Reporter's Notebook: Hair grab? No problem

My morning routine typically consists of pastries and emails, so imagine my unease when at 8 a.m. Wednesday I found myself pinned to a wrestling mat in front of 80 teenage girls in the Glendale High School gym.

“Use your legs as a weapon,” said my pretend attacker, women’s self-defense instructor Nelson Nio.

The list of attacks I was supposed to learn to deflect read like something out of the video game Mortal Kombat — frontal and rear chokes, grabs from behind, hair grabs, wrist grabs and ground fighting.

But as I floundered around simulating, among other things, kicking Nio in the face, all I could think about was whether my pink and white socks were clean enough for the world to see.

Luckily, my fellow students were better focused.

“It is important because if anything ever happens to you, you have a useful defense for yourself,” said 14-year-old Sandra Jayoma.

It is the second consecutive year that Glendale High School has offered the self-defense class, made possible by a safety and violence prevention grant, said Assistant Principal Bill Sterling.

The idea was originally brought to the administration by faculty and students, he said.

“It is an issue in today’s world, and we have a responsibility to our students to provide them with the skills they need to exist in the outside world,” Sterling said. “And most students wouldn’t have access to this if we didn’t provide it.”

The class can also help female students feel comfortable raising concerns about violence, Sterling added.

Rachel Amkie knows well the lingering effects that an assault can have. After being mugged several years ago, the 19-year-old was terrified to venture out of the house alone. She started training with Nio, and now works as an assistant instructor teaching other women how to be prepared.

“I don’t want to say you are taking a chance every time you are outside, but things can happen, and you want to be prepared,” Amkie said. “You want to have the skills; you want to be ready if something does happen.”

The Glendale High School students seemed eager to learn a thing or two, practicing how to break the grip of a person twice their size and how to keep themselves from being immobilized against a wall.

Learning to defend against a hair grab, in which a victim is dragged by his or her locks, was probably the most popular lesson of the day. Pony-tailed student after pony-tailed student widened their stance, stabilized their balance and then twisted away from their assailant — scalp intact.

“For girls, I think it is very, very critical for them to learn how to respond, how to generate energy from the core and the lower body,” Nio said.

An hour later, there was definitely an air of confidence among the group.

“If it ever happened to me, I feel like I could do it,” said 14-year-old Jaehee Lee.

I do too, and who needs pastries and emails when you’ve got that?


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