By Dedra Cordle
When presented with an emotionally charged situation, Jill Witteman knows how her mind and body are going to react.
“I am a very shy person so I just back away and I shut down,” she said.
Witteman said she hates the feeling of not knowing what to say or what to do if verbally or physically confronted, so she decided she would take a few steps toward breaking the cycle of situational unease.
The first step she took was last month when she enrolled in an adult karate class presented through the city of Grove City’s parks and recreation department.
“I was looking for something different to do and I have always wanted to empower myself, to build my confidence,” she said. “And I thought karate could help me accomplish that.”
Led by long-time instructor Dave Holloway, she started to learn the basics of the martial art and fell in love with how it made her feel.
“I have only been taking the classes for a few weeks but I can already feel a difference in myself,” said Witteman, a resident of Grove City. “It just gives you this confidence that makes you stand up straighter and say, ‘I can do something for myself, I can stand up for myself.’”
Buzzing with the boost of confidence it gave her, she signed up for another class hosted by Holloway – a personal protection class that is unlike most other offerings.
“This is completely different from the karate classes,” said Holloway, a resident of Galloway who has a background in the military and law enforcement. “In karate, you are working with another person, emphasis on the with. In a personal protection class, you are working against what another person is trying to do to you.”
The personal protection class was held at the E.L. Evans Senior Center on Jan. 15.
Approximately 15 people of all ages participated in the two-hour course that covered a variety of topics such as risk-awareness, de-escalation, hand strikes, and non-lethal uses of force.
Holloway said the goal of this class is not to make people “so paranoid that they’re afraid to walk out to their car,” but it is also not intended to “make them feel as if they can whip the world.”
“It has to strike a balance,” he said. “Ultimately, what we want to do is heighten their awareness and give them some tools that will either make them less appealing victims or adequate defenders of themselves.”
If the first hour of the presentation could be summarized in a few words, Holloway said it would be this: Learn to hate hope.
“I am not saying you have to give up hope in life,” he said. “What I mean by ‘learn to hate hope’ is that hope is not a strategy when presented with the prospect of someone inflicting violence upon you. You can’t just hope that it doesn’t happen to you, you can’t just hope that he doesn’t rape you. You can’t just hope that they won’t kill you and you can’t just hope that help will arrive.”
He said you have to be proactive in situations – and that process starts by paying attention to your surroundings.
“We are a society that is task fixated,” he said. “When you look around, you see people on their phones, completely unaware of what is going on right in front of them.”
He said those who have their eyes solely focused on the phone make good targets but added that phones can be used as a good weapon to escape.
“You can throw that phone as hard as you can at their face,” Holloway said. “If you throw it hard enough you can break their nose, or just cause enough of a distraction to get away.”
He also discouraged joggers from wearing headphones (even while inside a gym) or pumping gas at night.
He said if someone is verbally or physically confronted, there are a number of immediate steps one can take: the first is to be verbal – try to diffuse the situation by saying something strange. If that doesn’t work, the second step is to leave the area. If the accoster does not allow you to leave, employ the use of a non-lethal weapon like high grade pepper spray. If that does not work, Holloway said to use your hands to strike any part of their face, their throat, their center mass, their body to escape. And, if the person who instigated the situation keeps attacking, the final step is lethal force.
“We do not want to reach that level,” he said. “But if someone is committed to harming you, you have to commit to harming them back.”
He said what people should be doing is planning for the worst-case scenario because someone out there already has a plan to harm.
“They know what they are going to do, but what are you going to do?”
He recommended going through scenarios using the O.O.D.A Loop created by Air Force Colonel John Boyd.
“You observe, you orientate, you decide, and you act.”
The action part of the class took place during the second hour when Holloway and fellow instructor Kelli Burchwell not only demonstrated how to secure escape from choking attempts – Holloway and Burchwell both strongly recommend a good poke or punch to the jugular notch – but also a few common hand strikes like the palm heel, the hammer fist and the open hand.
He said he loves the open hand because you can get “in and out of a situation real quick” with a hard and well placed open hand to the nose.
“I really don’t care where you hit them so long as it’s hard and fast,” he said. “There has to be that plunge through when you commit to hitting someone.”
That “plunge through” is what Witteman said she had difficulty with when working on the hand strikes. She got it though, eventually.
“It was exhilarating,” she said. “You just get this rush and turn into a wild person.”
Holloway and Burchwell said that is exactly what they want people to do when faced with the prospect of bodily harm.
“If you cannot escape from a situation, if you have used all of the aversion techniques, become a wild cat,” said Holloway. “Use whatever you can to get out of that situation and escape with your life.”
He said after the class that he hopes no one will have to use these techniques, but stated people have to be realistic.
“This world can be a dangerous place and sometimes you are put into situations that you do not want to be in,” he said. “These classes are a way to prepare, a way to think and reset your mind on what could happen to you and what you could do to mitigate those situations.”
Burchwell said they intend to hold three additional personal protection classes this year. They will be announced in The Source when they become available.
Like Holloway, Witteman said she doesn’t want to use these techniques (or the karate moves she has been learning) in real-life but added they are good skills to have, just in case.
“You can keep them in the back of your head and have that assurance that you could do something if the need arises,” she said. “But I really hope it doesn’t.”