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Putting up your best defense

In about the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee, at least one woman in our country is attacked.

Rape or sexual assault happens every one to two minutes in the U.S., according to the Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey.

But fortunately, Maria Hannah, the chief instructor at Stellhorn Taekwondo, says women don't need bodyguards or brute strength to defend themselves. Actually, all we need are two things we carry with us 24 hours a day – our bodies and minds.

Hannah is hosting a free self-defense clinic for women from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. May 31 at 6063 Stellhorn Road to help us use our bodies and minds to our advantage in the event of an attack.

Although she is a fourth-degree black belt, she emphasizes that evading attackers is less about getting physical and more about taking basic safety precautions to avoid an attack in the first place.

“This clinic is not necessarily about learning how to hit the hardest or do Tae- kwondo moves,” Hannah said. “The focus of it is prevention and basic things everyone can do.”

Self-defense clinics have proven helpful in reducing the likelihood of sexual assault. A 2005 report by the National Institute of Justice found that potential rape victims who physically or verbally resisted attackers reduced the probability of being raped and did not significantly increase their risk of injury

But Hannah hopes the women who attend her seminar take away more than a list of dos and don'ts. She wants to help them achieve a sense of self-empowerment that they can protect themselves and their families no matter who they are or what they have at their disposal when an attack happens.

Even though we might assume we need to be physically fit or trained in martial arts to feel confident about defending ourselves, she says that's not necessarily true. Actually, one of the “biggest and baddest” muscles we can use in the event of an attack is our brain.

“I believe women can outsmart attackers no matter what their stature is,” Hannah said. “They just need to be trained to think differently.”

For example, when a woman is approached in a parking lot by a stranger, her first inclination might be to scream, “Help.” But Hannah says she should actually scream something like “Fire” or “That's not my husband” because many bystanders will ignore “help.”

Dean Houser, who teaches a different self-defense course for men and women at Living Arts Academy in Columbia City, agrees that a loud voice is a powerful tool to dissuade potential attackers.

He tells his students that if they get a bad feeling around someone, and don't feel comfortable saying something like “stop,” they should look the person in the eyes and loudly ask: “Can I help you?”

“It says, ‘I am confident and willing to take you on,' ” Houser said.

Because of the subject matter content Hannah will discuss at her clinic, she asks that the women who attend be 18 years old and older. As a 23-year-old, she specifically wants to focus on younger women because she thinks they are highly susceptible to attacks because they're more likely to be out late at night, to be distracted by cellphones and to be living independently.

Along with the basic ways to avoid attacks, she will also go over the main pressure points on the body, as well as what women should do after an attempted attack takes place.

If women who attend Hannah's clinic want further training, she encourages them to talk with her afterward to get information regarding Stellhorn Tae- kwondo's schedule and program options.

During the free course, she will perform most of the demonstrations, but she encourages women who attend to wear sweatpants and T-shirts so they can participate as necessary. Those interested should call 486-7776 to reserve a spot.

If more of us knew how to use our minds and bodies for self-defense, maybe we could reduce the sad statistics that say about two U.S. women were attacked in the time it took you to read this.

Kara Hackett is social media writer for The Journal Gazette. To see more of her work throughout the week and participate in the conversation, go to www.journalgazette.net/coffeebreak, where this column first appeared.

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