You just leave an organic chemistry lab,
check your voicemail and start walking back home when suddenly,
someone grabs you from behind. What do you do? Reactions caused by
shock are some of the most dangerous — you might freeze, go
with the assailant or shut up as instructed.
Most people are not in danger in Ann Arbor, since the number of
aggravated assaults in 2002 was half the national average. Living
in a relatively safe city, however, should not deter people from
knowing basic self-protection methods.
The threat of assault exists not only for innocent passersbys
who happen to get in the middle of a drunken fight, but also for
people in harmful relationships. The myth of the unknown rapist is
misleading since most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by a
person who knows the victim.
People unable to dedicate hours to practice martial arts can
enroll in strength training courses that are currently offered
through local martial arts schools. These classes provide the tools
for learning self-defense, so that on the chance that someone is
attacked, he or she can protect himself or herself.
Self-defense is not the oft-portrayed street fighting made
popular in films such as “Mortal Kombat” and
“Rush Hour.” Instead, it is the use of self-control
techniques and awareness to avoid injury to the self and to
“The life skills we learn here we can apply daily,”
LSA senior Yessa Villarreal said. Villarreal is a strength-training
instructor at the Ann Arbor Quest Center on Packard Road.
The Quest Center teaches the martial art to-shin do, founded by
former actor and professor,Stephen Hayes. The energy spent on
physical force and attacks is less than 10 percent of the training,
as the remaining time is spent on fine-tuning awareness and
“Self-defense is basically what this art is about,”
Villarreal explains. “We train for attacks, not threats. We
try to dissolve the attack from a purely vocal level. If it cannot
be dissolved, only then do we move onto a physical
The Quest Center co-owner Donna Copeland explains, “We
think that being proactive is very important.” In order to do
so, she offers some basic steps to ensure self-protection.
“You should not be digging through your bag for keys, having
them ready is one way to be prepared.”
Keith Copeland, the Quest Center’s other owner, notes the
importance of confidence and awareness. “If you present
yourself as not being a victim, there is an energy and presence,
and the predator moves away.”
Ann Arbor resident Rex Lau brings his five-year-old son, Jacob,
to beginner judo classes at the YMCA on the corner of East William
Street and South Fifth Avenue. “Judo is the more
‘gentle way,’” Lau said about choosing this
martial art. “It is not about fighting — it is a
technique for a small person or a woman to defend themselves. They
teach how to fall and protect yourself.”
Neil Simmon, the YMCA’s martial ways coordinator, runs
this class which consists mostly of five-year-olds. He repeats to
his class that the defense mechanisms belong only in the dojo, the
area of practice.
“It is important not to panic. Give the person what they
want,” Simmon tells his attentive class. “Tell them,
‘I don’t want to fight.’ Walk away, and if he
looks shady, walk across the street.”
Tony Springfield taught judo at the YMCA for 20 years and now
hosts seminars for student groups through the CCRB, Couzens, Alice
Lloyd and Mary Markley residence halls.
“Try to find a safe area, try to call attention and exit
the area,” Springfield says. His classes are catered to
students since he teaches them to prepare for wrist grabs, chokes
and negotiating solutions.
Springfield suggests that, “If you are approached in an
elevator, push all the buttons on the elevator except the basement
or Emergency buttons.” You can then escape on the next
The Quest Center offers classes for student groups that vary
from a four-hour session to two three-hour sessions. They focus on
adrenaline stress-training, which helps control the fight or flight
response in dangerous situations.
When in uncomfortable or high-stress surroundings, auditory,
visual and fine motor skills all become impaired. When people are
exposed to this stress in a course, they are able to understand how
their body responds to certain situations and how they can best
prepare by utilizing their own assets.
Donna Copeland notes that one-time seminars are better than no
experience, but lack the benefits of a repetitive course.
“One time is good, but with repetition, you have given
yourself long-term tools to use.”
The Quest Center provides a couple of private lessons before the
scheduled group classes, for which participants wear a gi, a
traditional martial arts uniform. An adult coach, such as Ryan
Sullivan, meets with first timers for initial private lessons. He
repeated the importance of social skills that are integral of the
Quest Center’s program. “We build on the character of
the person,” Sullivan said. “An introduction when we
shake hands and make eye contact or giving high fives, which we do
all the time — that is so important. Have you stood in a bank
line? Everyone is looking around and not talking. We want to move
away from the closed-off society we are in.”
This sense of community was what brought Christopher Scholl,
another adults’ coach at the Quest Center, to the art.
“I really like the community and the people I met.”
Scholl has been practicing martial arts for about four years, but
chose to-shin do after watching his sister advance in the
Sullivan explains that each level is gradual and very repetitive
in that it utilizes basic movements for protection. He notes that
verbal control, for instance, can be a huge part of self-defense.
“If girls knew how to yell, they could protect themselves so
much better,” Sullivan comments. Though the concept seems
simple, it is in fact necessary to practice yelling. My punches and
kicks were stronger and more forceful once I had been able to yell
from my lower stomach and not just with my voice.
Some of the techniques, while self-evident, need to be followed
for protection. Primarily, if the surroundings are suspicious,
remove yourself safely from that place. This is especially
difficult, yet crucial if the assailant is someone you know. Next,
establish clear verbal boundaries by using your voice. In
high-stress situations, people’s voices clamp up, and they
are unable to scream. It is necessary to be firm, but not
offensive, as this will draw the attention of people around you and
will surprise the attacker. Lastly, if the attacker does not stop,
you should protect yourself fiercely.
“If you know the person is a predator, do everything you
can to win,” Donna Copeland stresses. “You can’t
give up. You have to keep looking for openings.”
There are certain vulnerable areas that attackers usually leave
unprotected while in a fight. The shin, the part of the leg below
the knee, is an especially important target that can help push
someone away. In addition, the arch of the foot is tender and can
be injured simply by stomping down on it with force.
Though proper instruction is necessary to avoid injury to your
body, instructors advise that in dangerous situations, one should
do all that is necessary to escape. Powerful kicks that can be
directed between men’s legs will send the attacker back,
providing enough time to run and scream for help. If the
victim’s hands are free, the victim may pop the
assailant’s ears by clapping the hands over the ears.
Using the palm of the hand, victims should push up from under
the attacker’s nose, which can either break the bone or at
least severely impair the assailant. While running from the
attacker, the element of surprise can be reduced if the victim
backs away from the attacker. When out of reach, it is safe to turn
and run, always keeping in mind to make as much noise as
First timers should not fear that their novice skills will
displace them. The courses are personal since instructors cater the
course to individual needs. It is imperative that students become
aware of their surroundings and develop and maintain healthy
Tips for self-protection
– Listen. If you suspect you might be in danger, remove yourself
from the area and go to a more populated area.
– Use body language to demonstrate confidence and to set
boundaries. You are less likely to be attacked if you hold your
– Get your own drink and keep it in your control and have your
keys ready to unlock the next door. Prevention can be simple. These
rules should be as routine as looking both ways before crossing a
– If there is a situation, provide clear verbal boundaries.
– Give the attacker any item he or she requests; your wallet and
cell phone are not worth your life.
– Do not go to a second location. You have a better chance of
survival if you do not allow the assailant to remove you from the
– Poke and strike sensitive areas. Use your judgment and injure
the areas that are sensitive on your own body. Also, utilize the
weapons around you by throwing dirt in the attacker’s eyes or
hitting him with a stick or poking him with your keys.
– Don’t quit. Keep at it until you can get away.
— Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Quest Center