, and professionals—no matter how we dress or where we go. Smile at Strangers is a power tool indeed. It’s a swift chop to the myth that women need to live like victims in order to survive. It made me want to take up martial arts too—and keep reading.
Susan Jane Gilman, author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

This book delivers a swift, lethal karate chop at pantywaistedness in all its forms. With huge amounts of wit and grace, Susan Schorn looks Adversity in the eye, and crushes that sucker’s windpipe.
Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners

This is a memoir I’ll be thinking and talking about for a long time. To begin with, the voice is unique—trust me, you’ve never heard anyone talk about coping with fear and anger the way Susan Schorn does. The writing is hilarious at times, dead serious when it needs to be, and always brilliant. The insights into the psychology of martial arts training—with special emphasis on the experiences of female students and teachers—is sure to launch a thousand discussions about violence, gender, confidence, and how to deal with alligators. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and I will make sure never to get into a fistfight with its author.
Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk

Hey readers! Time to put on your karate pants and crush some imaginary trachea! In Smile at Strangers Susan Schorn urges us to confront our fears in an increasingly scary world. Who knew that the highs and lows of the dojo held superb—and often funny— lessons for life? Schorn never suggests that karate is the only path, or even the best path. She is reminding us that we have a choice. We all experience fear, but we can choose our response to it. Overall, reading Smile at Strangers is sort of like watching samurai chanbara, only with more safety helmets and female bonding. You wince, but you can’t look away.
Rhoda Janzen, author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Smile at Strangers is an elegant, often hilarious, and very personal account of women who fight and the paths they take to fearlessness. If you’re anywhere on that path—and if you love someone who is—it might be your most essential read of the year.
Michael Erard, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

Recent Posts

Protest Safety Training Guide, Draft version

I’ve posted a PDF version of the DRAFT protest safety training manual I’ve been developing. It covers the basic skills critical to safe and effective protest:

  • emotional grounding
  • communication
  • boundary setting
  • de-escalation
  • intervention

The step-by-step guide is intended to help users acclimate themselves to the skills, and then teach them to others, as soon as they have basic familiarity with the concepts. It is very close to a peer teaching model, not because that’s necessarily the best way of disseminating these skills, but because it’s fast, and time is of the essence. As the pressures on our democracy increase, the odds of conflict will continue to rise. The more people who have exposure to these skills, the better our odds of avoiding unnecessary violence.

What this guide does NOT cover:

  • Skills specific to civil disobedience, including how to respond to police and other state-sponsored violence. I’m working on a short training guide for CD, and I strongly recommend Bruce Hartford’s four-part post on tactical non-violence training.
  • How to plan and run a safe protest. I’m working on a tips sheet for this that covers how to train and deploy volunteers, talk to law enforcement connected to the venue, etc. I’d love to hear from others who have been organizing actions, about what they’ve learned.
  • How to be heard at townhalls and other public forums. Some basics for those situations are covered in this post, and the Indivisible Guide also has good advocacy advice. Here too, I’m working converting training materials into a useable guide for others.

I’m building a dedicated page for this website that will cover those topics and additional teaching guides. If you’re interested in such resources, please contact me via Gmail (gsschorn) or Twitter (@susanschorn).

Download the DRAFT Basic Protest Safety Guide (June, 2017 version)

Go to this earlier post to download all the handouts mentioned in the Guide.

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