When Benjamin Roberts got into a fight at school, he was caught off-guard.
"I was cornered," said the 21-year-old, who attended Glendale's first free self-defense class for boys and men on Wednesday night so he would know what to do if some one tried to hurt him again.
For years, Glendale had only offered free self-defense classes for women and girls in honor of sexual-assault awareness month in April, but after the National Coalition for Men, a nonprofit group, complained that the gender-exclusive classes violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution, the City Council opened up the training to males, too.
Council members opted not to mix males and females together. They noted the self-defense moves taught during the course are different for the two genders and that women who have been sexually assaulted in the past may have difficulties role-playing attacks with men.
While the roughly 50 women and girls who took a free self-defense class last week learned how to protect themselves when attacked from behind or pinned to the floor, about 15 boys and men learned to block a punch, break an attacker's nose with their palm and protect themselves while sitting on the ground in the Glendale Police Department's community room.
Nelson Nio, the instructor who also teaches the female classes, said males need to learn more kicks and punches because they tend to be attacked from further away. He teaches females how to defend themselves from close-range attacks, such as having their hair pulled.
Pete Englander, a retired teacher, said he signed up for the class after hearing about the controversy prompted by the National Coalition for Men.
"I want to find out how I can avoid situations that get me in trouble," the 66-year-old said. "I always thought (the class) was for women, and I understood why that was, but I wished they could let me in."
During the first female-only class, several attendees said they thought boys and men should also have the opportunity to learn self-defense for free, too.
Gary Gausman was familiar with the class before he saw it advertised to men on the city's website because his wife and daughter took the free training a few years ago.
Self-defense "is something that I've thought about for a number of years and never acted upon it," said the 54-year-old actuary. "The experience that my wife and daughter had only enhanced my desire to learn."
His son, Carlos Gausman, said as much as women need to learn self-defense, it's important for men, as well, because males tend to be more egotistical. They may think they know how to handle a dangerous situation, but without the proper training, a situation can escalate, the 22-year-old said.
"Guys may say they know how to throw a punch, but they may start to find out that throwing a punch may not be the best solution," said the business consultant.
One more self-defense class for females is scheduled for 6:30 to 9 p.m. on June 25 at Glendale Community College's Student Center Conference Room (SC212), 1500 N. Verdugo Road. To reserve a spot, call (818) 548-2000.