Workshop teaches women how to use wits, unusual weapons in self-defense

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Participants in a self-defense workshop at the AWARE shelter last weekend learned anything can be a tool in protecting yourself. Even a bag of ripe plums.

Ordinary car keys jutting out of a closed fist become an impromptu set of brass knuckles and a clock radio becomes a bludgeoning device. A firm plum can simulate a human eye as an aid to help the squeamish prepare for blinding a rapist.

"Self-defense is just using your wits and using what's available to you," said Diana Stevens, the workshop's instructor.

Being aware of your surroundings and alert to dangerous situations was the theme of the Saturday morning workshop, an annual event sponsored by AWARE as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Ten women participated, most of them karatekas or martial arts students from the Juneau Shotokan Karate club where Stevens, 51, is chief instructor. The workshop usually draws more participants, but the event wasn't as publicized this year, Stevens said.

Shouts filled the room as the women practiced fighting off attackers in different situations.

"You always have to yell, yell, yell, yell!" Stevens shouted. "Get yourself trained so you can AAAAAAAAHH!!"

She ran screaming with eyes and mouth wide toward a student who shrank back despite being fully aware that Stevens wasn't going to harm her.

"There's a lot of energy in (yelling) and it's very scary," Stevens said.

And it was frightening. Normally an unthreatening red-headed mother of two, Stevens can turn into a ferocious, foot-stomping, wild-eyed fighter. She demonstrated how a woman could extract herself from various situations such as being grabbed from behind, approached from the side on a bus stop bench or held fast by the shirt.

Participants paired up, one playing the attacker and the other practicing the moves. The room echoed with shouts and yells interspersed with giggles and the occasional "Ouch!" when someone was too successful at fending off an attack.

"Whatever you do, don't give up!" Stevens said. "Let that adrenaline rage take over and keep fighting."

Stevens emphasized fighting is a last resort. The most important principles of self-defense are to be aware of one's surroundings, follow one's instincts and remove oneself from uncomfortable situations, she said.

"You want to do everything you can in your life to not get into those situations," she said.

Juneau-Douglas High School student Lindsay Kato, 14, said the course made her more confident.

"I think it's something that all girls need to know, because you are walking in a lot of dark places. I don't walk a lot of places by myself because of that fear that is inside of you, that haunts you," she said.

Destiny Sargeant, a clinical psychologist and Juneau Shotokan karateka, said mental preparation is key. It was Sargeant who suggested to the group that plums are a good practice tool. She said a person must decide before ever being attacked how they will respond.

"If you're afraid you're going to freeze, practice on a plum," she said.

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