One Sunday afternoon at a fitness center in San Jose, a chorus of yelling and cheering can be heard: “Leave me alone. I don’t know this man. This man in the blue shirt is bothering me. Go away.”
It sounds like someone is being seriously threatened but instead it’s eight women demonstrating what they’ve learned after 22 hours of self defense training with Impact Bay Area, at the Morning Crane Healing Arts and Fitness Center.
Anne Sunderland from Oakland is one of the students finishing the course today. She says she was recently robbed and wanted to learn some defensive skills.
“I actually saw my attackers approach and I sort of froze and I didn’t know what to do. I am okay, but it was obviously a situation I wanted some training on how to either avoid or deal with if it happened again,” Sunderland says.
Jannelle White is the Executive director of San Francisco Women Against Rape. She says residents should never let down their guard when it comes to preventing sexual assault. That’s why her organization hosts an annual walk to raise awareness around the issue.
“I think it’s important to annually organize ourselves and make sure people are consciously thinking about sexual assault consistently,” White says.
Back at the self-defense class, a student is fighting one of the three male instructors who are dressed in large cushioned suits and padded football helmets. That’s so the students can use their full force against them. The idea is to make the simulated attacks as realistic as possible, to the point that the instructor says disarming comments to the student so she learns not to be intimidated.
On the sidelines, family members watch as their loved ones go through a very real looking and sounding attack. The crowd is told to expect this, and to resist the urge to jump in.
The only female instructor today is Jenny Williams, who is the whistle instructor.
“So I am the one who teaches them the techniques and am on the mat with the student helping them coach each time,” Williams says.
Williams is a fourth degree black belt in shotokan karate. She says the verbal element to self defense is just as important as the physical.
“So most men that attack women are not looking for a fight so just that verbal stopping of the attack and showing some resistance is enough to stop the attack itself,” Williams says.
Williams says with the proper techniques, a woman can deliver a knockout blow to her attacker.
Click the audio player above to listen to the story.