Zamarin teaching women self-defense
The class began in a surprising place for a self-defense course: with 20 minutes of talking. Mark Zamarin, head instructor of Park City Aikido, sat calmly on the mat in the Racquet Club’s aerobic room, looking back and forth between his students as he talked about the danger women face today. The words ‘rape’ and ‘kill’ repeatedly found their way into his lecture. He realizes what the danger is and wants to make sure his students do too. Zamarin first got the idea of holding a class specifically geared for preparing women to defend when his daughter and the daughter of his senior Aikido student were preparing to go to college. He said of his daughter, "I realized that she had no idea what to do if something horrible happened, be it date rape or whatever." This first class was held in a seminar format. Students came to three two-hour classes over the course of a weekend. "With that much time, we were able to cover a lot of ground, but the women found it hard to commit for an entire weekend. They suggested a shorter, monthly class instead of the yearly seminar we had planned." The Racquet Club now runs a Women’s Self-Defense class the first calendar Saturday of every month from 1p.m. 3p.m. "There is a very important difference between the martial arts and a self-defense class. Studying a martial art is a path; it’s really a way of life. Taking self-defense, especially a specialized class like this, teaches you how to deal with a particular situation," he said. Which is precisely what he described at the beginning of his class last Saturday. "Imagine you’ve just finished shopping late at night, there are four cars in the parking lot and one of them happens to be a van that’s parked next to the driver’s side of your car. Warning bells should be going off. In situations like these, you have to be aware." He then introduced the acronym he created to remind students of how potentially violent situations escalate. "ACT UP. Most important is ‘A,’ awareness; it will get you out of 99 percent of these things." ‘Awareness’ is followed by ‘Caution,’ ‘Threat,’ ‘Urgent,’ and ‘Physical contact.’ "You want to avoid ‘P,’" says Zamarin, "but if you can’t, you’ll have the techniques you learn in class." After finishing his introduction, Zamarin politely asked his students to stand. "Now we’re going to simulate some of the situations that you’d probably run into," he said. He then reached out, took the nearest women firmly by the throat and began walking her toward the wall. Her eyes shot open in shock. "The most important thing is to get the women used to being uncomfortable. Naturally, when you’re grabbed like this, you tense up. We want to stress the student but not hurt them. The longer they stay in the situation without acting, the worse it’s going to be. We want to teach a mindset that will let them react," he said. His ‘victim’ admits that her second response, after surprise, was to deliver the classic counter-attack: a groin kick. Zamarin congratulated the instinct, but with one caveat. "It won’t always work. Lots of predators are repeat offenders, and if they’ve been tagged down there before they’re likely to stand in profile so it won’t happen again. Brute force isn’t always the best option," he said. He provides another tactic: surprising the attacker. Because they are the aggressor, they expect their victim to be visibly frightened. "Of course you’re going to be scared in this kind of situation, but by having felt it before you won’t get completely stuck in the fear. The attacker will not expect a calculated move," he said. The class practiced this move, which consists of blocking the attacker’s windpipe with two fingers. At first the women were awkward with the movement, giving clues that they were going to do something before they actually did. But by the end of class they were able to stop full-speed attacks from the instructor. The last fifteen minutes were spent on techniques that assume you’ve been taken to the ground. Zamarin coached the class through ways to get their knees between themselves and the attacker. The goal of these techniques, like those in the standing position, is to create an opening. "Then it’s ‘feet don’t fail me now,’" says Zamarin, pretending to make a mad dash for safety. At the end of class the students left smiling. "It wasn’t what I expected," said first-time student Jan Winter, "but it was really good." When asked about the benefit of attending a single class, Zamarin answered confidently. "It’s huge. You can go from being a deer in the headlights to having a fighting chance," he said.
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