by Jad G. '20
As an outgrowth of his Service Learning work teaching youth karate, senior Jad G. was empowered to teach self-defense to women experiencing homelessness. He reflects on the experience and what he learned.
I believe that all women have the right to learn self-defense. I spent much of my summer teaching self-defense classes to women experiencing homelessness. What started out as my dad and I teaching a few moves to our neighbor’s daughters before they went off to college has become a passion of mine and something that I believe is very important. After previewing the class a few four-hour sessions at University Heights Community Center, I decided that I wanted to teach the class somewhere where it was most needed. We had contacted sororities and gyms who had countless self-defense classes come through, but what struck me was that many women in homeless and domestic abuse shelters had never been exposed to self-defense.
I first taught the class at Mary’s Place, a center for women experiencing homelessness. Before each class we ask everybody to share their name and one thing they would like to learn, and it was clear that they were eager to learn and were badly in need of protection. Each session is split up across two days, a two-hour awareness and confidence section and a two-hour physical skills section.
When you think of self-defense you probably think of punching and kicking, but the first half of each class is dedicated to finding your voice and situational awareness. We talk about giving firm directives and finding shields and escapes if situations escalate, but we emphasize that your most important weapon is your voice. At the Jubilee Women’s Center, we asked each participant to yell “no” to an attacker, almost every time their voice dropped below their speaking level out of a natural fear and lack of practice. To combat this, I organized a drill where we split the room into two groups, and each group picked a color. One picked red, the other green, and they shouted their colors back and forth. The volume started at speaking level but eventually escalated to the point where my ears hurt. It was beautiful to see these women access their voice and break the stigma of yelling.
In the second class we practice physical techniques. We brought my mom along to combat an issue we should have planned for but didn’t foresee when we planned the first class: none of the women in the domestic abuse or homeless shelters wanted to make physical contact with any men. I demonstrated each technique and explained the target and striking surface, then each participant attempted the strike or escape on a pad my mom was holding. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories of when they could have used these techniques: many of them said they could have used them within the past week. When they were practicing the strikes, I was blown away by and proud of the power and confidence they began to show on each technique. Every participant was so strong, both mentally and physically.
I’m a first degree blackbelt in Goju-Ryu karate and my dad is a fourth degree blackbelt, so the physical skills portion was first nature. We’re used to teaching our kids class every Saturday, but this was a new challenge that was much more important and impactful. We developed a curriculum designed to build confidence and end situations before they have the chance to escalate, and I look forward to teaching more classes in the future.