Potpourri

Self Defense Workshop

As a senior in high school, I participated in a work-study program as a part-time bookkeeper’s assistant. After a half day of school, I reconciled checks and cash for a local grocery chain. My job was to add up the hundreds of personal checks, count excess cash, and prepare the store’s bank deposit for a nightly drop. When the deposit was ready I would go to the bank’s drive-up drawer, along with whichever box boy was available to accompany me.

Unfortunately, after several months of this routine, one night we were robbed by a guy wearing a ski mask who indicated he had a gun in his coat. At first I thought it was a prank by the box boy and a friend, but when I resisted I was pushed to the ground and the robber tried to grab my purse as well. Adrenaline must have kicked in because for some dumb reason I hung onto my purse (which, as a 17 year-old probably contained nothing more than about $4.00 and some make-up!). Fortunately, the robber must have decided the encounter was taking too long so he let go of my purse and ran away with the bank bag. 

This was certainly an education in what not to do, and a life-changing experience for me. Since then, for obvious reasons, learning self defensive skills has always been on my self-improvement list of “things to do.” So when a long-time friend mentioned that she had taken a great self-defense class, I was very intrigued. I researched the course and decided it was time to make it happen.

And so on a Saturday this October, an adventurous friend of mine and I attended Part 1 of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Power Curves course. This is a free personal safety course offered by its Community Outreach Resources and Education Department. It was simply amazing!

On day one, about 60-70 women turned out to meet the team of six hand selected male and female officers the Sheriff’s Department selected to run the course. Though the team was led by their sergeant, a woman with tons of enthusiasm for the course (and one I would not want to go up against for any reason), one of the male officers led the course itself. He had a bit of a quirky sense of humor, and I think he was probably a good fit for the role since the topic we were discussing was, by its nature alone, a little dark.

The lead officer gave us some information about crime statistics, and how they relate to the way women in our culture are brought up to be nice to everyone and smile a lot so they aren’t thought to be bitchy. (It’s so true!) He pointed out that this friendly behavior can often encourage the “creepy guy” who might be targeting you. We learned how we often unknowingly actually give someone permission to make the next creepy move on us. He gave several true life examples, which we’ve all experienced and could relate to. Then he showed a couple of videos about online safety and how to recognize grooming behaviors these kinds of people often use on their intended victim.

Now the classroom part of our training was done. Next we spread out in the large room and learned how to verbally handle an unwanted conversation from a stranger approaching us on the street. Now I’ll be ready the next time I’m in downtown Portland! 

At mid-day, we ate our complementary lunch and then had a chance to visit with various self-defense vendors at a Women’s Safety Fair. When we assembled back in the large conference room, we spent the rest of the day practicing various ways to physically handle a potential assailant on the street to ward off and/or stop an impending attack. 

Part 2 of our training was to be in smaller groups of 20 or less, so the following Thursday night Jodenne and I went to the old Washington County Jail building to attend. This time we were led by only four officers in what used to be several jail cells! The walls had been opened up and the resulting space had been made into a padded room (ha). This was for safety reasons because the next part of our training was extremely physical. 

We briefly practiced what we learned in Part 1, and then the officers lead us through a number of new techniques we might need to use if attacked. We practiced these, and then they took us through a variety of possible attack scenarios. In each scenario, they taught us how to use our own bodies in defense with the goal being to end the attack and get away from our assailant as quickly as possible. A few Jiu Jitsu moves were incorporated into our training, and we learned how to defend ourselves if pinned against a wall, what to do if someone was on top of us on the floor or ground, or if someone attacked us when we were in a seated position (like when riding the Max). Let me tell you, our adrenaline got up and stayed up! Two officers (our assailants) were fully masked and padded in these last scenarios and we were to use our new physical skills to end the attack and get away. It was both exciting and scary at the same time. We cheered each other on at times, but this was really serious stuff. Each and every one of us was fully engaged and we all learned we were stronger than we thought.

At the end of the class I was so grateful to the officers and the program they had just put us through. And all for free! I cannot recommend this class enough. I believe these skills should be taught and practiced in our high schools, maybe as part of a Physical Education unit. Though girls and women are more often victims of attack, we all know that boys and men can also be attacked and/or abused. These type of empowerment skills could change our culture, or at least reduce our horrible crime statistics.

And who knows? Once my bruises heal maybe I’ll try a Jiu Jitsu class next!

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