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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