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Striking Back: A Clark Student Finds Empowerment Through Self-Defense

By Sarah Kasten and Patti Norton

Imagine that you are driving home alone. It’s late on a Friday night. As you reach your driveway, you realize that the same blue 2008 Chevy Cobalt never left your rearview mirror. All you hear is the sound of your own rapid heart beat as you feel your chest constrict. The shock and fear of knowing that you have been followed suddenly hits you, followed by the all too common question: What do I do?   

Taking part in a self-defense class can be a useful way to secure your safety and build self empowerment. As schools and colleges across the country continue to face violent acts, having a template of skills to defend yourself is an empowering tool to get you home safely.  

Indy reporters attended a self-defense class at Clark College, taught by Robert Maves. During the 50 minute class, Maves demonstrated multiple techniques through drills which his students then practiced.  

“So first step would be to run, hide and fight,” Maves said.  “They’re all intertwined, they’re all working together, if you don’t allow that to happen you are going to get hurt.”

Before the drills and exercises, Professor Robert Maves went over key components to remember if ever being attacked. (Cat Duque/The Indy)

According to Maves, this run, hide and fight model is a flexible template that is meant to be personalized in any situation someone might find themselves in. You may find it easier to run away from an attacker, hide from a potential pursuer or if either are too late, fight your way for survival, he said.

While teaching, Maves often ties in real world events. He wants his students to be aware that tragedies like school shootings could happen at Clark.  

While speaking about the run, hide and fight model, Maves addressed the May 7 shooting at a charter school in Colorado. “That’s what happened in Colorado, people ran, people hid and people fought and that depends on your circumstances,” Maves said.

In classroom environments, talk of war and tragedies can be difficult to listen to. Ayah Al-Baiaty, a Running Start student taking his class, found Maves’ examples hard to listen to. “It was really rough for me to start his class because he talked about war and I have PTSD so it was hard for me,” Al-Baiaty said. “But when I went and talked to him he was very nice and he accepted it and began to use different stories and examples.”

Al-Baiaty moved from Syria to Iraq in 2011, right as the civil war began. After living in Iraq for a year, she moved to the U.S. with her family. Despite leaving the war zone in Syria, Al-Baiaty faces a personal battle daily as a Muslim woman living in America.

“In Syria and Iraq there was a war. We almost died in a bombing. But here, I have this [hijab] and it shows people who I am. People look at the news over there and think I do all of these bad things, which I don’t,” Al-Baiaty said. “I feel safer here because I can walk on the streets and not worry about getting bombed by a car but I do not feel safe as that I will not be attacked.”

Al-Baiaty decided to take the class after someone at her high school tried to attack her and pull her hijab off at the beginning of the year.

“I don’t feel safe walking around here anymore by myself,” Al-Baiaty said. “I wanted to feel safe. So taking a defense class was good.”

Maves stresses to all of his students that this method is only a template. If anyone were to find themselves in a serious situation, they then personalize the method to their circumstances.

“There’s no absolute here; there are too many variables to say that this plan is the plan for everything,” Maves said. “It should be very malleable and it’s going to be different.”

“Self defense isn’t about fighting, it’s about survival,” Maves said.

Clark’s Head of Security Mike See points out the importance of paying attention to your surroundings when out alone. “Don’t get caught off guard,” See said. “Knowing how to defend yourself won’t help if you’re paying more attention to your phone.”  

Going into the class Al-Baiaty said she thought she was going to learn movements or learn to beat people up, but taking the class forced her to look at self defense in a different way. “I remember when we would get attacked in Syria, all we needed to do was run away,” Al-Baiaty said. “Which proves this point, you need to get yourself out. It is teaching us to get yourself out and run.”

Maves said that the class used to be mainly focused on an individual’s physical performance, now he has changed the course so everyone can participate. However one component has remained the same: building the mentality of knowing that you have what it takes to defend yourself according to Maves.

“Giving yourself permission is crucial and the most important tool to remember,” Maves said. “I have already had the conversation about giving myself permission to be the baddest dude on the planet. I can kick some ass and get myself out of trouble.”

At the beginning of each quarter Maves sees bright, young and fresh-faced students enter the gym.

“You can have Mary Poppins in here, skipping over the hills and singing, but then they’re faced with the reality of the outside world,” he said. Over time he begins to see his students forming possible plans that they can use in the future, outside of class.

Empowerment is just one side effect that students have from taking this class.

“It is always good to be prepared; I mean we live in world where you would be shocked to know what happens,” Al-Baiaty said. “I can walk around campus and know I am confident about who I am.”

These may not be the only things that make you an easy target but according to Maves the following characteristics are most common:

  • Looking down at your phone
  • Listening to music
  • Walking with hunched up shoulders and looking down

Maves continues to tell his students that a way to prevent possible attacks is by developing good habits such as:

  • Keeping your head up
  • Looking around and being aware of your surroundings
  • Keeping a nice and steady pace when walking

Two common phrases are often used when calling for help in dire situations: Yelling for help and yelling for fire. The latter can become useful if someone finds themselves becoming a target.

  • Yell, “fire” to grab anyone’s attention. According to Maves, the majority of people are most likely to react to hearing “fire” and check to see where the source is coming from.
  • Once you have someone’s attention, change tactics and start yelling more specific phrases, such as, “help me I’m being assaulted!” Maves said that if you want help then you need to look like you need it.
  • If no one is around, screaming and yelling can be useful to distract your assailant.

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