Sex Week Self-Defense Class Strengthens Mind and Body

Oct 30, 2017

Words by Marissa Nichol

I woke up to the taxi driver rubbing my hand. Unexpectedly finding myself in a vulnerable situation, I felt numb, trapped in my own thoughts, and I didn’t know what to do.

Most of the places I’ve felt endangered aren’t the obvious ones: a friend’s house, Blossom Music Center, my high school and walking on the 11th safest campus in the nation. After a close encounter with a person who had the potential to harm me, I expected the same to happen everywhere else.

Luckily, all of these occurrences were just close calls with someone who didn’t cross the line. But what will happen when I don’t get so lucky?

That’s why I decided to take the free self-defense class offered for the first time during Kent State’s Sex Seek from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday.

Students arrived at Eastway to learn about when self-defense is needed, the most common places an attack occurs and what attackers look for in victims. Following an introduction, about 30 people lined up to practice basic physical techniques one on one with an instructor.

Brian Bowles uses his skills as an integrated fight instructor at Kent Karate and Family Fitness to teach the Kent Women’s Self-Defense class at Fred Fuller Park. Instructors Brian Redfern and Corey Chadman were also there for assistance.

Although there were seven men who attended the class, Bowles says self-defense classes are important to teach women methods where strength is irrelevant.

“It teaches them a lot more confidence, especially when you’re dealing with women in the workforce,” Bowles says. “We are in a society where men come across as stronger.”

Confidence is exactly what I got out of that short time with Bowles.

Stepping up to try the first approach to fight an attacker, I hesitantly smacked the self-defense pads Bowles held up with open palms bent back. Self-consciousness came over me as the rest of the people waiting in line observed the motion of my arms.

This feeling I got is the exact reason Bowles teaches women self-defense separate from men. When men come into a class and try to mess with his lessons to prove they don’t always work, women are less likely to speak up and be confident.

“That’s not the awkwardness I want,” he says. “I want women to feel powerful, as powerful as men.”

As I made my way through the line a second time to use my elbow to hit Bowles, I still felt nervous. As soon as I positioned my arm horizontally and slammed it across the jab pad, I felt empowered.

I allowed myself to let down the wall I was holding up and relieved the stress I’ve been building up since the semester began. That’s when I started to understand Bowles’ lesson about mentality.

Although I was using physical strength, I mentally built that strength up for utilization, which I had more of than the round minutes before.

The next style of using our knee to strike the stomach and groin area of an attacker is when I felt the boldest. I, along with those I observed around me, used all the strength I could to dig my knee into the padding I imagined wasn’t between me and the instructor.

Students waiting their turn had time to get to know each other and share their own stories of when they could have used self-defense.

Samantha Goodenow, a junior studying psychology, says this was her first time taking a self-defense class. She wishes she took one sooner and learned the skills to feel more protected in an uncomfortable situation that happened recently.

“I was walking home on campus and there was definitely a creepy guy who was a little bit too close, so it definitely would’ve been nice instead of just running away,” Goodenow says.

Goodenow feels she can defend herself the next time she ends up in that position. Her favorite part of the class was learning how to get out of grabs, which was the next exercise on the list.

Practicing how to get out of grabs assured me that it actually is possible to fight against an individual much stronger than me.

If someone were to grab my wrist, I could twist it over to make them let go. If someone grabbed my hair from behind, I could place my foot behind them, turn around and push them forward to make them lose their balance.

It’s all just a matter of what Bowles calls breaking down structural integrity. Rather than using pure muscle strength, these methods physically change the structure and integrity of the body part another is forcing on you.

“Pure law of physics, pure balance, pure rooting,” Bowles says of what goes into restricting an attacker who approaches you from behind.

Even Antonio Pitty, a freshman studying physics who has a black belt in karate, learned new ways to defend himself. In the case a punch like the ones he’s mastered can break your hand, using up-palm strikes are safer.

He acknowledges how the lessons learned in this class can be applied in real life as a freshman on an unfamiliar campus. One instance where he felt extremely vulnerable was when he cut through the woods behind Dix Stadium.

“That was terrifying,” Pitty says. “Someone can come from anywhere.”

A particular move we went over he hasn’t learned from karate is how to get out of a chokehold when a person is straddled on top of you. The instructors demonstrated moves for us we could observe rather than practice if we felt too uncomfortable.

Bowles’ capability to fight off an individual in this way is most important in relationships.

“Lots of times in relationships it’s considered normal to have that spouse to dominate and play-fight,” he says. “That’s a cycle I think needs to be broken.”

He notes that most people he knows who have ended up in an abusive relationship don’t tend to come forward about it. A self-defense class can prepare people for when habits between partners grow dangerous.

In no way have I mastered self-defense.  It would take years of practice to do so; however, taking the first class is the beginning step to becoming more educated on the topic and having fundamentals in the back of my head.

So the next time I’m in a taxi and the driver does try to cross the line, I’ll know what I should do, and be one step closer to doing it.

Marissa Nichol is a reporter, contact her at

For more of The Burr Magazine, look for our upcoming issue, on stands this November.