Strengthening Safety: a valuable, on-campus crash course in self-defence

The class was affordable and provided a safe and welcoming environment to learn important skills.

Elements Academy of Martial Arts is located on Dunbar Street and offers a variety of self-defence programs for all genders. — Photo: Elements Academy

By: Alyssa Chan, SFU Student

At 5’2” and 108 pounds, I’m smaller than most people. Though I’ve developed some striking skills from years of practicing Taekwondo in my childhood, I don’t have any grappling skills to defend myself on the ground. In today’s world, where sexual harassment and assault are all too common, staying safe is a priority for everyone. So, when I saw posters around campus promoting Strengthening Safety, a self-defence workshop organized by SFU Health & Counselling, Campus Public Safety, SFU Recreation, and the Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office, and hosted by Elements Academy of Martial Arts, I knew that it’d be useful for me to attend. As soon as I found some friends to go with, which helped eliminate any nervousness I felt about taking on a new challenge, I signed up.  

Despite my previous martial arts experience, I struggled at first with many of the techniques and felt embarrassed and ashamed seeing most of my friends master the escapes with ease. Luckily, the instructors took the time to make sure I remembered all the details of each technique, and I even practiced during snack breaks until I could remember all the steps. Maybe I was taking the class too seriously by expecting perfection from myself, but looking back, I was definitely in a safe and fun learning environment — I didn’t have to be afraid of making mistakes.

Even though I can become quite aggressive and competitive when it comes to physical activities, I had to remind myself that the purpose of the class wasn’t to fight other people, but to learn how to protect oneself in case of an attack. I really think that fighting should only be used as a last resort if other conflict management strategies fail. 

Nonetheless, my friends and I had a lot of fun tussling with each other — within reasonable limits — and, to make practice as realistic as possible, I asked my partners to be rough with me and even offered to practice with the guys who were much bigger than me every so often. They were considerate enough not to put their full weight on me, but they didn’t go too easy on me either, and it was really satisfying and empowering to be able to throw a 6’0” male that was almost double my weight onto the floor. I already feel more confident that I can survive a compromising situation despite my serious size disadvantage. 

I’d recommend the Strengthening Safety course, and self-defence courses in general, to everyone. Not only do they teach practical skills and safety tips, but they’re also a fun setting to get a workout. On top of this, when else are you going to get the opportunity to fight your friends without actually hurting each other? Many people might think that only women will benefit from self-defence seminars, but men are victims of violence too — so it’s useful for everyone to have these skills, just in case a situation escalates. 

It was definitely worth it to take the plunge and sign up for Strengthening Safety. The course gave me something exciting to look forward to on Wednesday evenings and I got to hang out with some of my friends at the same time. The grappling seminar at the end was especially fun, and it inspired some of my friends and I to take jiu-jitsu classes to learn even more ground fighting skills.

Also, as a broke student, I appreciated how accessible the class was — only $12 for three sessions. My only complaint is that three days is not enough time to really internalize everything we learned. Because of this, and how valuable and fun the experience was, if such a convenient opportunity to take another self-defence or martial arts class on campus comes up again, I’ll be first in line.