February 8, 2011

Self-Defence: When Striking Back is Okay... and Fun

It’s about time I wrote a post about something recent in my life, and attending an 8 hour women’s Self Defence Seminar at a Taekwondo school is enough of an adventure to grace my blog. But before I delve into the details, I’m going to address a common question I’ve been asked: Why did you decide to take a self defence class?

One word: Skills. I thought it would be a good place to learn some physical strategies to protect myself or remove myself from dangerous situations. Before taking the class, I basically had no self-defence skills. My repertoire included: Keys between the knuckles, and running away. Not a very impressive martial arts resume for someone who works downtown. I don’t really need to re-annoint the COW (City of Winnipeg) as being unsafe, but now that I’m receiving overtime at my job at Investors Group, I’m also walking around and bussing at night. Realistically speaking, I’m more at risk for attacks being a small, weak female. So I hoped to gain some practical skills out of this. I figured after 8 hours, I would be able to defend myself against Chuck Norris.

So instead of wearing my Sunday best and going to church this past Superbowl Sunday, I pulled on some sweats and a t-shirt and drove out to Ryan’s Taekwondo on Pembina. For those of you who know me, you know I don’t really adhere to a strict exercise regime, so I was a little apprehensive about the day and the physical exertion it would entail. There were 7 of us signed-up, plus 2 leaders who were thoroughly trained in mixed martial arts, and/or Taekwondo. Inside the school I was slipping on my pair of  “runners” (Read: Street shoes) with 2 other participants when our instructor walked in. Although I had spoken to him on the phone, I took this moment to formally introduce myself and said, “I’m Chui.” He looked at me and simply replied, “I figured.” Based on this, it was safe to assume I would be the only Asian in the seminar, and I was. But I actually really respected our instructors, along with the knowledge and skills they demonstrated.

We began by explaining why we chose to take the course, and our leader lead us through some self-defence theory. This included topics such as: Intuition – Recognizing risk based on context, and characteristics that should set off red flags in our minds. 

For instance, some red flags include:
Forced Learning – When someone forces an association to build report with you. I.e. A stranger who uses the pronoun, “We.”
Lone Sharking – When someone offers to do something for you, so you feel indebted.
Typcasting – When someone puts you in a mould and thus encourages you to prove him wrong, or to elicit a response/reaction from you.

There are many other red flags to be aware of. It’s also important to note that many good Samaritans may demonstrate red-flag behaviours as well. The key variables to consider are context and situation. Are there other people around? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? If someone’s just offering help out of consideration and you refuse, most Samaritans would recognize your unease and leave you alone. Regardless, it’s better to offend someone, than to put yourself in a dangerous situation.

We read a true story (about an attack) together, and identified various red flags that were exhibited. This sounds very "of-the-textbook," but our leader made sure to stress how each situation is unique and by no means is there a tried-and-true formula for identifying potential predators.

After lunch we got into the fun stuff. They made us run lines and other various warm-up exercises to increase our heart-rates. Then our leaders pulled on boxing gloves and we practiced blocking/defending ourselves while they hit us. (This sounds more violent than it actually was). 

This won’t shock most of you, but  my favorite part of the seminar was learning how to strike. At different times during the day, I was labeled as “crazy” and “a diehard.” (Maybe because I was simply engaged with my learning experience and challenging myself, gosh). Anyways, striking included:
- Punching handheld pads
- Kicking with our shins (the hardest bone in our leg, that can take the brunt of a hit)
- Knee stomps
- The groin kick

All of these were practiced on our two leaders, aiming at the pads they held. (I thought the groin kick might’ve been a little too close for comfort for them, but they were experienced enough to prevent injury).

We learned how to get out of grab holds, which included distraction techniques and we also learned how to use resistance to work in our favour. Then we learned how to fall (or roll) to dissipate energy and reduce impact. During this we practiced falling while our leader “threw” us onto a mattress. I would describe it more as an assisted whip. He would hold both of our hands and whip us towards the mat and we would fall/roll onto it. Each time he asked if we wanted more speed, and each time I asked for more, being the reckless diehard I am (I did run a red light the other day). For our last throw, they encouraged us to try to recover from our roll and immediately take off running, or attempt to use the force from the throw to put more distance between ourselves and our attacker. Running after rolling was a little discombobulating, but possible!

Next we practiced getting out of chokeholds, which didn’t work so well for me, as I had issues turning either of my leaders over my shoulder. It’s not about size however, but about effective transfer of momentum. We practiced this forwards, and backwards – where you hold your attacker's thigh and lean backwards, so you land on him and he's basically forced to release you, for at least enough time to get away.

Finally we ended the seminar with some floor work, which got awkward because we were practicing a full mount on strangers...

While we were packing up, our leader (a master of Taekwondo, I remind you) told me I had a good kick. Maybe it’s natural – perhaps some Kung Fu in my genes. But being athletically disadvantaged, I was very pleased to hear this!

As I finish typing up this post, I’m still feeling the post-seminar pain. Specifically, the right side of my body is considerably sore, as we focused on right-sided strikes. My neck is also a little sore- I feel it when I speak. I also suffered some bruising on my knee and knuckle- shiners that I might admire too much. (I’ve pointed them out to everyone- "hey small-child-on-the-street, guess how I got this!") I feel a little beat up, which may or may not be ironic. The next few days after my seminar, I also had the pleasure of trying out a few of my newly acquired skills on my guy friends. Practice makes perfect right?

In reality, I hope I never have to use these skills. However, my resume is now a little more filled-out and I’ve learned a lot about getting out of certain situations. I would definitely recommend a self-defence seminar, or others like it, as it was indeed practical and very hands-on. But for now, stay safe my readers! And trust your intuition...

Exhibit A: Regular Knuckle
Exhibit B: Bruised Knuckle!


  1. i hadn't seen this yet- nice pics! I see you're a righty... i'll remember that and use it to my advantage later. you won't be able to self-defend me!

  2. Thanks, but I'll have you know that I shoot pucks and peel oranges with my left-hand. You've got nothing on me Parker.

  3. You need to learn and develop proper skills to be able to defend yourself. Also, besides skills, you should have the right mindset, that can allow you to execute whatever you have learned, despite the situation. Always focus and be aware of your environment.

    -Saundra Tosh


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