Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the May 25, 2005

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Second Career That’s Kickin’

As if we don’t have enough fear pumped into our lives, news reports

seize upon every story of a child abduction or attack on a woman.

Then, after weeks of saturation coverage on television, in tabloids,

and on the Internet, the story has a good shot of becoming a

made-for-television drams. This obsession with these tragic crimes has

us believing that all women and children should be hiding under their

beds. "Enough!" cries Gerri Willever.

This elementary school teacher turned martial arts entrepreneur and

author insists that we need not cringe through life. She is the first

to point out that kidnappings, by someone other than a family member,

remain one of this decade’s least committed crimes. Last year the

Bureau of Justice reported a mere 115 television-style child

abductions. Meanwhile, the lifetime odds of a woman getting assaulted

by a total stranger are less than 1-in-138 according to the National

Crime Victimization Survey. What’s more, Willever adds, you can better

these odds by following a few easy preventative rules.

Her newly released book, "Safe From Strangers," (Franklin Mason Press,

Trenton) lays out a series of precepts designed to keep children alert

and adults in good situations. It covers everything from the old

problems of how youngsters deal with invasive strangers, to new

problems like fending off Internet seductions. The Internet chapter

was written by FBI agent B.D. Freupan. The book emerged as a result of

the June, 2002, abduction of Elizabeth Smart right from her bedroom

window by a local handyman. Willever felt the case had made every

woman unnecessarily terrified of every worker within sprinting


Yet Willever’s efforts at empowering do not center solely on children.

At the American Karate Institute in Hamilton, in which she is a

one-third partner, she ties on her black belt every day and teaches

the course "Self Defense for Women." Talking about the experience, she

says, "This is probably the last place I saw myself ending up."

A graduate of Glassboro State Teachers College (Class of 1965),

Willever earned a degree in elementary education, and followed it with

a master’s degree in education. For 37 years, until 2001, she

instructed the grammar school children of Hamilton in remedial

reading. All seemingly very quiet and proper. Little did her students

suspect that, beginning in l992, Willever was developing another life.

"I’d had a lot of sudden changes in my life," Willever says, "and I

thought it would be nice to thumb through the adult education

catalogue and pick up some nice quiet arts and craft course." Somehow,

through a series of misunderstandings, she found herself in a karate

class. "I thought we’d see a film, but instead this guy comes out in a

padded suit," she recounts.

Willing to give the totally new experience a try, Willever stayed the

course and labored her way up to the prized black belt and became an

instructor. Then in 2000, as the American Karate Institute’s founders

sought to retire, Willever joined law enforcement officer Tom Schmura

and plumber Norm Dobo and bought the business. Since then enrollment

has more than tripled. She gives talks on her book and leads classes

at the institute (609-586-4073).

Willever says that common perceptions of self defense have become

needlessly tangled in feminism and Eastern philosophy. Yet, she

emphasizes, defending yourself in a parking lot against an attacker

involves no gender, nor does it require years of monastic study. In

her five-week course, "Self Defense for Women," Willever provides her

students with a few simple tools and concepts that afford them

confidence and options in such situations.

Fight versus flight. If he is 6-feet-4, and thrusts his 260 pound

frame in front of your 98-pound person, your womanhood is not being

called into question. Even Gloria Steinem will not raise an eyebrow if

you run like hell. When you are threatened in that dark parking lot,

your first move should be to retreat into the store, or whatever

building from which you just came. Make a phone call or get a security

guard. Don’t be a hero. Don’t be stupid.

Go crazy, girl. If a person actually approaches, making his intent to

attack clear, scream as loud and wildly as you can. Make it a simple,

very loud, and constant "Help!" This is not the time for

television-style invective. Also, notes Willever, flailing and going a

bit crazy can actually help.

Back when heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali was weighing in against the

towering Sonny Liston, Ali approached the scales like a crazed demon,

throwing a fit. As professional as Liston was, this performance threw

him off, and he remained hesitant in the ring until Ali’s eventual

victory. Wild hysterics – rather than a display of fear – can make

assailants drop their guard just long enough for you to escape.

Reconsider a kick in the groin. "So many women come into this class

and with a wink tell me that they know exactly where to strike a man,"

says Willever. "This is probably the least effective place to attack,

for several reasons." Not surprisingly, men have grown up painfully

aware of their own groin’s sensitivity. A lifetime of training has

honed their protective instincts in this area, making it very

difficult to attack.

Additionally, imagine how close you must be to the attacker, how

precise the range and aim, all within about one split second. Outside

of Hollywood, men almost never gamble on this unlikely attack. You’d

you’d better not either.

Where to strike. When the assailant lays hands on you, it is time for

your best shot. Willever poses three easily accessible body areas,all

of which cause a reflex withdrawal, even if only for an instant. Using

fingers or knuckles, strike directly into the eyes. If you can’t reach

them, go for the center of the throat. If kicking seems easier, kick

directly into the kneecap. The kneecap is sensitive, and is a much

easier target than the much-lauded instep. Also, if your kick bends

the attacker down, a swift knee to the face should bring tears to his

eyes – and give you time to sprint away.

Make a fast getaway. After you have delivered your punch, it’s time to

make your getaway. Perhaps you just might deliver five more blows and

bring the attacker to his knees, but don’t bet money on it. Strike,

stun, and then run around behind your attacker. Avoid the instinct to

turn and run straight away where he can see you. Run with your wits,

not your legs. Dart back and forth like a rabbit on the open field.

Even a faster attacker has a problem catching you if he is always

hesitating, waiting for your next turn.

We all face many real fears in our lives, whether of being attacker or

of being bored and short of cash in retirement. Willever provides a

example of how all of these fears can be turned on their heads.

– Bart Jackson

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