BYU–Hawaii women’s self-defense class offers women the chance to gain confidence and feelings of safety
Written by
Haeley van der Werf
Students in the self-defense class learn various defense tactics
Image By
Ho Yin Li

Each week, female students and wives of students gather to learn how to defend themselves using a globally-credited method called Empowerment Self-Defense, a unique method that includes verbal skills, situational awareness and trusting intuition along with physical defense skills. The Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) movement is a method promoted by the United States-based non-profit ESD Global.

Empowerment Self-Defense is a worldwide movement “created by women, for women. It was created by women who are martial artists, psychologists, and social workers,” explained Rèka Bordàs-Simon, a crime prevention specialist for the Public Safety Department from Hungary, who is one of the instructors for the class.

According to the ESD Global website, “Empowerment Self-Defense is a holistic approach to personal safety which teaches tools to combat the whole spectrum of violence, from verbal harassment to physical violence.”

At the training to become instructors, Bordàs-Simon said, “There was a trainer who was an Olympic Gold Medalist in taekwondo. She’s been teaching taekwondo for 40 years. The students she has been teaching have really good physical skills, but they still became victims of predators.

“She realized the physical skills in itself are good, but not enough. This is why Empowerment Self-Defense focuses a lot of verbal skills, teaching boundary setting, awareness, and how to use your intuition and your gut feeling. All of these are very important. These are not usually part of other self-defense classes.”

These non-physical skills are essential because often times those who make us uncomfortable are people we know or authority figures, according to BYUH adjunct instructor Michelle Blimes, another instructor for the class.

She explained how it is common for people to do things that make women uncomfortable, and their intentions aren’t bad, but it is very hard for women to tell them to stop.

Ciara Sanchez-Smith, an alumna from California who is also teaching the class, said learning to set boundaries can help you feel more comfortable around people, especially when they are genuinely good people. “If they don’t have bad intentions, the second you set that boundary, he will back off.”

The purpose of the class, the ESD Global website explains, is to “teach individuals how to interrupt violence by listening to their intuition, assessing their options, asserting boundaries, using de-escalation strategies, and provides tools for a range of mental, verbal and physical responses.”

This class is meant to help build confidence, and can help women at any stage of life, according to Blimes. “It’s called Empowerment Self-Defense because you come away from it feeling empowered, feeling that you are allowed to be yourself. You are allowed to have opinions. You are allowed to stand up for those opinions.

“I’ve been married for 24 years, so I'm probably not going to use those [physical skills], but I wanted to go to it because … I was really for empowering women. I got so much out of the class for myself and feeling confident in myself in all areas of my life, not just physically.”

Sanchez-Smith shared how she hopes this confidence is what the women who take the class will get out of it for themselves because “this is a place where people have a lot of different opinions about things like that, but if you build confidence it spreads to all areas of your life. I want them to know who they are and be able to stand up for themselves.”

Bordàs-Simon said she hopes women will gain “confidence and the ability to say ‘no’ if they want to.”

Another important thing she said she wants to teach is to focus on yourself and what you want. “It helps to know what you want to not burn out. Recently, I read so many women feel bad if they say no to a church calling or activity or service, even if they are feeling super overwhelmed.

“It is hard for women to say no because we are conditioned to think you are mean if you say no. We want to help them realize what their boundaries are, so they don’t burn out.”

Blimes described how this is one of the things she got from the class when she took it. “It made me really think about what I want in situations. Having been a mom for 21 years, I spend so much time thinking about what other people want.

“Coming to this class has made me think about what I want. What is important to me? In what ways have I set boundaries to say I don’t want this, and I don’t want to do this?”

Sanchez-Smith explained how societal pressures can make us think we always need to seem busy. “I feel like we always need to keep up the appearance of being busy. It’s really valued. Being able to say no or take time for yourself isn’t bad.”

For more information on how to join the class, go to Empowerment Self Defense on Facebook, @esdoahu on Instagram, or email or

Date Published
October 23, 2019
Last Edited
October 23, 2019