Monday 18 June 2018

Conor McGregor's coach puts on free self-defence classes after Jastine's murder

Laura Lynott and coach John Kavanagh get to grips with self-defence at SBG Gym on the Naas Road, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Laura Lynott and coach John Kavanagh get to grips with self-defence at SBG Gym on the Naas Road, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Laura Lynott

It's a female fight club borne out of a sweeping culture of fear, but the free self-defence classes are proving a pinnacle of hope in the wake of the Jastine Valdez murder.

The classes are the brainchild of MMA fighter and coach John Kavanagh (41), the man responsible for Conor McGregor's ascent on a global scale.

The owner of SBG Gym, on Naas Road, Dublin 12, Kavanagh established the complimentary classes as a positive response to the young Filipino student's abduction and murder.

The 24-year-old was abducted by Mark Hennessy (40), from Bray, as she walked home to Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, on May 19 at 6.15pm.

Kavanagh believes that with free self-defence classes, women can take back control and stop being afraid.

"There was a spate of attacks within a short period of time and a general sense of unease reading women's comments online," Kavanagh said, as he taught techniques to a novice.

"It would be disingenuous to say there was a move that could have (prevented the abduction) - it was a horrendous situation," he added, referring to Ms Valdez's murder, his voice quieting to almost a hush.

"But I have a fiancée, a sister, a young niece, a mother and I was just hearing these stories of women feeling afraid and I felt I could do something."

Kavanagh expected five or six women to show up to the first class last Saturday. He was shocked that 60 women, from 16 to 60, turned up. They were all shapes and sizes, of all fitness levels, taught by female instructors.

"This girl said to me online in a private message that she was in a lane at 3am, that she got dragged to the ground and raped. She asked what technique could she have used," Kavanagh said, looking down to the floor. But for the coach, tackling danger and the fear of it also comes down to promoting safety.

"Unfortunately, this is the world we're in," he said.

Kavanagh explained he believed women should stay in groups on nights out and keep in touch via text. Self-defence can, he admits, only be taken so far.

Kavanagh's altruistic offer, though, seems to have shone a light in dark times.

And it was important money wasn't a barrier to the skills which could result in saving a woman's life should she ever meet the monster we've all been warned about as children. She is the reason the classes are free and why they'll roll on for as long as he owns the gym.

"If I can do 1pc, even just to give women self-confidence, then I'll do it," he explains. "Pretty much all the women messaged me after the Saturday class that they got something really positive out of it, they'd learnt new skills and made new friends.

"There's no feeling like hearing that. I've heard from a lot of women who've been victimised in one way or another.

"I myself got into martial arts because I got really badly bullied as a kid, then really badly beaten up when I was 18. If you learn how to defend yourself against a bully, the chances are they'll leave you alone and look for another victim because they feed off fear.

"Even if self-defence taught here is never used in a woman's life, it's still going to give them confidence, to help her walk down the street feeling unafraid, to report that man who groped her at a night-club to security, to know she has techniques to defend herself if a man tries to hurt her and to leave that unhealthy relationship she wants to escape from.

"Martial arts made me comfortable in my own skin and I want that for all Irish women."

Irish Independent

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