Twenty students shift anxiously as they take a breath and prepare to be choked. Their partners tighten their arms around their necks and pull, waiting to feel the tap letting them know that their partner cannot take it any more and is ready to breath again.

This exercise is a part of Bruin Self Defense, a free program designed to teach UCLA students and Recreation members the basic self defense techniques that could save their lives should they be in a dangerous situation. By teaching students what it is liked to be choked, instructors also teach them what to do if they ever find themselves in that position.

“People need to know that life isn’t like the movies,” said Ashley Castro, an assistant instructor of the UCLA Martial Arts Leadership Team. According to her and the other class instructors, many people believe the common misconception that no matter how many cases they hear about, it will not happen to them. Though hopefully true, that sort of thinking will not help matters should a precarious situation arise.

“It is important to actually go through the physical motions of how to protect yourself,” stated Dong-Je Lee, a fourth-year earth science studies student and a student assistant to the Martial Arts program.

In the classes, Paul McCarthy, the Instructional Programs Coordinator responsible for managing and developing all martial arts classes at the Wooden Center, stresses to students that in a moment of panic, no one knows how he or she will react. The purpose of these classes is to teach participants proper and effective ways to protect themselves. Meanwhile, the repetition of these classes each week helps make the motions more instinctive so that if one is faced with an unknown attackers, the moves will be automatic.

The Bruin Self Defense Program began during Winter quarter and, though the Martial Arts program had offered self defense classes in the past, marked the first time a free class has been offered on a regular basis. Though McCarthy was initially unsure of how many people would come, the first class had over 55 attendees and the sessions continue to be very popular amongst students of all genders.

“My hope is that someone can take just one piece of our class and one-day save their own life, ” shared McCarthy. “The more people we help the better.”

Tami Bi, a fourth-year sociology and Asian American studies student, said that she decided to attend the classes after repeatedly seeing friends status’ on Facebook and hearing about attacks on college campuses. She wanted to learn different ways to be aware of her surroundings.

At the classes, instructors strive to teach participants both the physical motions and mental alertness for everyday situations. This includes things like being aware of every exit in a room, and sitting facing the entrance of a building, so that one can always see who is entering and exiting.

After participating in a Wednesday class, students shared that not only did they learn something, but they also had fun while doing it.  “I had a lot of fun, and it went by quickly,” said Stephanie Gordon, a forth-year nursing student. “I think I am more scared after the class, realizing my little ability … I will definitely be back.”

Bruin Self Defense is offered every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in Yates Gymnasium in the Wooden Center. Register online up to a week in advance.

This article originally ran in the Winter 2012 issue of Fem. Illustration by Raquel Livson.

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