By Joseph Robertia
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are 237,868 victims of rape or sexual assault each year in the U.S., with the majority of victims being women. It’s a sobering statistic, one which the Sterling Judo Club hopes to decrease on the central Kenai Peninsula. On Friday, the club offered a self-defense class for women free of charge.
“The statistics for sexual assault crimes for Alaska are some of the highest in the country, and it’s not just happening in the villages. It’s happening in the cities, too,” said Sensei Robert Brink, a black belt in judo and one of the primary instructors of the Sterling Judo Club.
Brink explained the importance of self-defense for women is to empower them to not make it easy for would-be predators. Often, attackers are dissuaded when women defend themselves, he said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean fighting, although at times that may be necessary. It also means having an awareness of dangerous situations and learning how to avoid them or get out of them. It means more than just putting up your arms and giving up,” he said.
Brink was not the instructor of the women’s class, though. It was led by a visiting instructor from Las Vegas, Sensei Kati Gibler, who has been a judo practitioner for 25 years. She expanded on the idea of awareness of when sexual assaults often can occur.
“It’s just like hiking, in which you have to avoid steep terrain and watch for signs of bear activity. With self-defense, avoidance means recognizing the hazards,” she said.
As examples, Gibler cited the bar scene, where men and women may have a loss of inhabitations from drinking.
“You mental state is altered, you don’t have the same coordination, and, unfortunately, for some men, there is a perception that if a lady is in a bar they’re fair game,” she said.
In this situation, Gibler said that sometimes the best way to avoid a dangerous or escalating encounter is also one of the easiest.
“Just shouting, ‘NO!’ can be enough to draw the attention of other people there, and it can make the bad guy think this is a bad idea,” she said. “This means shouting, ‘No!’ rather than just saying, ‘No thanks,’ or, ‘I’m not really interested.’ They need to know that no means NO!”
Gibler also cited the risk associated with doing activities alone, such as jogging or biking at dawn and dusk, and having headphones on which can obscure the sound of people approaching from behind.
“I remember a time years ago when I was jogging alone and was followed by a van full of men. I didn’t know what they wanted and I didn’t want to find out,” she said.
Luckily, she said, she bumped into another person exercising and explained her situation and asked if they could move in a group, since there often is safety in numbers.
However, many sexual assaults happen at home, perpetrated by attackers the victim knows. In these situations, it is just as important to get to safety, but sometimes this may mean taking physical action in order to escape the attacker and get out of the home.
“The main objective is not to hurt the guy. The main objective is to get away,” she said, and reviewed several martial arts techniques for doing so.
These included escapes and defense against attacks while standing, being held against a wall, and from the ground. Types of attacks included wrist and arm grabs, chokes, headlocks, hair pulling and grabs from behind.
While some women may have had doubt about their ability to use these moves, Gibler — who doesn’t appear to weigh more than 120 pounds herself — said she has used many of them when men stepped over the line.
“I’ve done some where all I needed to do was trip them a bit, and I’ve had situations where I had to send them flying over my head,” she said.
Peg Snyder, of Kenai, said she enrolled her two granddaughters in the class because she wanted peace of mind as the youths get older.
“Our society has become, so, I don’t know, aggressive. And I think it’s important they know at least a few ways to protect themselves before they leave. Carly is only 11, but Caitlin is 16 and will be going off to college outside the area in two years. I want her to be well-equipped before she goes, and this instills in her common sense and self-defense,” she said,
Toni Prins, of Kenai, is an officer in the juvenile justice system, and while she said that she gets quite a bit of defense training in her line of work, she wanted to pursue more on her own.
“I came because I’ve been thinking about taking judo or some other self-defense and I wanted to see what it was about,” she said.
For those like Prins and other women who took the one-night course, Brink said this area is ripe for learning more.
“That’s the thing about martial arts, they’re best if practiced day after day, week after week, and whether they want to join our judo program or some other martial arts in the area, their self-defense education doesn’t have to stop here,” he said.