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I did a lot of shopping around before booking a class at the A-Academy of Self Defense in Evergreen Park, whose Saturday afternoon class only ran me $25. (Compare this to other classes, such as Revat’s $89 registration fee. $89? Why take a class in self defense when you’ve ALREADY BEEN ROBBED) The AASD is a cozy little studio with a mirror-panelled side wall & a kid’s playroom in the front. Also, baddies:

baddies1There were about twelve students there, myself included, plus our instructors, Senseis Jeff & Mike. Several of women knew each other, & the majority were there to refresh prior training. People chatted & silenced their cell phones, & everyone was wearing pajama or yoga pants except for myself, who had interpreted “loose, comfortable clothing” as “hoodie…?”.

There were no warm ups or hokey ice-breaker introductions, just Sensei Jeff at the front of the room in pajama pants, explaining that what we were about to learn could some day save our lives. His baby daughter had poked him in the eye ten minutes before class, & one side of his face was all red. His assistant, Sensei Mike, was very blond and young looking, probably no more than twenty, which made me feel very old until I realized that a few of the women in class were or were pushing sixty (which, by the way, was pretty awesome). 

The first & most basic lesson we learned was this: try to not find yourself in a situation where you need to practice violence prevention. That is, if you can avoid a sticky situation, do. At all costs. Obviously, this is good advice, but sometimes real life interferes with good advice & the next best thing to do is to be prepared. Sensei Jeff made a good point on something I personally think is a waste of money: mace. Though mace is a great tool in theory, it’s often not accessible in a real life attack.

MUGGER: <grabs YOU from behind> Gimme your money!
YOU: Wait! Hold on!
MUGGER: What?
YOU: I need to find my mace so I can defend myself against you!
MUGGER: Oh, well that’s only fair.
YOU: Just a sec, I know it’s in here somewhere. <dig through handbag> I remember putting it in my coin purse before I left the house. It was on a little chain, next to the garage key.
MUGGER: Take your time.
YOU: I’m so sorry about this, I just need one more min- hey! Mentos! Want a Mentos?
MUGGER: Sure! Thanks!
YOU: <hand MUGGER chewy mint> They’re the freshmaker.
MUGGER: I’ll say!

Defense weapons, we were told, are not usually handy during an attack, & even when they are it’s very easy to wind up with your weapon (mace, knife, whathaveyou) turned on you. The best weapon you can carry is something you’re going to need out anyway – keys, for example, laced through your fingers, are very handy if you’re punching back.

After finishing a couple of no-frills lectures, we paired up to practice escaping the grip of an attacker. This “escape grip move”, though effective, didn’t strike me as a way one might be attacked on the street. The menacing grip in question presumed your attacker was coming at you from the front & grabbing you by the arm, meaning they’d probably already gotten pretty close to your face, meaning you probably knew them. I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-quoted statistic about how two-thirds of attacks on women are committed by someone they know, but that information did not make it any less alarming to find myself struggling out of someone’s grip.

The move itself is surprisingly easy, though awkward to explain. To help, I made a very short video with my friend Aaron standing in as my sinister, would-be attacker:

It is important to note that I don’t really know what I’m talking about, & that this video should not be used as a substitution for actual instruction by people who are not¬†just dicking around on the street.

After some practicing & discussing some basic violence prevention concepts, we moved onto more active defense moves, like jabbing would-be attackers in their eyes, nose, & throat (&, of course, the ever popular knee-them-in-the-junk move). Sensei Jeff told us that these moves will disable our attackers only temporarily, & are meant to allow us to escape. Something I noticed during class was that no matter how good you are at kicking & screaming, your attacker will probably be better at trying to get you to shut up – endurance is key. The better your physical shape, the better your odds of surviving an attack unscathed. So…you know. I’m in trouble.

Many of the women in the class – myself included – had difficulty practicing these moves on our partners because, well, no one wanted to accidentally hurt someone else. Citing that what you do in practice is what you do in real life, Sensei Jeff brought out the Baddies.

IMG_0875.JPG

If you can take class seriously after being told to attack something like this, you are a far better person than I.

Taking turns, we defended ourselves from our instructors, each other, & the little green man. We rehearsed front attacks, attacks from behind, & what to do if your attacker overpowers you & you wind up on the ground. Over & over we were reminded that our attackers will always be stronger than we are. That is, unless you are like the woman in class who was a Chicago cop, in which case you are probably some sort of superhero & you will never need to worry about going un-aided because crowds will be drawn to observe you as you OBLITERATE your mugger who, hypnotized by your endless series of forward-jabs & knee assaults, will be easily felled & detained.

I had always thought about taking a course in self defense; a year ago the building I lived in was broken into & my room mates & I talked a lot about taking some sort of safety class, but that’s about as far as we got. Even after grown men started getting jumped & beaten in my neighborhood, I still operated under the assumption that I was smarter than that, & somehow would be forever impervious to violence. Truthfully, I still feel pretty invincible most of the time. But still, I’m very glad that I got – & completed – this assignment. It’s incredible how empowering it feels to know just what your body is capable of & to know that, should the worst occur, you’ve taken the effort to protect that body. I encourage every person to do the same.

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