As they twisted their partners’ arms back slowly, the more than 30 women and girls almost appeared to be dancing.
But they weren’t dancing at all; they were practicing self-defense moves in slow motion to avoid actually injuring one another.
The women and girls were students in a free self-defense class hosted by the Sterling Judo Club on Thursday night at Sterling Elementary School.
Sensei Bob Brink, who has been practicing judo for 52 years, started the club about two years ago, and said people had been asking for a self-defense class. He recruited his former student, Sensei Kati Gibler, to teach the class, while he taught his regular judo class.
Gibler’s permanent residence is in Las Vegas, Nev., but her job as a geologist has her working in Alaska about 5 months out of the year. She originally got interested in judo because her son was being bullied at school. As well as working as a geologist, Gibler also teaches judo in Las Vegas.
Thursday’s self-defense class —girls in Brink’s judo class, moms of judo students and interested women in the community — learned some of the basics of how to fight back when attacked.
“A little bit of self defense goes a long way,” Brink said after introducing himself and Gibler to the class.
Before demonstrating different defense moves, Gibler began the class with a discussion about how to avoid becoming a target, including paying attention to surroundings, not relying on other people for protection, not wearing headphones, locking vehicles, deadbolt locking homes and installing security systems.
Gibler said staying fit and regularly practicing self-defense moves also help in an attack. Usually Gibler teaches self-defense classes in more than one two-hour session to better cover the topic, but she said the most important thing is to not get hurt.
“If you can get away, try to get away,” she said. “If you can’t get away, fight.”
After a short warm up, Gibler started with the basics. With assistance from students in the class, Gibler demonstrated how to get out of a wrist grab. The key is to break the hold at the thumbs, as that is the weakest point. Following the demonstration, the women and girls found partners and practiced the move.
From there the class advanced to shoulder grabs, and grabs from behind and choke holds, again finding weak points to break out of the holds.
With help from judo club girls who have taken falls before, Gibler demonstrated how get attackers on the ground by sweeping their legs out from under them. The students then practiced the moves slowly and avoided the falls so they didn’t injure one another.
However, Gibler told the students, “just because you get (the attacker) on the ground doesn’t mean you’re safe.”
With the help of judo student Tannan Holland, Gibler demonstrated additional self-defense moves for standing attacks before moving onto gaining control when pinned to the ground in an attack. She showed students how to find weak points and flip their attacker underneath them.
Gibler didn’t have time to demonstrate self-defense moves against an armed attacker. She recommended fighting even when there’s a weapon involved, but she said it depends on the situation, sometimes it is safer to comply.
At the break halfway through the class, Zita Carrasco said she felt like she had already learned a lot.
Carrasco said she came to the class with her daughter, Autianna Spann, because she really wanted her to learn self-defense.
Margot Lepine enjoyed the class as well.
“It’s just an excellent idea for kids and adults,” Lepine said.
The Sterling Judo Club meets Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Judo is a martial art that was created in Japan in the last 1800s. Gibler said it was originally created for self-defense and the techniques are based on counter attacks. It has evolved since then to become an Olympic sport.
Gibler has learned a lot through judo and it has built her confidence.
“For me it has led to a lot of personal success in work and everything else,” she said.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.