Maybe you’ve never been held up at knifepoint or had a gun pointed at you, but break-ins and assaults are not uncommon, even in our big small town.
“The worse thing that you can do is have a sense of complacency about locking doors and windows,” says Lt. John McCarthy of the . “Keep yourself from being victimized.”
There were 110 violent crimes in Novato in 2011, down from 155 in 2000. Still, that’s a violent crime almost every three days on average.
“As far as walking around, and relatively speaking, Novato is very safe,” McCarthy tells me. Still, in terms of personal safety, he says, “You never know when an attack is going to happen, and you definitely want to be aware of your surroundings.”
How can you and your loved ones feel more empowered and prepared, just in case?
There are several places to learn self-defense in Novato including an afternoon workshop with , held the last Saturday of every month at the building in Hamilton.
“Women are attacked every two seconds in this country,” says Samantha Lief of Double Eagle Fitness during a recent presentation at the class she teaches with her husband and ten-year special forces sergeant, Beqir Gjoka. "Men are attacked randomly and women by people they know," she adds.
“We love to teach this class because it’s important information," Lief tells me later, "and everyone who takes it loves it, too.” With 15 years experience in special forces and human intelligence, this Self Defense and Personal Safety class is founded on the premise that 90% of crimes can be prevented with assertive body language, fear management, and simple hand-to-hand combative techniques.
Half of the three-hour class is devoted to talking about things you can do to stay safe including developing a habit of “situational awareness” — noticing entrances and exits, noticing people around you, and even the location of heart defibrillator devices.
“It’s not about paranoia,” Lief asserts, “it’s about alertness, because the sooner you perceive a threat the more options you have.”
This first half is packed with common sense that, as is often the case, is not so common. “Criminals all over the world are looking for easy targets, so you’re not going to be that easy target,” Leif admonishes us. She tells us there’s an FBI acronym for your gut intuition: JDLR. It stands for Just Doesn’t Look Right. "Your JDLR is your instinct and it's never wrong," Lief assures us.
Do you avoid dangerous situations like going to an ATM at night? Do you strip away your sense of hearing by plugging into an iPod while you go jogging? These are some of the challenges Leif presents to the class. Do you ever ask yourself, “what if?” — what would I do if this happened or that happened? Some visualization of what you would do helps along with telling yourself that you are brave.
The body language of submissive, assertive and aggressive behavior is discussed with the help of a handout. “If you don’t feel confident, fake it ‘til you make it,” Lief suggests.
When your JDLR kicks in, do you automatically note the details of descriptions of a suspicious person? How heavy is he? What’s the color of his clothes and hair? Does he have defining characteristics like tattoos or facial hair?
“By really looking at them, you let them know that you are not to be trifled with,” Lief says.
She also discusses “fear management,” telling us, “You have to realize the natural response to fear is adrenalin. You have two seconds to regulate your heart rate in order to act.”
The other half of the class is devoted to learning techniques that “you hope to never have to use, but if you do, your body will remember, and you won’t have to think.” Several moves are demonstrated, one at a time, with each person practicing both the part of attacker and attacked. We all learn the art of escaping from being grabbed, choked or pinned down.
I was paired with my husband, Rich, during this section and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Who knew an afternoon of pseudo choking and poking could bring us so close? Beqir is very approachable and encouraging during this portion of the class and I enjoyed watching him urge my husband to get in touch with his primal nature. Rich seemed to like it, too. "It's like an aggressive form of partner yoga," is how I summed it up on my facebook status later that day.
“Self-defense is not about your ability to fight but your ability to defend yourself and your ability to take all measures not to be chosen as a victim,” Lief tells us as we finish up our afternoon of empowerment.
This three-hour workshop is $75 with a half-price discount offered for a second person now through end of June. Double Eagle Fitness recently donated a number slots to a 75-minute class geared for kids and teens to a couple local elementary school auctions. The kids' class is normally offered for $35/person.
Another option or learning self-defense as a child, teen or adult is with John Wyek and his team at DefensePro.com. A group class is planned for Saturday, April 14 from 10:30 a.m.-noon at . Cost is $35 per person with a $10 discount offered for a second or multiple signups. Both my tween and teen daughter took this class last year at my urging, enjoyed it and seemed to garner solid skills and lessons from it.
Wyek and DefensePro are also helping to plan a “Safety Day” for May 20 at from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This event is geared toward middle school students and families. Sinaloa will set up some emergency-prep supplies to show families how students would be cared for in an emergency. There will be opportunities to discuss the parents’ roles in regards to picking up students, parking, communication, etc., in the event of an emergency.