Campus hosts series of self-defense training classes

girl punches instructor during self defense class while others watch

Robert Thomas and Rebecca van der Meer of Tsunami Self-Defense Systems demonstrate a self-defense technique during their recent "Street Smart Personal Protection" class at Penn State Scranton.

Credit: Penn State

DUNMORE, Pa. -- If you think about it, self-defense really is self-care in one of its truest forms.

Given that, it makes complete sense that Penn State Scranton’s Counseling Services office is making self-protection part of its fall semester programming.

About the self-defense class

Last week, Robert Thomas, owner of Taylor-based Tsunami Self-Defense Systems, and his head instructor, Rebecca van der Meer, gave their first of two self-defense classes for the campus community.

The free sessions are among several wellness classes being offered throughout the semester by Campus Counselor Katherine J. Stefanelli, who was able to fund them through a grant provided by the Lion Pulse Wellness Initiative.

“We like to give people this list (top five areas where violence happens) because knowledge is power.”

-- Robert Thomas, owner of Taylor-based Tsunami Self-Defense Systems

The first session, “Street Smart Personal Protection,” was held Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Sherbine Lounge and was open to all genders.

The second and final 90-minute session, “Girls on Guard, College Safety Training,” will take place 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, in SLC 29. Open exclusively to women, it will include hands-on defense training.

Street smart personal protection

During the interactive “Street Smart Personal Protection” class, Thomas and van der Meer led attendees through several practical, easy-to-execute self-defense moves to reduce their risk of harm in the event of an attack.

Thomas made a clear distinction between sanctioned fighting and an attack. If it’s got the four “Rs” -- rings, rounds, rules and referees – it's a sport. That’s certainly not the case if you get jumped in a parking lot, where “you don’t have the luxury of any of those things,” he said.

Thomas and van der Meer also discussed the “top five areas where violence happens,” which included places where you find yourself in an altered state (a bar, a party), isolated places and territories in dispute.

“We like to give people this list because knowledge is power,” Thomas said.

“I really liked it. This kind of training really empowers you to be more aware and safe in these types of situations. Having this information, could save someone’s life.”

-- Alayiah Ashmore, senior at Penn State Scranton

When it comes down to it, self-defense is an expression of self-care, self-love, self-esteem and self-respect, said Thomas, who along with van der Meer placed the attendees in a circle and allowed them to practice the techniques.

First, they tried a wide-stance, arms-out pose that automatically spells out “stand back” to any would-be assailant, Thomas said. From that position, they practiced a classic palm strike to the face.

Physicality is but one part of the equation. In a self-defense situation, getting vocal is also important. Thomas recommends a firm, fast, loud “No,” which stifles the attacker and alerts any help that might be nearby.

“And,” he added, “you will hit harder.”

When an attacker manages to get a hand on you, Thomas advocates grabbing them with a “five-finger digit hold” and then giving them a pull or a tug. That neutralizes them and allows you to strike them with your free hand.

How about if an attacker comes up from behind you? Whether they’ve got you in a bear hug or are pulling your hair, the key, Thomas said, is to trap them, step forward, then strike.

“That step forward gives you enough room to strike. You’re making space,” said Thomas, noting that most of the moves he and van der Meer teach are “based on leverage, not size or strength.”

“If you notice that all the moves kind of look the same, that’s by design,” Thomas said. “We’re teaching you baseline moves that, through a principled approach, you can apply anywhere.”

Senior Alayiah Ashmore said she came away from the presentation with a much better perspective on self-defense.

“I really liked it,” Ashmore said. “This kind of training really empowers you to be more aware and safe in these types of situations. Having this information, could save someone’s life.”

“It was wonderful,” Stefanelli said afterward. “I liked that it was very interactive, and that it raised a lot of awareness in terms of knowing your physical surroundings. And I also liked the emphasis on self-care. You really do need to take care of yourself to make sure you get home safely.”

For more information on the upcoming “Girls on Guard, College Safety Training” self-defense class, contact Stefanelli at [email protected] or 570-963-2694.