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Self defense for runners: Pooler Fit to Fight gives Krav Maga class to women at Savannah Jewish Educational Alliance

Updated on November 30, 2014

Learning to do heel of palm strikes

Krav Maga defense techniques for women

When the Women at Fleet Feet Sports announced that the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire was offering a self defense course that all female runners should take, a number of us decided we would do exactly that.

Some had previous training in martial arts. Some had bad backs or shoulders and could not do the take downs and punches, but everyone came away voicing the same words, "that was fun" followed by, "I really learned something here tonight."

The course was taught by Pooler Fit To Fight Krav Maga instructors and was dedicated to "Active Women on the Run".

What exactly is Krav Maga and can anyone use it or just elite athletes?

There are a lot of different self defense techniques and martial arts, so how do you know which one works and which doesn't? Which is best? Can anyone use the movements or do you have to be an elite athlete? Can a seventy year old arthritic grandmother do a take down on a 250 pound muscle bound attacker? What happens if your attacker gets you down on the ground? These were all questions that the women wanted answered and the crew from Pooler did a good job considering they only had two hours to teach us.

Smack down in the JEA?

Two women from Savannah Strider's Track Club practice breaking free of a choke hold while on the ground and flipping their attacker over on their backs.
Two women from Savannah Strider's Track Club practice breaking free of a choke hold while on the ground and flipping their attacker over on their backs. | Source

Krav Maga teaches one to redirect the motion of your attacker using their own power against them.

Krav Maga means battle contact and was developed by the Israeli army in the 1940s. It combines elements of Jujitsu and Karate as well as street fighting tactics which are highly effective at stopping an attacker.

The movements are quick and powerful and are designed to throw an attacker off guard and use the attackers physical momentum against them by redirecting their movement, so if someone were to step in and lunge toward your throat, you could step into them, rather than move away and deflect their outstretched arms while using their forward momentum to send them flying toward the ground rather than at your throat.

If done correctly, a smaller individual can easily avoid attack and cause some real damage to someone who intends them harm, but it does take practice and a certain confidence to succeed.

The movements require repetition to make them almost instinctive, but for the two hour session we were only able to learn a few moves and be made aware of the vulnerabilities of even the toughest looking attacker. Everyone has their weaknesses and if you can keep calm and act and react to protect yourself, chances are you can gain the advantage and avoid injury, but you have to be willing to follow through and fight hard or as instructor Todd says, you might as well not fight at all.

Common wisdom has it that if you don't fight you won't get hurt, but if someone is set on hurting or even killing you, then you owe it to yourself and family to fight as hard as you can and knowing where to strike and how to move to prevent being held in a position from which you cannot escape is part of the training tonight.

The worst position you can be in is facing away from your attacker on the ground with your hands trapped by their hands and feet trapped by their legs.

The idea is to try to face your attacker at all times and to trap or block their arms and legs so that they cannot move in the direction they desire. In some ways it is like putting a boot on a wheel of a car. If your kneecap is locked back when you are trying to move forward,, you cannot move. If you try to punch or grab someone and your elbow is rotated inward and your hand moved outward, you will have little to no impact on your target, so defenders are taught how to deflect, trap and prevent movement.

Defenders are also taught to attack the most vulnerable areas; those which are not covered in fat and muscle like the knees, point of shoulder, spine, nose, ears, eyes and throat and yes, testicles.

Anything you can find can be used as weapon including throwing sand in your attackers eyes or using the point of a high heel or the edge of a coffee cup, even the content of paper cup if the liquid is hot.

The big thing is to act right away and act powerfully and quickly so you can catch your attacker off guard, disable them and call for help. Don't be a hero and try to hold them down until police arrive.

Pairing with a partner and learning to kick, hit and escape an attacker

The women paired up to practice the moves and at first had to stifle giggles. It felt kind of silly to grab a perfect stranger under the boobs and attempt to lift them off the ground, but after a while things started to get serious and an adrenaline flow seemed to permeate the entire room as women yelled, "stop, don't come any closer" as they ran toward their pretend attackers.

Instructors said not to cry for help, because in part this made you seem like a victim and that you could call just as much attention from onlookers by yelling stop and sound more authoritative. This seemed to make sense as well as everything else we were taught and even the smaller women were able to topple the larger women with very little effort even when the pretend attackers really did not aid their partners by rolling over and playing dead.

The women also practiced kicks, falling down, getting up and punching and kicking again to remind them that they had to keep fighting back until they gained the advantage and not to give up and just lay there and get beaten up without defending themselves. It was very empowering.

learning to break free from a wrist hold
learning to break free from a wrist hold

The take home on the take down

While a two hour class may not fully prepare runners for self defense while out on a run, it did make them more aware of what could happen and how to react if it did.

In real life, you never know how you are going to react until put to the test, but all the women left feeling confident that if they had to do something to protect themselves or others and there was no other choice, they could react and protect.

The major points they would take with them would be:

1. Make noise and make yourself look big if someone threatens you up close or at a distance.
While you don't want to yell, "Hey, you what do you think you are looking at? Do you want a piece of this? Come on over here and I will beat the snot out of you mister!" to some guy who is ogling you, you don't want to let someone get too close to you either, so saying loudly, "hey, back off!" and looking sternly at someone who has invaded your personal space, is not necessarily a bad idea. Use your judgement, but be aware of the danger and take action early to prevent being caught off guard.

2. Walk with confidence and be aware of your surroundings - you don't want to look fearful, clutch your purse, dart you gaze around or hang you head down, nor talk on your phone or listen to music and not pay attention to what is going on around you.

3. If someone gets too close, try to place yourself in a position where if they did attack, you would have the advantage. Face them and make eye contact and mentally go over what moves you could make if they decided to attack you or grab your purse or wallet or you.

4. Try to avoid running alone in remote areas or urban areas which are known to be unsafe. It is better not to place yourself in danger and not to have to use force to defend yourself, but if you are attacked you want to strike back hard enough to disable the person, not just hurt them and make them even angrier! The aim is to stop your attacker from being able to get up and attack you again. Remember it is your life or their life and this is not a game, so it is okay to do some damage to them if it means you will survive.

5. The final tip is just to be aware of what is going on around you. You don't have to be afraid of everyone you meet, but if you have a funny feeling about someone or feel like someone means to do you harm, then don't put yourself in a position of vulnerability. There is nothing wrong with walking back in a shop or even telling a date that you prefer to stay at the club and not go off to a remote site with them if you feel uncomfortable doing it. Chances are your instincts are right and if not, no harm is done anyway.

Finally remember that often times someone who looks like an attacker may just be a guy in a bad mood. Try smiling and making eye contact with people or at least look them in the face and say hello in a confident friendly tone. Often times you will see that harsh face soften and look surprised and say hello back.

Some guys may threaten you but be all bluff and you can defuse many close calls with a confident air and a calm but in-charge attitude, but if your life is being threatened, then the literal and physical gloves come off and a blow to the neck, groin, bridge of nose or wherever it hurts most and provides the greatest down time to get you to safety, then go for it"!"

Many martial arts studios offer free courses in self defense and many rape crisis groups and police departments will also send an instructor to your church, school or civic organization, so check around if you are interested in learning some self defense moves without actually attending a martial arts academy.

Have you ever been attacked and how did you defend yourself?

What method have you used to defend yourself from attack?

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