We go to Sun Valley to learn how to defend ourselves from violent attackers
I had her by the throat. She was a good six inches taller than me, but I was determined to take her down. With her thin frame and long, delicate fingers, I didn’t think she could do much damage against my stocky, compact body.
Suddenly, her right hand flew up. She grabbed my hand and dug those long, delicate fingers in. Her thumb jabbed into the center of my palm. Her left hand pressed against my elbow, locking it straight, as she began twisting my hand to the breaking point. The pressure she put on my elbow was firm and unrelenting. I found myself driven toward the ground in shock and pain. Then, for good measure, she kicked my knee out.
It was all over in three seconds.
Luckily, I’m not really a crazed, violent attacker, and my victim was really a friend and co-worker, Carli Cutchin. I invited Carli to join me for a class titled “How NOT to Be a Lady: A Women’s Self-Defense Workshop,” offered at the Sun Valley Community Park. I’ve never been attacked—and I hope I never will be—but I’ve always wanted to learn how to defend myself if the situation ever arose. After plunking down just $10 and signing a basic release form, I was ready to kick some ass.
It never hurts to be prepared.
Violent-crime rates have declined since 1994, reaching the lowest level ever recorded in 2000, according to the most recent National Crime Victimization Survey put out by the U.S. Department of Justice. For the survey, violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery and both simple and aggravated assault.
But though the rate of violent crime has dropped, there’s still plenty to go around. The NCVS reports that nearly 2.2 million violent crimes were committed in 2000. Only about half of those were reported to the police.
Why wouldn’t victims report their attackers? It may be a question of intimacy: whether the victim knows his or her attacker. Intimate violence is primarily a crime against women. In 1998, women were the victims in 72 percent of intimate murders and in about 85 percent of non-lethal intimate-violence incidents, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Knowing these statistics doesn’t make life any easier for a woman in a self-defense class. It’s hard to imagine that you could one day be using your new techniques on your husband or father, or even your sister or mother. But as instructor Bob Dalhaus repeatedly told us, you can’t be nice, or even humane, to a person who is attacking you. Treat that person, he said, as a crazed animal that must be put out of its misery.
It’s you or him.
When I arrived at the Sun Valley Community Park, I was looking forward to beating up a large, well-padded guy with a big helmet, like I’d seen on TV. As it turned out, we’d be practicing our self-defense techniques on our fellow classmates, so I was especially glad I invited Carli. There were several senior citizens in our class, and putting the hurt on someone that reminds me of Grandma just seems wrong.
About 20 women, some as young as 13 or 14, gathered in the brightly lit multi-purpose room at the center. Dalhaus, a 42-year-old man with icy blue eyes and a very matter-of-fact way of speaking, lined us up in ragged rows and explained that he’d be showing us simple techniques to escape from a violent situation. A martial arts student for 13 years and an instructor for five years, Dalhaus emphasized that we wouldn’t want to go toe to toe with an attacker without advanced training. The goal is to escape.
Dalhaus taught us the three main areas to focus on when defending against an attack: knees, elbows and throat. The knees are especially important, he said. If the attacker can’t move, the fight is over.
He taught us how to use our car keys to gouge out an attacker’s eye or dislocate his ribs. He demonstrated how a woman’s purse could be used to attack and defend. He showed us how to rake our nails down an attacker’s face—the one situation, perhaps, when being feminine can actually help you in a fight.
At first, Carli and I halfheartedly twisted each other’s arms and apologized profusely for hurting each other. But as we got used to the roles of attacker and attackee, we got a little more aggressive, applying more pressure and throwing in punches and kicks. We learned how to break out of various holds and slap an attacker’s ears so hard that he would theoretically collapse in shrieking pain.
At one point, I joked with Carli that I should grab the attacker’s head and slam it into my knee, like some sort of steel-cage death match on a professional wrestling show. Can you guess what Dalhaus taught us next? I don’t know what came over me, but I slammed Carli’s head into my knee hard enough that my knee hurt. I’ll be apologizing for years.
Reflecting on what I learned, I do feel more secure knowing the techniques Dalhaus taught us. But I also know that being in a violent situation will be very different from slapping Carli around on a Saturday morning. I may freeze. I may cry. I may try to use one of these techniques and screw it up, hurting myself more in the process.
Even Dalhaus admitted that there’s not much you can do when someone’s pointing a gun at your head, but he told us to never give up when our bodies and lives are at stake. If you’re going to die, you might as well die fighting, he said. Tough words, but then it’s a tough world.