Self-defense classes focus on students strengths

The classes teach students physical and psychological aspects of self-defense.

Andy Steinke

Jennifer Hebel, a medical technology senior, was robbed outside Williams Arena Tuesday night when a man grabbed her from behind and demanded her purse.

The man threatened to shoot her, according to the University police report, and Hebel said her purse was all she had of value. The man took off with the purse.

Crime on campus is nothing new, and neither are students’ options when it comes to self-defense. Students are able to take steps to perhaps avoid becoming victims of assault or robbery.

The University’s physical education department offers self-defense classes at the University Recreation Center on the Minneapolis campus and at the gym on the St. Paul campus.

Anita Bendickson and Mary Brandl, the teachers of the class’ five sections this semester, began teaching the class in 1981.

“It seems to be a pretty popular class,” Brandl said. “We always have people on the first day trying to get into the class.”

The class teaches students more than simple maneuvers on how to free themselves from an attacker. According to the course description, there is a psychological element to the course, too.

“You don’t want to start thinking about self-defense simply as physical resistance,” Bendickson said. “You want to be aware of when an attack might occur.”

Bendickson and Brandl don’t focus on complex moves that the students won’t remember how to use after they leave the class. Instead, they focus on students’ strengths and how to use them to exploit their attacker’s weaknesses.

“We tell the students that they need to find the things that are useful to them to use if they are attacked,” Bendickson said. “That’s why focusing on your strong points and the attackers’ weak points is what we teach, so they can remember it.”

One example Bendickson uses is what to do if you are grabbed by an attacker.

“When an attacker grabs you, to struggle against their grip is exactly what the attacker is expecting,” Bendickson said. “So you have to do something they are least expecting.”

A student can grab the attacker back, Brandl said, because the attacker likely won’t know what to do about it.

The classes’ students are mostly women, Bendickson said, but men are more likely to get attacked on the street because they think it won’t happen to them.

“I think girls perceive more vulnerability because of the way they are raised,” Bendickson said.

Hannah Nilles, a kinesiology junior, is taking the class this semester. She originally signed up because she needed to fulfill a physical education credit, but said she is reaping unexpected rewards from the class.

“I just got an internship in Minneapolis, and it’s in a shady area,” she said. “I feel more comfortable going into the area now that I have the background.”

University sophomore Drew Bredeson is also taking the class because he wants to have a plan if he is ever attacked.

“I don’t feel that I’m in danger around campus,” he said. “I want to be prepared in case something does happen. I’m hoping to get some techniques and strategies that I can use to protect myself if something happens to me or the people I’m with.”

Because of the class’ popularity, two sections have been added during the past couple of years, Bendickson said. There will be five sections offered again in the spring.