Be strong, confident and safe
A new form of self-defence is giving women the strength - both physically and mentally - to face a violent situation head-on
The majority of women will, unfortunately, find themselves in a vulnerable or violent situation at some point in their lives.
However, more and more Irish women are learning to protect themselves through self-defence training, so that when such situations arise they will not simply become yet another tragic statistic.
Self-Protection Ireland, which runs a number of courses for women, was set up by serving members of the Defence Forces and an Garda Síochána to teach Senshido, a reality-based martial art, founded by Canadian Richard Dimitri in 1994.
"Senshido attacks violence differently," instructor Mick O'Brien explains. "It is the most realistic form of self-defence you can get. Violence is not clean cut, which other programmes we saw available here were making it out to be, and claiming that anybody can escape their attacker. We didn't agree with that.
"The main focus of Senshido is the psychological aspect of any violent encounter and the emotion that is brought along with it," he says. "Then we start looking at the physical aspect and the physical aspect is only 10pc of the situation. We expose violence for the ugly beast that it is and train people through scenario replications in order to create a proper mental blueprint for them if they ever experience a violent encounter.
"We look at the things that an attacker doesn't want; he doesn't want to get recognised, he doesn't want to get hurt, he doesn't want to get caught, he doesn't want attention drawn to the situation. So you have got to give him everything that he doesn't want," Mick explains.
But while many women's groups and individuals have already taken part in the courses, Mick is keen to see a greater number becoming pro-active about their safety, before violence touches their lives.
"When you think of it, you go through your whole life putting systems in place to protect yourself, you buy a car and you get insurance for it - OK it's mandatory, but we want fully comprehensive insurance in case someone scratches it; we insure our valuables in case somebody steals them, but a life is not replaceable and the ripple effect violence can have on a family is huge. Yet we are still very slow to invest in ourselves until something actually happens," Mick explains.
Sarah Brennan attended Senshido following a violent incident in her workplace, in which she was threatened with a knife, during a burglary.
"I was held up at the front desk where I worked at knife point in November," Sarah explains. "One of my co-workers suggested I take the class afterwards because obviously I was very nervous and had lost confidence.
"It really helped me get my confidence back," Sarah adds. "I actually felt when I walked out of the class that I wasn't a victim anymore. I feel now that I could actually handle that situation and challenge anybody if I needed to again."
Sarah was understandably shaken by the incident and suffered with panic attacks in the weeks that followed. "Your body goes into shock and I actually didn't know what to do, it was very tough," Sarah says. "I think every woman and man should do a class in self-protection."
The first lesson Senshido teaches is how to understand how the body works in threatening or violent situations.
"Our nervous system is broken down into two parts - the sympathetic and the parasympathetic," instructor Mick O'Brien explains. "The parasympathetic operates in pure calmness, but when something happens - a sudden noise or movement - we jump into the sympathetic side of the nervous system and the fight or flight instincts come in and the first thing to deteriorate is fine motor skills, which control hand/eye co-ordination. So, if we were to go out and teach complex moves, then they are going to fail immediately due to the very nature of the state the body is in during those situations. So, rather than give hundreds of answers, you give the one answer. Only the individual can decide when they are going to fight back, but we encourage to always attack the attacker.
"We have a technique called 'the shredder' which attacks vulnerable parts of the body, you start ripping into the eyes, ripping into the throat, pulling at ears, biting gouging, tearing and going hell for leather onto the face," Mick says. "It is again a very small percentage of what we teach, because it is 60pc psychological, 30pc emotional and 10pc physical, but our psychical response is this. Everyone thinks the groin is the most vulnerable area, but the eyes and throat are two parts of the body that if you attack, it will immediately cause your attacker to defend themselves," Mick tells me.
"They will immediately pull back and that is what you want to do, you need to change their mindset from predator to prey. So he is now operating in the sympathetic side of his nervous system and your fine motor skills are starting to come back to you.
"You won't always get to the eyes and the throat immediately, which is where 'the shredder' comes into play because you are just going to attack and start ripping into his face," Mick adds. "This will mark the attacker and will lead to him being recognised and it will leave DNA all underneath your fingernails, so it will lead to him being caught. History has proved time and time again that when women fight back, they do survive, they do not become a statistic."
Jackie Crinion is a mother of three daughters from Navan, who was inspired to start Senshido classes offered by Self-Protection Ireland after she saw a video of a stabbing incident scenario online.
"I saw this short video clip on Facebook about a boy who was stabbed and was really shocked at just how quickly the entire thing escalated," Jackie explains. "I looked up Self-Protection Ireland and saw that they were starting a six-week course in my local gym in Navan. So I signed up for the classes, I did the course in Navan and I have been training with them up in Dublin ever since," Jackie adds.
Jackie wants her three daughters to do the same training once they are of age.
"Senshido focuses a lot on awareness and the de-escalation of any rows. So to actually fight would be the last thing you would be doing, it is your last resort. I have definitely noticed since starting the course that I am a lot more aware."
Jackie is keen to point out that the training does not make you cocky; quite the opposite in fact. It educates women through the most brutally realistic scenarios and movements, resulting in a 'cautious confidence' in one's capabilities. And while fitness is not the focus, it is certainly a by-product of the course.
"It is definitely very beneficial to you and keeps your fitness up," Jackie explains. "But you don't have to be physically fit to do the classes, it's not a requirement," Jackie says.
"I would really encourage more women to do Senshido or any form of self-defence class; it is so important."
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