- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

Knowing how to kickbox, taking a martial arts class or joining a gym is not going to cut it when it comes to self-defense.

“It’s not always about the physical aspects of fighting. It’s about awareness and alertness,” says Lee Nance, head instructor at Eagle Claw Karate and Self-Defense, a contractor for the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission in Maryland.

Typical self-defense classes offered in the metropolitan area teach both the physical skills of self-defense, such as strikes, kicks, blocks and escape maneuvers, and the mental skills of awareness and assertiveness. The classes can be coed or for women only, free or fee-based, and taught in a one-day session or over several weeks or months. Classes generally are offered by sheriffs’ offices, police departments, rape crisis centers, parks and recreation departments, community colleges and martial arts schools.

“Our goal is not to teach women how to knock someone out, how to incapacitate them, but how to extract themselves from a situation and get to safety,” says Debbie Guenther, assistant professor of health enhancement and self-defense instructor at Montgomery College in Rockville.

The syllabus Ms. Guenther uses is based on the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) system, a women-only program based in Denham Springs, La., that teaches awareness, risk reduction and avoidance, and self-defense tactics through lecture, discussion and hands-on training.

“The more they are aware and protect themselves at the forefront, the less chance they’ll ever have to use their techniques,” Ms. Guenther says.

The Sexual Assault Response and Awareness (SARA) Program in Alexandria offers a self-defense class three times a year also based on the RAD program. Lead instructor Patricia Lopez encourages students to increase their safety awareness and to trust their instincts, which, for some, requires some “unlearning.”

“As children, we have great instincts, and we keep putting them away,” says Ms. Lopez, outreach and prevention specialist with the Office on Women’s SARA Program, which raises awareness and provides support for those affected by sexual violence.

The class covers self-defense options from fighting to running and specific self-defense techniques, such as how to get out of a chokehold, bearhug or headlock.

“I never thought I could do this. It really is quite empowering,” says a Northern Virginia woman who took the class through the SARA program. She did not want her name used for privacy reasons.

The Capital Jiu-Jitsu Team in Alexandria teaches women how to prevent attacks and provides them with a variety of self-defense techniques.

“Women should feel empowered to defend themselves,” says Jeremy Lafreniere, owner and head instructor of the Capital Jiu-Jitsu Team, a member of the Royce Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Network. “That’s why we use the word fight. You’re in a fight, and your survival depends on your success in this fight,” he says.

Mr. Lafreniere teaches self-defense in the three ranges of combat that include the striking range, the trapping and throwing range, and the grappling range on the ground where most fights occur, he says.

“What we offer does not require strength and does not require speed. It requires leverage, and leverage can be taught,” Mr. Lafreniere says.

Arlington resident Jen Flannery takes self-defense classes twice a week, in addition to two classes a week of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in which she has earned a blue belt.

“When you’re constantly working with people twice as big as you, you’re not intimidated,” says the 23-year-old. “I feel like if I was confronted, I would know how to handle it.”

BASIC, which stands for “be aware, safe and in control,” is the focus of coed self-defense classes taught through Prince George’s County Department of Parks & Recreation.

Mr. Nance, one of the instructors for the classes, teaches the “five Ts,” or stages, of an assault. An aggressor, he says, talks to potential victims, tests them for a reaction, threatens them verbally or physically, touches them through the actual assault, and in the most critical stage, or takeoff, decides whether to let the victim live or die, he says.

“If you know where you are in the stages of an attack, you know how to gain back some of your space,” Mr. Nance says.

Impact Self-Defense offers a basic 25-hour self-defense class, along with more advanced classes, through the District chapter of the national organization. The co-ed class, which mostly attracts women, covers preventative behaviors, gives options of verbal tactics and provides scenario-based training for different types of attacks.

The class teaches skills necessary to handle the psychological maneuvers of an attacker, says Carol Middleton, director of DC-Impact Self-Defense in Silver Spring and of the D.C. Self Defense Karate Association, a martial arts school in Northwest that provides self-defense workshops, seminars and classes in the District.

“We try to make it as realistic as we can emotionally and physically, so she’s not thrown off, so she’s ready,” Ms. Middleton says.

Since almost every attack starts out verbally, the class focuses on verbal strategies to distract the attacker and defuse a situation to a level of safety, Ms. Middleton says. If the attack becomes physical, the class covers how to handle a variety of maneuvers, such as frontal assaults, standing attacks from behind the victim, and attacks from the ground, she says.

“Our goal is to negotiate and disengage, or knock the guy out if we can’t disengage and it turns physical,” she says.

So, what should those wanting to learn self-defense look for in a class?

Ms. Guenther suggests a class with hands-on practice to build strength and skills, along with repetition in training to reinforce what is learned.

In addition, she and other self-defense instructors suggest that the class be conducted in a safe and comfortable manner and taught by certified instructors.

“They need to be given simple techniques that the nonathletic person could apply that doesn’t require memorization. You’re not going to remember a lot of stuff in the middle of an attack,” Ms. Middleton says.

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