In the midst of the online #MeToo movement, it seemed imperative to take advantage of a media invite to participate in a personal protection (usually referred to as self-defense) class, given that I had never taken one. Being held at the rather new and gaining traction Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, it was pretty surprising to see how big the actual venue was, with both males and females of all ages participating in all sorts of activities. On the second floor, a lounge area overlooked a massive space where several volleyball nets were set up and in use.

A self defense maneuver.

When I came in late to the three-hour class after rushing to finish another assignment, “K,” the former military instructor who asked not to be named due to assignments he was working on outside the facility, was still holding a briefing on what was to come. Once the training began, the main instructor led us through several stances of protection: feet shoulder-width apart, one foot half-step ahead, toes slightly turned in, legs bent so they aren’t locked, arms crossed and shoulder-high. Pop (or pump) on toes when moving left to right, back to front, for stability. Don’t jump. Focus on balance. Maintain position. Next, to protect the head, arms up in front of face, slightly apart and in position to protect neck, bend arms out slightly beyond 90 degrees for the best resistance to push back and to strike. Aim to hit with hands open and using the base of the palm under the pinky. Don’t clench fists.

The main instructor and the assistant then came around and had us strike black foam pads attached to their hands. The exercises seemed easy enough: strike, strike, strike, stay focused and balanced. We then practiced on wall-mounted pads, striking and yelling, “Get back!”

The next phase, the actual full contact self-defense activity, began in a room where the class, all women, shared how they felt about the upcoming event, recalling their own personal concerns and experiences in being attacked. From there, I was taken into another room where the instructor prepared me for what was in the next room. I was wearing a large foam helmet with a face shield so I could see. He told me that he would bring me into the room and drop a hood over my head to emphasize the suddenness of a surprise attack. The instructor would stand right behind me as if he were family that I needed to protect. And then it began.

Fast pace walk in, hood on. Then — hood off! A stranger has got me! He’s shaking me! “GET BACK! GET BACK! GET BACK!” I was pushing and striking him as fast and hard as I could. I didn’t feel that he would ever stop. And then he fell to the ground. “GET BACK!” I yelled, arms still weaving. I was then put back in position and the hood dropped on. Repeat twice more.

After the third round, I was crying, hyperventilating and shaking. Mind you, I knew this was safe and that we were training and I wasn’t hurting, but I was in shock. I kept asking the perpetrator in my head, “Why are you doing this?” Then I asked myself, “Why am I so scared?” I then told the patient instructor that I had been through this before in real life. He said that he knew.

As I finished the two remaining drills, certainly less traumatic, I felt wholly embarrassed, given my size and stature — 6 feet, 5 inches, 185 pounds. The problem that upset me the most, however, was looking back at years of complacency and acceptance of any sort of bad or criminal treatment that I had endured as somehow OK. What this class did for me was show me that I’m worth standing up for.

Although I wasn’t able to calm down enough to stay for the debriefing, one aspect of this course that went beyond learning the tactical positions and moves for self-defense was the therapeutic healing that I had never encountered before despite various sorts of counseling and true friend conversations. It seems to be worth it to know how to just fight back when attacked.

Stay tuned next week for part 2, being the predator.

For more information on the Sports Academy adult personal protection course, call 844-518-7246; email info@sportsacademy.us or go to https://sportsacademy.us/. For self-defense course for children, Gracie Morumbi is renowned for its martial arts classes. To learn more, go to www.graciejiujitsufabioleopoldo.com/kids-martial-arts/.