Women seek out self-defense training
About 20 women stand in lines with hands balled in fists at Zentai Martial Arts in North Arlington learning the art of self defense. “Joan,” through her training, was able to free herself from a choke hold during a domestic violence situation and escape the house with her children.
For these women, being physically attacked is enough of a real threat that they seek the skills to fight back. Being able to defend themselves against an attacker is becoming more prominent for women who are often targets for violence.
While violent crime is relatively low in South Bergen, according to the state police’s Uniform Crime Reporting Unit, it does still occur. In the most recent uniform crime report, Carlstadt, East Rutherford, Lyndhurst and Rutherford saw increases in violent crime from last year while North Arlington saw a decrease.
Violent crime in Carlstadt rose by 800 percent with nine violent crimes so far this year, compared to last year’s one. In East Rutherford, violent increased by 6.7 percent with five violent crimes compared to last year’s three violent crimes. Lyndhurst’s violent crime rate increased by 55.6 percent with two rapes occurring and a total of 14 violent crimes this year compared to nine in 2015. Rutherford saw an increase of 22.2 percent in violent crime, rising slightly to 11 violent crimes compared to nine in 2015.
North Arlington saw a 50 percent drop in violent crime with only six violent crimes occurring, compared to 12 in 2015.
Many women are now seeking out martial arts studios to learn the skills to keep themselves, as well as others, safe against attackers.
Allen DePena, owner of Zentai Martial Arts in North Arlington, said the first line of defense against an attack is general awareness of your surroundings.
If faced with a potential altercation, the best thing a person can do is run as it will most likely take you out of range of danger.
“The best technique you could work on is running,” DePena said. “The idea is not to lose, not to get hurt and to survive the situation.”
If someone has their child with them at the time they are accosted, the option to run is usually diminished because they are unable to carry that child and run fast enough.
DePena also warned that not making a decision allows an attacker to make the decision instead. DePena added that in some situations complying with an attacker is also a safer decision than trying to fight.
“We use the word violence because it does get very violent,” DePena said, noting that people have to find a way to be mentally prepared should they chose to defend themselves physically. “You need to be mentally prepared that you’re going to have to do whatever it takes to survive that situation because you already made a judgment call and you’ve already decided this is a do or die situation. You need to do anything and everything to try and survive.”
Some of the basic moves women can use to protect themselves is to pull an attacker’s hair, something DePena identified as a common option for women. DePena also showed the women how to break a choke.
“Chokes are not common for a regular street fight, but they are a very common attack for domestic violence because it’s a very empowering and controlling move in that situation,” DePena said. “It happens very often.
“Thank God it worked out that way [for Joan], but these are very serious situations that happen,” DePena said about “Joan” who was able to escape her attacker and get to her neighbor’s house with her children..
The word empowerment is used often in the classes. Empowerment is being prepared — knowing how asses your surroundings, how to escape, how to avoid situations and how to stay calm as well, according to DePena. Practicing attacks, including the choke hold, allows the women to get comfortable with the feeling and fight through the panic to get away from an attacker.
Sisters Maria and Diana Yepez will be taking the self-defense classes in order to learn how to protect themselves.
“I’m 24 and I go to clubs and I’m mostly alone,” Maria Yepez said. “You never know what could happen.”
For the Yepez sisters, attending the self defense classes are about being ready for any situation.
“You never know what could happen in the last second,” Maria Yepez said. “A guy grabs you and you don’t know what to do. I think girls need that protection to say they can defend themselves. It’s always good knowing you have your own back.”
Both she and her sister also make an effort to be aware of their surroundings.
“There are a lot of problems in our society,” Diana Yepez said. “There are a lot of rapists, there’s crazy people, so you never know when you’re safe, not even home. You never know who is coming into your backyard so I feel like you always need to be aware and know that any moment anything could happen.”
Krav Maga is a popular self-defense system taught because of its simplistic effectiveness. It was originally developed by the Israeli military after their independence. It was developed in an effort to easily and effectively train their military forces, and combines a variety of traditional martial arts. Unlike traditional martial arts, Krav Maga does not focus on perfection of technique.
“Krav Maga is very imperfect,” DePena said. “It’s imperfect for an imperfect world.”
DePena said it is “perfect for self-defense.,” however. Krav Maga identifies a person’s natural reaction to certain moves and attacks and makes it much easier for a student to learn and has universal movements that are effective for various different attacks.
DePena also stresses the need for cardio fitness in day to day routines. Staying in physical shape and having stamina will not only help someone last in a violent encounter, it will also help a person flee.
“Most people get winded about 30 seconds in without training,” DePena said. “If you’re coming and constantly training, you’ll be able to get through that first 30 seconds, thus surviving the entire encounter.”
People should not live their lives in fear, DePena said, but added that violent encounters occur even in safe towns.
“Things happen, if not in the street, things happen inside the home and you never know,” DePena said.
Violent crime in some larger, neighboring cities has decreased while some cities have seen an increase. Jersey City has seen at 24 percent drop in violent crime while Newark has seen a 49.7 percent drop. Garfield, on the other hand, had violent crime increase by 17.3 percent.
DePena believes that taking self defense provides a degree of self-confidence that helps a person be less of a target. The people who attack women and others on the street are commonly repeat offenders and are able to identify those who are easy targets.
“When you study a system of self-defense, you have a certain degree of confidence that helps you avoid being seen as a potential target,” DePena said. “Naturally, the goal is to completely avoid or escape a situation but also not to act in fear.”