Kyoshi Jim O'Brien (right) and assistant Julia Atkins (to his left) demonstrate a technique to the girls in a recent self-defense class.
by Christine Doyle, Contributing Writer
On July 27th, a group of girls in grades 4 through 12 went to Zanshin Kenjutsu Kenpo Karate, a Bellingham dojo, to learn about situational awareness and how to defend themselves.
Owner/instructor Kyoshi Jim O’Brien told them he hoped they would never have to use any of these techniques, but that wanted them to be prepared just in case.
There were two classes that Friday evening with one for the 4th- through-6th-graders and another class geared toward the older girls, divided that way because some of the material would be more appropriate to situations the two different age groups may encounter. In addition to O’Brien, there were assistants supervising the smaller groups to ensure they understood the techniques.
One of the first things all of the girls were asked after introductions were made was if they had noticed how many electrical outlets were in the room or how many exit signs were posted. Most were not able to answer the questions and were advised that one of the most important things they can do to protect themselves is to be aware of their surroundings.
The girls were then put into smaller groups with an assistant so that they could learn self-defense techniques and then practice them on one another with the assistant’s supervision.
Once the techniques had been practiced many times, the girls were able to practice them with full force on a heavily padded assistant. They were told not to hold back because, unfortunately, in real life, an aggressor will not restrain himself.
There were a total of four self-defense techniques given, and O’Brien encouraged the girls to try to remember at least one. He said there are three things you can do when you are in a scary situation: fight, flee or freeze—freeze being the one thing that you do not want to do.
He had both classes practice yelling as loudly as they could. He would go outside and have the girls positioned at the opposite end of the dojo and yell something loudly such as “help,” “mom,” or “save me.” Surprisingly, this exercise was one that many had problems doing, especially the older girls.
They were told that even though yelling was hard to do, with practice they would get better at it. The girls were also advised to go to an authority figure, such as parents, teachers, or police, who could try to help them if people were not listening to them.
They were given advice on how to take some deep breaths in and out to help them calm down so they could speak clearly.
At the end of each class, the girls were buzzing with excitement over what they had learned and were able to demonstrate. They were reminded to pay attention to their surroundings and keep calm so they can better defend themselves.
As a result of the great turnout, there are plans in the works to host another girls self-defense class this fall.