It’s a scenario Kenton Russell hopes none of his students ever have to face in real life —being caught unaware and physically attacked or sexually assaulted.
But after retiring from a lengthy career in law enforcement, he knows it does happen. The Fort Hays State University Defensive Tactics Club — which Russell advises — and the Women’s Leadership Project partnered Saturday morning to offer free self-defense training to the community in efforts to prevent such attacks.
Having proper training and being prepared can make a significant difference in the victim’s outcome if an attempted assault does occur, Russell said, noting he has heard from former students who actually used their self-defense skills in a real situation.
“They come and tell me, ‘Hey, I used the skills you taught me,’ ” said Russell, who has been teaching mixed martial arts for 35 years. “But that means somebody did something bad to them. It’s bittersweet.”
Approximately a dozen women attended Saturday’s event, with several additional FHSU students helping coach. Most of the women in attendance were college students, but a few community members also participated in the training, which simulates several possible attack situations and allows women to practice escaping and fighting back.
The two main goals in a threatening situation are simply to survive and get away from the assailant, Russell said, repeatedly telling the class “there ain’t no rules in a fight.” Victims should scream, scratch, kick, bite — whatever it takes to survive, he said.
Most attacks happen after dark and target victims who are alone. There is safety in numbers, Russell said, but if an attack does occur, the victim should loudly and repeatedly scream for help. Running away is another effective defense, and it’s especially important to run toward a well-lit area or other people to help deter the attacker from pursuing you.
“No one touches you unless you say it’s OK. No means no,” Russell told the women. “I don’t care if you made bad decisions before. No means no, and it means no right now.”
When fighting back, a basic rule of self-defense is to fight primarily with elbows and knees as much as possible to prevent possible injury and to deliver the most forceful blows, he said.
“If you break your foot, it’s kind of hard to escape,” Russell said.
The women practiced their fighting stance and correct hand and elbow posture for delivering effective punches.
The class also simulated several possible attack methods, including chokehold and someone grabbing a victim by their forearm or their shirt collar. Women were taught simple and effective maneuvers for breaking free of each grasp, using gravity and their weight to the fullest advantage and delivering a few defensive elbow or knee jabs. The most forceful defense comes from engaging the hips for additional strength when fighting back, he said.
Most attacks are attempted abductions, and many of those instances involve children, Russell said, urging parents and those who work with children to teach them about “stranger danger” and basic self-defense strategies. Children who have not been taught such skills often willingly walk away with their abductors because they don’t realize the danger, he said.
“Evil exists, and that’s why you’re here,” Russell told the class.
The Women’s Leadership Project at FHSU offered self-defense classes several years ago and is working to revive the program as a community service offered at least once each semester, said Sharee Zombo, one of two student coordinators for the group.
“I like how he trains at different levels, because we are all beginners,” said Zombo, who also participated in the training. “But we can all walk away learning something.”