Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Women's Self-Defense Success Story

Self-defense classes have won eager acceptance from women

A biker chick beat up Elizabeth Kennedy about 20 years ago. Nobody's messed with her since.

"I said, 'If a girl can do this to me, I will never let it happen again,' and that's when I started training," recalled Kennedy.

Now she's on the board of directors of the Long Island-based American Women's Self-Defense Association. The group offers instructor certification in rape prevention and aims to get self-defense training included in middle school gym classes for girls.

"Fifteen or 20 years ago, we were still convincing women they had the right to defend themselves," Kennedy said. "Nowadays women come into training accepting that it's just a matter of learning how."

A variety of instructors in North Jersey teach women self-defense using martial-arts techniques adapted for the street. Enrollment often peaks when a tragedy grabs headlines, such as the February rape and slaying of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen in Manhattan.

That incident hit close to home for Erin Weed, 28. Within two months of a friend's murder in 2001 -- the same year April was declared National Sexual Assault Awareness Month -- Weed was studying with violence-prevention experts and self-defense instructors across the world.

She melded aspects of different approaches with her own touches of humor to create Girls Fight Back, a two-hour program she presents at schools, corporations and women's groups. In June, she'll offer a four-session course at her Hoboken studio, which is decorated with movie posters depicting strong women.

"Imette's case caused me great sadness," Weed said. "I don't think a single woman in America shouldn't know how to defend herself. Violence happens all around us, and the more you know how to fight, the less likely you are to use it, because you have learned how to stick up for yourself and recognize [dangers] before they materialize into attack situations."

It's all about body language and awareness, said Seton Hall University student Ivory Riley, who took a four-session rape-aggression defense class on campus.

We learned how to do stances that warn someone to back off, without being aggressive or looking nervous. You can put your hands up in a certain way to give the message that 'Hey, you're in my
personal zone.' "

Her instructor, Kevin Lockwood, also taught her to be watchful of her surroundings.

"I drive to volunteer at St. Barnabas Hospital by myself, in the dark," said the 21-year-old Paterson resident, "so now I look around and under the car before I get in, and I know how to walk to discourage people from bothering me."

Disturbing statistics

Lockwood, then a master's degree student, was Weed's assistant during her first presentation at
East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania five years ago. He's been working with her ever since, allowing himself to be covered in orange stickers showing "vital targets" such as nose, eyes and groin. He also offers a male perspective on how to avoid dangerous dating situations.

According to the Center for College Health and Safety, 17 percent of college students report experiencing some form of violence or harassment every year.

"A week after she took Erin's class, one college student was attacked by her boyfriend," Lockwood said. "She told us that she kept her wits about her and ... fought back as best she could, and he went away."

There's much more. Please read it all.

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