Michelle Blimes, an adjunct instructor in the Faculty of Arts and Letters and a certified Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) Instructor, said teaching empowerment self-defense has changed her life and she has developed a deep passion for it.
“As a society, in general, we’re better starting to understand assault and what it is. A lot of people for a long time didn’t recognize that things that happened to them were sexual assault. "
Most often self-defense doesn’t look like, "Oh somebody is going to be jumping out of the bushes and attacking you," she said. "Most of the time it is somebody you know, a family member or someone you’re dating.”
Recognizing red flags, setting boundaries, recognizing that people are not respecting your boundaries, learning verbal skills to protect yourself, and then listening to your intuition and your gut feelings, will be topics that will be taught in class, said Blimes.
“Sometimes it’s hard, especially for girls, because you have an uncomfortable feeling, but you don’t know what to say or you’re like, ‘Oh, is this just me being weird as a person?’ How can you stick up for yourself in a safe way?”
A unique program
Empowerment Self Defense Training is an evidence-based primary violence prevention program, according to the BeEmpoweredESD website.
Blimes said the program combines mental and verbal skills with traditional physical self defense techniques developed towards girls, women and other vulnerable populations.
On the website it says, “85-90% of assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the target. ... Over 60% of assaults are prevented by yelling, running away, or physical resistance. Research shows that women trained in [empowerment] self defense were not only less likely to be raped if attacked, but less likely to be attacked at all.”
There is this common phenomenon that women often stay silent because they are afraid to appear rude and hurt somebody else’s feelings, shared Blimes.
However, Blimes said, these situations can quickly become more and more uncomfortable and not saying anything can lead to something you don’t want to happen. In those moments, girls often experience a trauma response where they freeze and can’t say anything, said Blimes.
“So, in class we spend a lot of time practicing different phrases you can say and getting familiar with saying them. It helps you to remember those phrases and become comfortable saying them out loud.”
There are several different phrases, but one of the phrases often used in class belongs to the communication formula where you acknowledge the behavior, said Blimes.
Saying, “You have your hand on my leg” and then expressing how that makes you feel by saying “That makes me feel uncomfortable. Take it off,” are simple phrases that can prevent future uncomfortable interactions, explained Blimes.
Although self-defense classes and topics of sexually assault are often more connected with women, Blimes said the class is also helpful for male students to gain an understanding of what it’s like to be a female and understand their experience.
Becoming a self-defense instructor
Réka Bordás-Simon, an Empowerment Self Defense (ESD) instructor and BYUH alumna from Hungary, said she was always interested in self-defense and attending the class a couple of years ago made her want to become an instructor herself.
Bordás-Simon, who also taught classes with Blimes, explained the program is a global program, and after she graduated from BYUH, she flew to New York to be certified as an instructor.
“I was so excited. It’s amazing how you see women from different cultures with different ethnicities sharing similar experiences. It’s a powerful feeling to come together and make the world a safer place for women.”
Developing self-defense skills turned out to be very practical in her everyday life, shared Bordás-Simon. “This training gave me so much confidence in all aspects of my life, especially relationships, and I am not afraid to walk around all by myself or confront somebody who makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Bordás-Simon shared it is mostly the simple things that can turn away an attacker. “Speaking up, yelling or saying a loud, ‘No,’ take the attacker by surprise and give you the chance to search for help or run away.”
Bordas explained this is one of the things being learned in class. “We encourage the students to use their voices. There are women who feel very uncomfortable raising their voices,” said Bordas, “and practicing it will definitely help women in the real world when they are facing dangerous situations.”
Blimes said speaking up about an assault can also help people heal because they know they are not alone and it can be a powerful experience for both people. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to tell everyone. But sharing your experience with a close friend or a counselor can really be helpful and a part of the healing process.”
Bordás-Simon explained that sometimes women don’t realize they are in an abusive relationship and that it is important to know that, even if you feel overwhelmed, you have every right to leave the situation.
“Predators want easy targets. The ones that won’t speak up. The ones that they know won’t go to the police. You don’t really think like that but to some extent you have power over the attacker by not being intimidated and by voicing your opinion.”
Hellen Nuti Taanoa, a sophomore from Australia majoring in social work and communication, media and culture, said she is excited to take Blimes’ class next semester.
“I want to learn to defend myself not only physically but also verbally. Learning in a safe environment how to defend myself, and how to prevent assault- it was a no brainer for me to take Professor Blimes’ class.”
Although it is a serious topic, Blimes shared that it is a fun class to take. The class will be available in the Spring 2022 term on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 - 10:50 am added Blimes.