get out! No, really. get. out.

There’s something oddly satisfying about the loud THWAP noise it makes when you elbow strike a man who is pretending to attack you. It sounds like confidence.

That elbow strike, and many moves like it, were part of a special women’s self-defense workshop presented last weekend by the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club at the Mt. Lebanon Rec Center. A portion of proceeds was donated to the Center for Victims. The staff of PRO Martial Arts Bridgeville led the nearly three-hour session, which included several different “stations” where participants learned everything from how to get out of grips to how to hurt your attacker just enough to let you get away.

Instructor Alexis Climes, in black, explains how to get out of a choke hold and the participant practices a groin punch
Instructor Alexis Climes, in black, explains how to get out of a choke hold and the participant practices a groin punch

But most important was how to avoid being attacked at all. Instructor and Army veteran Shawn Ergler told us the most critical thing to know was to avoid putting yourself in risky situations and to always be aware of your surroundings. Each lady in our group is a runner and we had heard some of the common sense advice before: stay in well-lit areas and trust your instincts. Have keys clutched between fingers (like brass knuckles) and pepper spray ready. But some of it, we hadn’t thought of. Vary your routine. If you’re a runner or walker, never take the same route and the same time and place all the time. At work or while doing errands, never park in the same spot. And know different routes if something doesn’t look right and you need to change course.

A great way to notice your surroundings while you’re running is to unobtrusively look behind you…by using the windows of parked cars or storefronts as mirrors.

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Instructor Jeremiah Claypool tries to hold a seminar participant, who is practicing breaking free

Other things we hadn’t thought of: know all the people in your neighborhood. If you have neighbors you haven’t met, introduce yourself. You never know when you might need their help. Have a a safety plan for all situations. We all admitted we had a plan for a house fire, but none of us had really thought about a home invasion. Where should our kids go in that case? Most of us hadn’t considered it.

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Claypool and Climes show another group how to break free from a rear choke

But what if we were caught by surprise by someone who means to harm us? PRO head instructor Alexis Climes (who earned her Black Belt at 10 and has competed in the Junior Olympics) and Jeremiah Claypool showed us tricks for getting out of grabs. Most tricks included playing on the weak feature of the grab. For example, if someone grabs you by the wrists, instead of trying to yank yourself out of it by pulling backward, twist your wrists so your thumbs point to the area where their grip comes together and snap out sideways at that weak point. They walked us through getting out of a bear hug from behind, a rear mouth grab, front and rear chokes and a side shoulder grab. Exploiting weak parts of the grab is a way to match the power of an attacker who is likely to be much larger and much stronger than us.

Some escape methods included what you would think: a kick to the groin…but not all of them. Climes said since the most important thing is to get away, most of the escape moves were to be done as you move away, instead of moving toward the attacker.

But what if you absolutely need to strike your attacker to disable him, even if only for a few minutes, so you can escape? The course included knee strikes, side kicks, elbow strikes and palm strikes, as instructor Craig Bocz and owner Tim Campbell bravely held pads while we attacked. We all admitted, it felt good—and empowering—to do the exercises.

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Instructor Craig Bocz takes a knee to the gut

At the end of the seminar, the instructors brought all the groups together to ask questions and demonstrate how to get out of even more difficult situations. Being choked up against a wall? Grab the attacker’s shirt at the chest and sit down very quickly, causing the attacker to hit his head on the wall behind you. Need to disable someone stat? They showed one simple move that required only brains—not strength—that hurts so bad, it likely would take an attacker down instantly.

Instructors also gave safety tips for when kids are in tow.

Climes reminded us that in a situation of extreme stress, the most important thing was to relax and breathe, no matter how silly that sounds. If you don’t breathe, you pass out and you certainly can’t get away that way. The other thing she emphasized was practicing the techniques. Some of the grab releases had multiple steps and you need to be able to remember what to do quickly, through muscle memory. Taking a class once a year is a good idea, she says.

The seminar was a fantastic companion to the women’s runner safety seminar I took at Fleet Feet Sports, which, among other things, explained why you never want to let an attacker take you to second location. Ever. And why it doesn’t pay to be nice all the time. Read about it here.

PRO Martial Arts, Bridgeville (by the Starbucks in Collier), does private and small group self-defense classes. They also have self-defense and bullying prevention classes for children, in addition to a full slate of martial arts classes. 412-489-4109.

All photos by Shannon Glantz

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