This interview is part of the Real Talk Real Women interview series, where we bring you the life-changing, heart-warming and inspirational stories behind the most successful women in health and fitness. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest interviews! For this installment, we are joined by Jennifer Cassetta.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
I am a national self defense expert, clinical nutritionist and personal trainer. I am passionate about empowering women to learn how to be their most powerful selves. I speak at college campuses around the country about women's empowerment, sexual assault prevention and wellness.
I started down this journey in 2000 with a martial arts class that I fell in love with. It became a love of mine as I started to reap the physical, mental and spiritual benefits from it. On September 11th, 2001, I went to work three blocks away from the World Trade Center. Soon after, I found myself running away from the burning ashes and chaos and eventually ended up at the martial arts studio where I spent so much of my time.
Over the next year, it became a metaphor for my life that I was almost seeking refuge in this uplifting place where my mind and body were constantly being challenged. I decided to quit all of my other jobs and pursuits and take up martial arts, fitness and nutrition coaching.
Within 10 years, I became a certified health coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, graduated with a Master's degree in clinical nutrition, earned my 3rd degree black belt in Hapkido and created a thriving personal training practice in New York City. In 2009, I took it all with me to Los Angeles and started over. I consulted for big companies like Beachbody and UFC and traveled the world with VIP clients.
You're a third degree black belt in Hapkido, for those who aren't familiar with it, can you explain what Hapkido is and how you got involved in the sport?
Hapkido is a Korean style martial art that when literally translated means the way of harmonizing your life force energy. It is a mixed and holistic martial art that focuses on self defense for people of all sizes, shapes and strength. I didn't choose the martial art, I chose the school and my teacher first. That's the best advice I can offer for people looking to find a martial art for them.
I know you combine your extensive training in Hapkido with a holistic approach to fitness and nutrition. Tell us about your whole-body approach to health.
A healthy mind and body go hand in hand. It is difficult to achieve one without the other. My holistic approach to fitness and nutrition includes strengthening your belief system in order to create a healthy lifestyle. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet with healthy fats and small amounts of clean protein can allow you to occasionally splurge without having to count calories.
When I design a fitness program it always includes strength training, cardio and flexibility training for the most balanced approach. This is precisely why I love martial arts training because it offers all three modalities in one.
You developed the Stilettos and Self Defense series, can you tell us what that's all about and how it came to fruition?
Stilettos & Self Defense is a training program and video series I created back in 2009 after many women approached me about teaching them self defense. In 2002, I was grabbed on the street by a predator in NYC. I was able to scare him off without having to use any physical self defense techniques I was learning in Hapkido at the time. I realized that I was able to defend myself with my body language, confidence and presence that I had been strengthening in my martial arts practice.
After that incident I dove deep into martial arts and trained extensively under the same teacher at World Martial Arts Center for 10 years. I then created Stilettos & Self Defense to teach women the basics of self defense and the mindset needed to be a bad-ass on the streets and in life. I was featured teaching these techniques on The Today Show, The Doctors, Rachael Ray, and to Marie Osmond, Bethany Frankel and Jenny McCarthy. I still teach this class around the country at schools and corporations.
On your website, I found a two very concerning statistics: 1 out of SIX women in America have been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime and every TWO minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted. Those are very scary numbers. If you could only teach our readers 1 lesson about self-defence, what would it be?
Self defense starts with a state of mind. Before I teach any physical movements, I always teach the ABC's of self defense first. These include: awareness, boundaries and communication. Increasing your situational awareness means keeping your eyes and ears open at all times and being calm and alert when out and about. Get off of your cellphones and tune in to your surroundings. Create boundaries in your relationships with people and learn how to use physical boundaries to keep you safe. Powerfully communicate with strong body language.
You've worked with celebrities, large corporations, top executives and even with royalty! What's the most impactful lesson you've learned this far in working with your clients?
Even if you have all of the money in the world, it cannot buy you health. Money cannot make you eat broccoli or get you on the treadmill. Money cannot make you more authentically confident or help you believe in yourself. I believe we get caught up in the latest fitness gadgets, expensive food trends, pricey memberships and even personal coaches. Those things may be great, but you do not need them to eat clean, workout and be happy. People, no matter their circumstances need a clear future to step into and work towards in order to achieve their goals. We all need to leave our past in our past and get on with creating the lives we truly want.
You are a blogger for LiveStrong and your first article was about being STRONG, SAFE and SEXY. Can you tell us what those three words mean to you?
I believe that every woman has the right to feel strong, safe & sexy. Strong, both mentally and physically. Safe from danger and safer from lifestyle-related disease and sexy from the inside out. Feeling sexy has nothing to do with your physical attributes and everything to do with your perception and confidence. So, I have now made this my mission: to empower women to feel strong, safe and sexy.
I know you're also a big fan of motivational stuff, like the incredible Tony Robbins, what's the most motivational lesson you've ever learned and how do you apply it to your life?
That you can change your emotional state in an instant by changing your physiology and your thoughts. By getting in a powerful stance, forgetting about the past and focusing on gratitude you can change your mood instantly. It doesn't make challenges go away, but it can help you deal with challenges in a powerful way, instead of feeling victim to them.
On that note, I know that one of your favorite quotes is a very powerful one from Eleanor Roosevelt, can you share it with us?
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Any time we start to feel powerless in a relationship we have the power to take our power back. It starts with making the choice to do so.
What's the one thing people never ask you about self-defence, but really should?
I'm not sure what people should ask me but my biggest question for others is: why shouldn't everyone learn self defense? I believe everyone, especially women should learn how to protect themselves and the earlier the better. I wish more schools would offer self defense classes before girls get to college where sexual assault is way too prevalent.
What are your biggest goals for 2017?
My biggest goals for 2017 include teaching even more people safety and self defense at corporations and universities. I would like to create an online program and write my second book. I also aim to speak at a TedX event.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!