Teaching Physical and Mental Self-Defense

Pacific Palisades is an insulated, unique community, but one which is not immune to big-city problems. ‘We love the Palisades. The bad news is a lot of people here live like ostriches: they see horrible things in the news, but think ‘that can’t happen here,” said Max Impact self-defense instructor James Gavsie at a women’s self-defense workshop here January 31. ‘Things do happen here. We live in that kind of society.’ Along with the other women in the class, I learned not only physical but mental ‘self-protection’ from instructors Gavsie and Fred Cerrato, who both have a background in martial arts and now teach their classes at Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Center in the 881 Alma Real building. In addition to practicing punches to the face, getting out of a wrist grab and escaping a body hug, the women learned about different thinking processes in everyday situations. For example, although the conventional safety advice is to avoid using cell phones while driving, Gavsie also warned against using them while walking down the street, as it makes callers distracted and not as aware of what’s going on around them. ‘Cell phones are one of the biggest distractions,’ said Gavsie, who believes that ‘realistic self-defense’ incorporates learning how to be attentive and not be an easy victim. The instructors also warn women to use their senses at all times, noting that some criminals use two-on-one distractions, with one person distracting the victim while the other commits the crime. Listening to our instincts and expanding our sense of awareness was also emphasized. ‘If you don’t feel comfortable with someone in an elevator, don’t get inside,’ Gavsie said. ‘An elevator is a soundproof steel chamber.’ He also warned about being aware of a place where an attacker could hide when walking into a parking garage or entering your car. The class combined physical combat with suggestions about how to deal with certain situations’mostly reminders to keep our eyes open. Gavsie, 250 lbs. and 6’3′, said to the women in the class, ‘Everyone here is capable of doing physical damage to me.’ Long-time martial arts instructors, Gavsie and Cerrato have been teaching out of Gerry Blanck’s Center since December and, prior to that, taught the Max Impact Self-Defense classes in Atlanta. ‘I hardly ever get into a physical confrontation, but I use mental martial arts every day,’ Gavsie explained. The teachers had us pair up and practice out the moves with one another. To work on our mentality, Gavsie had each of us think of five motivating reasons why we would fight back. The focus of the class was avoiding any kind of attack, but in case it’s unavoidable, the teachers cited reports that a victim who fights back is better off than one who doesn’t. ‘If an attacker says ‘Come with me and I won’t hurt you,’ don’t believe him,’ Gavsie warned. We paired up and practiced our one-two punch, aiming for the face or nose. The instructors came around and urged us to put our full weight into it, stopping just short of the nose of our partner. They also assured us that adrenaline would add to our power when needed. To get away from an attacker grabbing us by the wrist, we practiced with a partner, jerking our forearm towards our opposite shoulder to break the connection of the attacker’s grip. The exercises mostly focused on putting our full body weight behind the movements to be more effective. As for using a groin attack, the instructors say to use your shin to kick someone in the groin, and don’t count on it as your only line of defense. Each woman had a different reason for wanting to come to the class. For Amy Fee, it was confidence. ‘I live in Santa Monica, I like to park on the street and there’s no street lighting,’ she said. Palisades travel writer and marketing expert Beverley Auerbach wanted to learn some safety skills to use during her frequent travels. The seminar was valuable for Palisadian Sharon Shaw, whose husband, a Max Impact martial arts student, suggested it to her. ‘The mental part of their course was information we know but don’t think about’awareness,’ she said later. ‘I already shared with friends and family and I feel good about showing them a few important moves and awarenesses that they can now use to protect themselves.’ The instructors’ four survival rules, all of which apply to men as well as women, are: 1. React immediately. Don’t let someone follow you somewhere; go immediately to a fire station, public place, etc. 2. Resist, do not comply (except for giving money and car keys or possessions). 3. Don’t go to ‘crime scene number two,’ which could be an adjacent room at a party, in his car, or anywhere someone wants to take you. 4. Never give up. They also discourage weapon use without extensive training, because weapons can be used by the attacker against the victim. For a stalker’someone who calls several times a day, doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and doesn’t care about your feelings’the instructors advocated a direct approach: address the stalker immediately and in no uncertain terms. ‘Shut them down right away’tell them you have no desire to be with them,’ Gavsie said. For example, if someone is harassing you in a store or market, be very direct and say something like: ‘You’re bothering me, I’m about to call security.’ In general, an effective verbal response to any kind of harassment is saying ‘back off’ in a strong voice. For break-ins’call 911 and get out of the house if you can. Two other tips for this situation: keep your cell phone close by at night, in case a thief cuts off the phone line, and practice a family escape drill, just like a fire drill. Max Impact offers ongoing kickboxing, martial arts and self-defense classes at Gerry Blanck’s Center. Contact: 456-0233 or go to www.themaximpact.com.