Workshop teaches self-defense tactics

by Douglas Rojas

Self-defense is not only about responding physically to an attack, but it is also about preventing the attacker from invading someone’s personal space, said Anita Bendickson on Thursday at a workshop in the St. Paul Student Center.
“It’s all about space. Make your space hard to get into,” Bendickson said. She has taught workshops on self-defense for 19 years and has earned a fourth-degree black belt in karate.
Seven people attended the hour-long workshop, which was part of the Women’s Week celebration that ends today. The week was sponsored by University Young Women, the Progressive Student Organization, and the Minnesota Women’s Center.
The week-long celebration focused on women’s social connections. A self-defense workshop helps women to build greater self-confidence, said Erica Bridgeman, administrative coordinator with University Young Women.
Bendickson focused her seminar on three main themes: maintaining a comfortable distance, trusting personal feelings and resisting physical assault.
One main emphasis of the workshop was allowing participants to learn to recognize a possible attack in the making. Distance awareness plays an important role in this kind of approach, she said. People should not allow a possible attacker to come close enough for them to feel uncomfortable.
For example, many attackers will approach a potential victim, come within hand-shaking distance and ask what might seem to be an innocuous question, like, “What time is it?” However, the question is a mere distraction, placing the victim in a position that is harder to escape from.
Bendickson also said people should trust their feelings, especially if they feel uneasy about somebody. Picking up information from a potential attacker’s body language and behavior can help people avoid these uncomfortable situations, she said.
“Trusting your feelings is like a muscle,” she said. It is important for people to know which situations can be threatening so that they can be ready to react appropriately.
“Attackers look for people that look vulnerable,” Bendickson said. Therefore, building confidence and looking secure minimize the risks of being attacked. Still, she said, people should avoid dark places and walk with friends and in places where there are others moving about.
But if necessary, individuals still need to prepare themselves for the option of fighting back.
If a physical attack is unavoidable, Bendickson said, then the victim has to strike as effectively as possible, hitting vulnerable parts in the face and in the legs.
Although the event wasn’t heavily attended, those who took part said it was a great benefit to them.
“We don’t often discuss the body language part and how people would respond to certain situations,” said Bob Quinn, a graduate student in forestry, who also practices karate. “The workshop helped me to understand how to approach and deal with situations in real life.”
“It is not only an issue of education empowerment but also of physical empowerment,” Bridgeman said. “Women need to achieve economic, physical and emotional security.” She also said that women have to realize their right to not being abused or harassed.
Bendickson, who was a victim of a sexual attack more than 20 years ago, started learning karate at the end of the 1970s.
“I needed something to make myself stronger.”
In addition to teaching these seminars, she teaches self-defense in the University’s physical education program.