After a woman was murdered and a child raped at knifepoint at Great Northern Mall March 14, residents have been clamoring for a way to protect themselves. A number of free classes have been introduced to help women, in particular, learn techniques to use in a similar situation.
But the free self-defense classes provided by some local martial arts studios aren’t new offerings in response to the tragedy. Both Impact Martial Arts and Karate John’s have offered free women’s self-defense classes for years.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years,” said Shihan Theron Feidt, who operates an Impact Martial Arts studio at Great Northern Mall and another in Clay. “In light of what has happened, we had 150 calls between two days, not including emails and Facebook and all that requesting something like this. The unfortunate thing is that, one the day before the incident happened, we had eight people in class. [On Wednesday, March 20] there were more than 100. It’s unfortunate that something like this had to happen for people to take action.”
Feidt’s Great Northern Mall studio offers free classes for women from 6 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday. The course is a series, so participants can join at any time. Students learn Krav Maga, the Israeli system of self-defense used to train the U.S. military and police. Feidt himself is a sixth-degree black belt and a certified Krav Maga instructor who has been involved in martial arts for more than 30 years.
“You are the only one that can protect yourself,” he said. “You’re always with you. Weapons can help, but you can lose them, or if you get surprised… But you always have your body. That’s why you have to take these steps first and not rely on anything or anyone else.”
Sensei John Annable of Karate John’s Martial Arts Center in Cicero agreed.
“It is important for everyone to learn self-defense, but especially women,” Annable said. “Assailants generally believe the stereotype that women are weaker and will be more passive and not fight back. The best thing to do is take steps to prevent crime in the first place. Criminals mainly choose targets which appear to be vulnerable and unaware of their surroundings.”
Karate John’s will offer a free self-defense workshop for women from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6. The studio offers the course annually.
“The techniques taught in these classes are practical, empty-hand techniques [meaning the techniques don’t use a weapon] that rely on principles of timing and leverage, not size or weight,” Annable said. “Tthese moves could really help save a life. Studies show that ‘forceful resistance’ works. You would try to defend your child, so why wouldn’t you try to defend yourself? Pleading, crying, not resisting, is less effective. Women who fight back are statistically injured less and feel better about themselves afterwards.”
But Feidt emphasized that these introductory courses should not convince women that they’re ready to take on an attacker.
“We’re only touching on the surface. It takes years of training to really master the moves,” he said. “But there are three basic tenets that we teach. Awareness is number one. Number two is confidence, and the third is your personal skills, the moves and the stances. The first two can be taught relatively quickly. Those two can get you out of and prevent a lot of situations from getting to that point. The third are the self-defense skills, and it takes a lot of training to get to that point. I wouldn’t want to give anyone false confidence.”
Feidt emphasized that awareness is key.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “That’s number one. That’s preventative. Like anything else, prevention is the best remedy.”
“The most important piece of advice I could give to women and others looking to protect themselves would be to be prepared, not scared,” he said. “In other words, take steps to prevent crime be aware of your surroundings — don’t text or talk on the phone, dig through your purse, etc. Don’t walk alone and walk with confidence and purpose.”
Annable did suggest some techniques women — and others — can use to protect themselves.
“There are some basic principles that everyone should know: Use the hard parts of the body — knees, knuckles, elbows, etc. — yell, cause a commotion, use what’s around you — pull a fire alarm, break a window, stomp, resist being taken to another more discreet location,” he said. “And take a self-defense class.”
Cole Reyna of Baldwinsville took the course offered by Impact Martial Arts after the rape-murder in Clay. She also signed up her 9-year-old daughter.
“Being a single mom, being relatively young, having a small build, I want to do everything I can,” Reyna said. “I consider myself fairly street-smart, but I don’t know everything. When a tragedy like this happens, I have to wonder, am I doing everything that I should be doing? Is there something more that I should do to keep myself and my daughter safe?”
Reyna loved the introductory course on March 20 so much she’s since signed up for more.
“I really wish the class was longer,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting to the point when the steps become natural instinct, without having to think about my next maneuver. I’m hooked. It’s a great feeling.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.