After the tragic assaults in Austin on New Year's morning, safety and self-defense are paramount in the minds of Austin women and men alike. But like many Americans, we don't even know where to start researching self-defense. Is pepper spray effective? Is it time to buy a handgun? Do I have what it takes to defend myself?
Before we take extreme measures or paranoia sets in, it's smart to examine the recommendations from experts. We located a few self-defense trainers in town who know the correct ways to train your mind and body for just such an emergency. We hope you'll never have to use these tips, but we'd rather you know them should the need ever arise.
Joy Williamson of Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self-Defense teaches kids, teens and women about safety training and violence prevention before a threatening situation arises. Although Williamson is a karate expert, she says her physical defense classes do not require prior skills or knowledge. "Most violence against women happens from people they already know, so we focus on every type of violence ranging from harrassment to full-fledged assault." Sun Dragon schedules regular open classes as well as group sessions for friends, coworkers and parties of 10 or more.
Robb Hamic of Summit Self-Defense is a certified law enforcement trainer who teaches more aggressive classes in Austin, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami. Here in Austin, he and his instructors teach daily classes on military grade defense readiness, ground fighting, combat shooting and Krav Maga.
Krav Maga is the Israeli hand to hand self-defense technique taught to the Israeli military. Emphasizing instinct, simplicity and natural body movement, it has fast become the preferred method for most self-defense programs across the United States. The technique focuses attacks to the groin, throat, kidneys, eyes and other vulnerable body parts to neutralize a threat rather than kill it. Most importantly, Krav Maga is perfect for all shapes, sizes and physical abilities — anyone can become an expert with enough dedication.
In South Austin and in Westlake, Fit & Fearless is a training facility that teaches Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu alongside their regular CrossFit classes. With the popularity of CrossFit in Austin, this is an easy way to fold in some additional lifesaving skills that will develop your instincts as well as your quads. Everyone is welcome to sign up for a free trial class to find out what it entails and how it differs from your general CrossFit experience.
For college students, The University of Texas Police Department runs basic physical defense classes to empower women, as well. Police Communication Specialist Robin Gillespie and Seargant Laura Davis are scheduling the Rape Aggression Defense System (RAD) classes to begin again in the coming week, focusing their efforts on realistic defense methods for women. Students, faculty and staff are welcome to sign up for these completely free classes, but Gillespie says all women in need are welcome.
When it comes to self-defense weapons, most people turn to pepper spray or mace spray as the best solution. Inducing painful inflammatory reactions and temporary burning sensations to the eyes, nose and throat, these two chemicals can quickly incapacitate an attacker for up to four hours. Many U.S. states limit the size of a container of pepper spray; in some states, it must be purchased from firearms dealers because it is classified as ammunition. Of course, in Texas, you can buy pepper spray at most Wal-Marts and even Academy Sports stores.
Some important caveats about pepper spray and mace, however. Most folks who carry their pepper spray in their purses don't ever check the expiration dates on their canisters. An expired canister, which requires aerosol to propel the substance, will dribble or gum up rather than spraying as intended. Likewise, without training or proper handling, users may direct the spray in the wrong direction. So if you have these devices, make sure you know how to use it.
Natalie Ehmka, owner of the Phoenix-based women's self-defense and empowerment program Pretty Feisty, recommends all women invest in a Kubaton keychain. These odd looking devices are generally about five-inches in length, ending in a blunted tip, and easy to carry on your keychain. When held securely in your hand, Kubotans become a powerful weapon that significantly increase the damage of any attacks you make against vulnerable body parts.
"Unlike pepper spray, the kubaton is always ready to use and does not expire," says Ehmka. "There is no fumbling with the latch, and you will not lose precious seconds trying to make sure the pepper spray is pointed in the right direction before you use it."
But weapons are not necessary, Gillespie reminds us. "Every person already has a series of personal weapons at their disposal," she says. Never forget what your hands, feet, head and teeth can do. If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, try to remember pressure points and vulnerable points on the human body. Use your head, elbows and feet as weapons against sensitive areas like the eyes, face, groin and throat.
The most recommended tactic for successfully escaping assault is to find and press your thumbs into the eye sockets of the attacker. It sounds terrifying, but less so when you consider that doing so could save your life.
Finally, if you are attacked, Gillespie encourages making as much noise as you can. Rape whistles fell out of favor in the late 90s, but their ability to turn heads remains effective. If you are advanced upon, it's imperative that you attract attention before it's too late; it's better to stay alive than to be polite. Screaming any mix of "No!", "Get away!", "Stop!" are effective ways to attract attention.
Additionally, the experts add, always be on the lookout. If you're listening to your iPod, keep one ear open just in case. Rather than texting while walking, keep your head up and eyes off of your phone. Avoid walking alone if possible; recruit campus escorts and friends as much as possible to see you safely home. And if you are alone, walk quickly and confidently and carry your pepper spray, Kubaton or keys firmly in hand.
It may be difficult to think about the potential for any more violence happening in our city. But as long as threats exist — and now we know they invariably do — it's imperative that we prepare accordingly. All of the self-defense instructors listed above offer special private classes for individuals and groups. So if your friends would like to organize a special session, contact them directly.
"Everyone is agitated now, so this is a key time for us to increase the knowledge about self-defense," adds Williamson, who will be on-hand at the Benefit for Esme Barrera at Venue 1808 on Jan. 13. "Hopefully this will be a small way we can show our support."
Encourage one another. Look out for one another. And do the same for yourself.