The Gustavian Weekly

Self-defense — More than just martial | The Gustavian Weekly

By Victoria Clark Features Editor | March 18, 2011 | Features

In light of the recent assaults on campus, students have been thinking of ways to keep themselves safe, but what many of us don’t realize is that self-defense is more than just physical maneuvers. According to Aaron Banks, professor of health and exercise science, in his article “Self-Defense Education: Five Steps for Developing Awareness and Prevention Tactics,” modern self-defense is described as “a mixture of basic protection skills and common sense.”

The multi-faceted nature of self-defense requires comprehensive instruction. The faculty and staff of Gustavus, realizing this, have implemented several ways to educate our community. “The peace that needs to be created [on this campus] is a sense of security,” Professor Karen Larson, professor of anthropology and interdisciplinary studies said. “People, women in particular, need to be able to live normal lives without always being in fear.”

One way she saw to do this is by providing an accessible course on self-defense to the women of Gustavus. She hopes to help students become “aware and alert to the possibility of an attack and train themselves to be able to neutralize an attack should it come.”

Larson, who has been studying martial arts for 18 years, collaborated with Banks to create a class, which promotes an extensive safety plan for students, emphasizing prevention of a potential assault.

Banks, who has studied self-defense for 15 years, said that self-defense is important because it is a general, practical skill that anyone can use to be safe. “Also, because the chance of you being victimized is so high in our society, particularly if you have no training.”

The class being taught will cover three aspects of self-defense: situational, presentational and martial.

The situational aspect deals with the idea of keeping yourself out of a potentially dangerous situation to begin with. “Put [yourself] in the situation [of an assault] before it happens,” Banks said. He refers to this as “making a safety plan.”

Part of this, as Banks recounts in his article, is realizing that crime could happen to you. According to Banks, “It has been estimated that five out of six Americans will fall victim to a violent crime at least once in their lifetime.”

Another component of creating a safety plan is understanding the types of crime that concern you. For instance, women should be particularly aware of their susceptibility to sexual assault and plan accordingly.

Situational preparation is essentially about prevention and “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Larson said.

The presentational side of self-defense deals with how an individual can prevent or deter assault by how they present themselves.

“Criminals are [usually] smart and thoughtful [about choosing their victims],” Banks said. They pick you for a reason, and presentation is a large part of why you could be targeted. If you are distracted or look particularly vulnerable, you increase your chances of being attacked.

To decrease the likelihood of being assaulted, both Larson and Banks talked about appearing confident and being aware of your surroundings.

Body posture and tone of voice can communicate confidence well. “A classic athletic stance contains most of the characteristics evident in a confident body posture,” Banks said. This includes keeping your head up, shoulders back, arms relaxed and legs slightly bent. Developing a relaxed breathing pattern will also help you appear calm and confident.

Banks summarizes in his article that “a strong voice in conjunction with eye contact and appropriate body posture can often de-escalate a tense situation.”

Another component of presentation is understanding the different techniques employed by attackers. “They are either going to jump you or interview you,” Banks said. Banks explains the technique of interviewing as the assailant approaching the potential victim and appearing polite and friendly. They may ask for help or try to start up a conversation to “get your guard down” and then attack.

The martial aspect of self-defense deals with neutralizing a physical attack. Banks said that during an assault, the amount of action you take in response to the assault directly correlates to a decrease in the assailant’s motivation.

“50 percent of the time if you take one action (like taking a confident stance or pushing the attacker) they will give up,” he said. If you take two actions, like pushing and shouting at them, they will run 80 percent of the time. Banks said that this flight response is prevalent because they’re taken off-guard. “They’re thinking you’re not serious,” he said. “Always be mobile and don’t stop fighting.”

Both Banks and Larson encourage students to not let the recent assaults cripple them. “Don’t let this shut your life down. Don’t stay home gripped with fear. Just be aware,” Banks said. “[These assaults] are a reminder that we need to be aware of our surroundings, because this happens everywhere.”

Larson’s self-defense classes are offered two Tuesdays of every month until the end of the semester: March 22, April 5 and 12, and May 3 and 10. Classes are held from 5:30 to 6:20 p.m. in Alumni Hall.

“Even a small amount of training can increase your confidence in the face of an assault,” Larson said. Increase your awareness and defend yourself, Gustavus. The real world is waiting.

Single armed opponent

Attacker approaches you.

Prepare to deflect hit.

Block with upper arm.

Respond with heal kick.

Attacker is destabilized.

Single grab

Attacker grabs right hand.

Grasp right hand with left for leverage.

Pull firmly in direction of left hand.

Hand releases from attacker.

Double lapel grab

Attacker grabs lapel.

Pull down above elbow.

Releases from attacker.

Featured in photos Karen Larson and John Cha. All photographs by Catherine Keith.

Ways to defend yourself

  1. Make a safety plan.
  2. Practice—Put yourself in the situation before it happens.
  3. Avoid distractions—iPods, phones, etc.
  4. Pay attention to your surroundings (especially at night).
  5. Indicate confidence—body posture and facial expressions.
  6. Travel with others and utilize safe rides.
  7. See fear as a way to keep you safe and aware, not a thing to cripple you.
  8. Attend a self-defense class.


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  1. Jim Miller says:

    Many personal defense products can prove helpful to prevent, thwart or repel an attack.
    Not everyone has time or resources nearby to take a martial art. Many are not in physical condition necessary to defend against an attack. Pepper spray , alarms, small striking devices and other products can help.
    Defensedevices on the internet is a great place to browse and learn.

  2. Alan Williamson says:

    It’s always a good thing to know some form of self defence. you will never know when it will come in useful!

  3. Mark Edwards says:

    Hi, fantastic article thanks for sharing.

  4. Candy Williams says:

    Great article very helpful,Martial arts is a great form of self defense.I did not learn these technique when i took tae kwon do in my younger years.Thanks

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  6. Daniel Hemenway says:

    great info and clearly taught!

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