Martial arts teacher teaches women defense

Self-defense is one of those skills every woman should know and hopes she’ll never have to use. To that end, Mark Harbinson, owner and chief instructor of ATA Martial Arts of Southern New Hampshire in Bedford, has been offering women’s self-defense seminars free of charge.

The next seminar is being planned for October. In the meantime, a bullying prevention class for students ages 8-13 will be held Aug. 24. For more information, call 472-4022 or visit www.martialartsnewhampshire.com.

Harbinson took some time to tell us what’s taught in this seminar and why women should know how to defend themselves, as well as share practical self-defense tips women can start using right away.

Here’s part of the conversation:

Q: What is your background in martial arts and self-defense?

A: My family and I have been doing martial arts for about 11 years now. Our organization (the American Taekwondo Association) is a worldwide entity that has been active in martial arts training for over 40 years. I have been a certified instructor in the ATA for almost seven years. All instructors certified in the ATA must attend periodic training and testing in the latest curriculum, including competitive sparring, open-hand and weapons self-defense and pressure-point control.

Q: What prompted you to add occasional self-defense seminars for women to your offerings?

A: Self-defense is a key component of any martial arts discipline. The material you learn is all geared toward enabling someone to feel confident that they can make sound choices, and also be able to protect themselves when faced with an unavoidable situation. Women are considerably more at-risk (than men) of being involved in a violent situation (assault, domestic abuse, etc.), so it was a natural extension of what we do to offer basic self-defense techniques specific to women. We felt that it was important enough to our community that we decided to make these basic seminars free to the public.

Q: Are these seminars taught by men, women or both?

A: The seminars are primarily taught by me. I also have another male instructor that assists, and my daughter also participates. My personal feeling is that a male instructor makes more sense, because we can portray a more realistic scenario during practice drills. An important rule in any training is “The way you practice is the way you act.” We can establish, in a controlled and safe setting, situations that force the student to react the way they will need to in real life. For anyone who is uncomfortable with this, we always have a woman instructor available to assist instead.

Q: Why is it important for women to know how to defend themselves?

A: Statistics have shown that women involved in any form of assault are more likely to be hurt (or even killed) if they are passive, as opposed to fighting back.

We want women to have all of the tools necessary to prevent them from becoming victims.

This not only includes skills to counteract physical assaults, but also the tips and tricks to avoid being in dangerous situations to begin with.

Q: Is there anything in particular women do that make them targets for crime, such walking out to their cars alone at night?

A: I wouldn’t say that women “make” themselves targets. However, there are always contributors to assaults that women should be aware of, and try to avoid. Most crimes of these types are either pre-planned or done out of convenience (meaning that all the contributing factors are in place at the time). Making some simple changes can make a big difference in the likelihood that someone is a victim of an assault.

The two biggest impacts to a woman’s safety is confidence and awareness. Women who appear to be unsure of themselves project an image of vulnerability. This makes them seem like easy prey to a criminal. Conversely, women who walk and act with an air of confidence are less likely to be attacked, simply because they are perceived to be more likely to fight back. This could be too much trouble for a typical criminal to want to take on.

Awareness of your environment will help you assess your risk factor before a situation develops. Alert people always look around for red flags (unlit areas, strangers hanging around, etc.) and avoid them whenever possible.

Q: What is taught in the women’s self-defense seminar?

A: Basic self-defense relies on keeping things simple. Any techniques taught during a seminar need to be something that would be in line with the person’s natural instincts. Also, since repetition is the key to any successful technique, we focus less on quantity and more on practicing a few key movements.

Overall, we try to first deal with the individual’s mindset with respect to defending yourself.

Before we put someone in a situation where they have to use a technique, we want to be sure that they are comfortable with the notion that they may have to hurt their assailant to protect themselves.

Q: Do you have any self-defense tips for women that they can implement right away?

A: Be alert to your surroundings. Never park far away from buildings, or in areas where there is little foot traffic.

Pick well lit areas to park and walk when possible. If you have a car alarm, set it off on your way to your car (the noise will deter anyone from trying to get to you there).

Also, have your keys ready in your hands before you get to your car.

Keys are an effective weapon when placed between the fingers. And finally, do not be afraid to yell for attention. Crying “Help!” may not get anyone to notice, but yelling “Fire!” at the top of your lungs will get everyone within earshot to turn and look.