React. Exude confidence. Be aware.
These were the most important concepts taught Tuesday night during the first-ever coeducational seminar in self-defense at the University of Maine. The defense techniques combined practical martial arts as opposed to ones more concerned with the art form.
Ryan Barnes, a sophomore electrical engineering major, and Mark Marcini, a junior forestry major, both have backgrounds in martial arts, and expressed interest in providing a coed self-defense seminar to Gustavo Burkett, assistant director of campus activities, and Deborah Mitchell, campus police patrol officer and rape aggression defense instructor. Mitchell and Burkett thought the seminar sounded promising and gave the students the go-ahead. The instructors combined their experiences and knowledge in To-Shin Do, Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Krav Maga for demonstrations in techniques and defense scenarios.
Currently, there are no programs on campus aimed at providing men with defense education. Women are still the most common victims, but assaults involving men are a serious concern as well. Most assaults on men on campus tend to occur outside when they are most vulnerable while walking alone, drugged or intoxicated. On the other hand, assaults on women happen most often in dorm rooms by someone they know, according to Mitchell.
Participants were given a brief introduction to beginner punches, kicks and working with a training partner in cooperative combat. The seminar was meant to be a teaser: an introduction and an experiment to gauge co-ed interest in self defense.
Being aware of your surroundings is the biggest component of the program. Many potentially serious situations can be avoided if they are detected early and correct precautions are taken.
Reacting is another key concept. Trust your instincts and your body, and try not to think too much before you act. Seven out of 10 times you’ll do the right thing, said Barnes.
Confidence-building is also very important, according to Marcini. He hopes people will walk away with more of it after self-defense education. People who look weak, nervous and unaware are easy and obvious targets for attackers. People who show confidence appear stronger and are more likely to be avoided. Walk with your head up, Marcini said.
“The most effective thing I learned was probably defense techniques to use when in a headlock or an attack from behind,” said Polaris Garfield, junior English major.
The beginning of the seminar was an informal presentation on the topic of assault and self-defense. Carey Nason, representing the Safe Campus Project, and Mitchell both spoke on the issue of safety and awareness as key to avoid dangers.
In 2004, 25 simple assault cases, one aggravated assault and nine forcible sex offenses, were reported on campus, according to the public safety Web site.
Mitchell highlighted the safety resources available to students on campus. The blue call boxes scattered around campus are there for students if they are lost, their car breaks down or feel they are in danger. Walking companions are also available, and students should not be afraid to utilize the service, which is not connected with the police. Mitchell instructs a five-week-long class in female self-defense through RAD, a national institute. The class runs a few times every semester, and Mitchell can be e-mail via FirstClass to sign up for the class.
“It’s our body, and no one has the right to touch it without our permission,” said Mitchell. “Everyone has the right to defend themselves.”
The second half of the seminar taught hands-on involvement and practiced fighting off an attacker.
“I came here because I was interested in learning some more about martial arts,” said Sean Hoffman-Murphy, a sophomore journalism major. “Plus, because of incidents of fights at places like the Bear Brew, the stuff learned here would be useful.”
Barnes and Marcini hope to continue with more coed seminars in the future if interest is apparent and forthcoming.