Seventeen – March 1993

Defending Your Life

Scared No More: One Girl’s Story

seventeen magazine coverBy Sonya Martinez
Photographs by Lizzie Himmel

When I left for college, my mother gave me a lot of advice—things like,  “Wash your sheets.” But she also said something that wasn’t so simple: Remember, a college campus isn’t always safe. You should take a self-defense class.”

I knew it wasn’t bad advice — at five foot four and one hundred pounds, I felt like an easy target. But I really didn’t want to take self-defense; the idea made me nervous. Besides, my campus seemed well protected. Then a girl who lived in my dorm was attacked. She got away before she was hurt; turns out she had been taking a self-defense class. I was scared, but I still put off taking a class.

My sophomore year I got a flyer about alternative courses. One of them was self-defense for women, and it included self-defense strategies and readings on women’s issues. I threw the flyer away. The idea still made me nervous. Besides, I didn’t want to hear a lot of militant women talking about how men are evil. But when my freshman-year roommates told me that they were both planning on taking the class, I thought, I guess it’s now or never. We all signed up.

knee to head

A KNEE TO THE HEAD: Power move: Amy lppoliti, a class assistant at Model Mugging, gives a knee- to-head blow to Yosef Pollack, a model mugger. To do it: Draw your leg up, pushing forward with your hips. Ram your knee into the attacker’s head. Note: You usually do this after striking his groin with your knee — that’ll bring him to the ground.

During the first class, each woman had to tell everyone why she was there. My classmates all had important reasons; many were rape survivors. I couldn’t imagine what I was going to say. Surprising myself, I confessed, “I’ve always been afraid that even after I took self-defense, I’d still feel weak, and then I’d know for sure that there was nothing I could do.” After I said it, I started crying, and I realized that I’d stumbled onto the truth. I had spent my life believing that anyone could hurt me. I thought I’d never be capable of defending myself.

But I found out I was. In class, I discovered I was able to hit, kick, and elbow the punching bag with incredible force. We also learned how to avoid frightening situations. And we discussed our readings about rape, domestic violence, and child molestation. Some of them were real-life stories horrible beyond my comprehension. Forced to think so much about these issues, I found it harder to sleep at night. But I also felt stronger than before. I realized that someone could attack me, but I also knew that I could do something about it. As I pounded the punching bag, there was no way I could believe I was powerless. My classmates said it was funny to see how hard I could hit and kick, considering how small I am. I didn’t think it’ was funny. It made me feel strong.

In class, we cheered each other on. Outside of class, my male friends teased me. They were sure they could kill me with their bare hands if they wanted to. Before the class, I probably would’ve believed them. But now I argued with them. I got angry. They mostly just found this amusing. They said that they were only trying to help; they didn’t want me to get overconfident. It bothered me that they thought they knew my limitations when they had never even seen my moves. But the only man who truly needs to know my strength is the one who attacks me. And if that ever happens, I feel confident that he will know. Before I took self-defense, I didn’t think that being a woman seriously affected the way I experience life. But the class made me think about the crimes committed against women every day. We’re attacked by strangers, acquaintances, friends, lovers, spouses, and family members. And we’re told that we’re incapable of defending ourselves: At any moment, we may become victims. If we live believing this, then we are victims.

The class taught me that I’m capable of taking care of myself. If you don’t, know that about yourself, then you need to learn that it’s true.

Sometimes the Best Offense Is a Good Self-Defense Course

It’s important to know how to defend yourself: One in eight women in the United States is raped in her lifetime, according to the National Victim Center, in Arlington, Virginia. And that doesn’t even include other types of violence. How to stay safe? Take a self-defense class. We checked out Model Mugging, a program that’s offered in twenty-two cities across the U.S.

In these classes, a “model mugger” dressed in a large, padded outfit reenacts a street attack. Because he’s padded, you’re able to deliver full-force blows to a real person — so you’ll learn how to fight back. There are other kinds of self-defense classes. In some, you practice moves on a punching bag or on classmates (whom you don’t hit full force). To find classes, call your local police department or YMCA, or look in the yellow pages under Martial Arts for self-defense classes.

We talked to Laine Jastram, an instructor at Model Mugging, who told us about some important self-defense strategies you can learn even before you take a class:

What’s the most important self-defense tool you can use? Your voice — Always use it first. A big, loud “No!” will often scare someone off. Shout something like “Getaway!” or “Back off!” And yell loudly; it will force you to breathe, which is important, since sometimes scared people don’t breathe — and faint. Breathing also helps keep you focused and (relatively) calm. Never ask a question like “What do you want?” The point is to get the person to leave you alone. And remember, never curse at your attacker or call him names; it’ll often just make him more angry.

When should you try to defend yourself physically? Telling someone who’s threatening you to get lost usually works. If not, and you think you’re about to be hurt, you have every right to use physical force. You’re not trying to kill the person; you just need time to get away. But if he has a weapon — like a knife or a gun — convince him to put it down. Try to stay calm, and cooperate.

Is there anything else you should remember? Never turn your back on someone who seems threatening — be aware and trust your instincts.

What about taking a martial-arts class? Martial arts like karate or Tai Chi aren’t usually the same as self-defense. Self-defense classes focus on being attacked; karate and Tai Chi are mind-and-body disciplines that can take years to master.

How should you choose a self-defense class? Always observe a class before you sign up. Make sure that the instructor isn’t patronizing and believes a woman can protect herself. You want to feel empowered, not vulnerable. Should you take a single-sex class? It doesn’t matter, as long as you feel comfortable. But beware: Men in a class might make you feel weak. Look for an atmosphere that gives you strength.

How to avoid trouble in the first place? We talked to Vince Ornelas, a correctional officer in Santa Barbara, California. He gave us some tips on how to keep safe:

• Walk with confidence. Keep your back straight, hold your head up, and move at a brisk pace.

• Look around — be aware of who and what is nearby.

• Stick to streets that are well lit and have people, houses, or stores around.

• Look at people — let them know you see them.

• Don’t accept rides with people you don’t know.

If you are attacked or raped call 911 or a rape hotline or rape crisis center in your area.


The Right Moves

Attack from Behind

back hammer strikeLaine Jastram (above, left), an instructor at Model Mugging, and Amy Ippoliti demonstrate a move you can use if someone approaches you from behind. (In a Model Mugging class, Lame’s role would be enacted by a padded “mugger.”) 1. First, “settle in”: Cross your arms, tuck your head down, and stick your butt out slightly. This keeps you balanced. 2. Stomp on the attacker’s instep. He’ll probably let go. If not: 3. Hit him with your fist as hard as you can in the groin.

Groin Kick

1. When an attacker charges, you can drop to the ground to utilize the strength in your hips and legs. 2. Then thrust your foot into your attacker’s groin as he approaches. Doing this will take advantage of your attacker’s forward motion and let you use it against him. It’s also a good move to know about since 90 percent of women who are attacked get knocked to the ground.

kick to groin


Original article in Seventeen Magazine – March 1993; download file size is 4.26 MB.

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