When my husband told me about a women’s self-defense class on Aug. 22 at the jiu jitsu center where he and his daughter train, I jumped at the opportunity to attend. The fact that it was free to those who signed up before Aug. 22 was an added bonus.
It’s been a long time since I had to avoid unwelcome gestures at bars or being picked up — including physically — by men. Still, with current headlines citing increased crime, including in nearby New York City, it was time to brush up on some skills.
It had been more than 20 years since I was in a similar class. Before I stepped into the dojo at American Jiu Jitsu Centers on Lake Avenue in St. James Monday night, I only remembered one or two techniques. One is to hold my keys a certain way if it’s dark or I feel I am in danger, and go for a person’s crevice in their neck if they threaten me.
After Monday night’s class, I have a few more techniques in my arsenal.
Led by the school’s Shihan Francine and Sensei Charlie, other black belts and lower rank students were on hand to help with approximately two dozen women in attendance.
The importance of learning how to protect oneself was stressed in the hour-long class. The two head instructors were the perfect match to lead the class. Sensei Charlie is tall and muscular, while Shihan Francine is petite, standing 5 feet 3 inches. Charlie joked during one demonstration that he could bench press three times her weight, but that didn’t stop Francine from being able to push him to the ground while showing the women a defense move.
During the class, Sensei Charlie shared some statistics from Bethpage-based The Safe Center with the students. Among the stats, as far as experiences with attempted or complete rape, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men have reported such cases. The center’s Human Trafficking Department in 2019 responded to 500 human trafficking victims, both adults and youth. Violence also happens in private homes with the center reporting 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men being victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.
To me, it’s always shocking that while men can also be attacked, more women still find themselves as victims. Living in suburbia for decades, sometimes I forget the importance of being aware of my surroundings and knowing what to do if danger presents itself. Something I was more conscious of when I was a child in Queens or frequently traveling to Manhattan in my younger years.
One of the most important things I learned from the class is the first thing to do, when a person approaches you, is back away. Then maintain a nonconfrontational stance, and say, “Hey, I don’t want any trouble.” At the same time, it’s crucial to bring your arms up, hands in front of your face, to let the person know that you can defend yourself if needed.
Shihan Francine and Sensei Charlie shared several techniques with the women, such as heel-palm, knee and eye strikes. A main technique includes a combination of a kick, followed by a heel-palm strike, knee to the groin followed by a blow with an elbow. One of the most important things stressed was to shout “No!” with each move and to do so loudly.
The sequence and others were repeated several times, and students were able to practice with each other and the black belts.
I enjoyed that combining techniques was just like learning dance choreography, and I found the repetition helpful.
The importance of repetition was stressed so that the techniques come naturally. Shihan Francine said the sequence of moves wasn’t as important as remembering each of them. One student she knew years ago was attacked on the subway. Even though he only remembered to kick, she said the main thing is that he did something.
The black belts on hand shared advice to remember every day such as walking with confidence, looking people in the eyes when passing them, being aware of your surroundings and not putting earpods in both ears. Facing one’s back to a door or wall when stopping to make a phone call or to text is also important.
Sensei Charlie and his daughter as well as my husband, Joe, and my stepdaughter Summer gave demonstrations. Seeing young teenage girls being able to take down grown men sent the message home that women don’t need to be damsels in distress anymore with proper awareness and a bit of training.
After the class, I reached out to Shihan Francine and she said that American Jiu Jitsu Centers, which was founded by head instructor O’Sensei Joe Puleio, “is always delighted to host free martial arts seminars for women and welcomes the chance to give back to the communities of St. James and surrounding areas.”
Shihan Francine has taught several of the women’s self-defense classes at the school and has seen this empowerment on a regular basis.
“It is great to see new people learn practical defense techniques in under an hour,” she said. “It is even more exciting for me, though, when some of the participants are empowered enough to continue their training and join us on the mat every week.”
She added that there are many women who train at the St. James location: “These ladies continue to practice their skills several times a week and have the strength and confidence to defend themselves against an attacker.”
For more information and the opportunity to take a free trial class at AJJC, visit ajjctraining.com.
Rita J. Egan is the editor of The Village Times Herald, The Times of Smithtown and The Times of Huntington & Northport.