Women Empowered seminar instills Jiu-Jitsu, self-defense strategies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

Hundreds of feet pounding the wrestling mats echoed in the fitness center here. A stern man instructed the students to not remove their hand from the ground before planting their feet on the floor.

"Base!" the participants yelled as they stood in the position of combat base.

"Get low and maintain a perpendicular base," said Rener Gracie, the Gracie Academy Women Empowered self-defense seminar instructor.

In an effort to reduce the frequency of sexual assaults in the armed forces, the Gracie Academy created the Women Empowered Gracie Defense Systems. The program is tailored to target sexual assault scenarios in the military by teaching Gracie Jiu-Jitsu techniques to nearly 100 Malmstrom AFB members from Nov. 11 to 15.

"What makes the Gracie Defense Systems so unique is that the techniques are effective both in stranger related sexual assaults and in non-stranger sexual assaults," Gracie said. "Those are the most common assaults that take place because so many people are out with their acquaintances, coworkers and senior leaders and a lot of times the perpetrators are people they are very familiar with."

Gracie, a third degree black belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the grandson of Grand Master Hélio Gracie, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu creator, taught the seminar with Eve Torres, three-time World Wrestling Entertainment Divas Champion.

"My grandfather created this self-defense system specifically to defend himself against larger, more athletic opponents in Brazil," Gracie said. "After perfecting the techniques in Brazil, he taught it to my father who brought the art to America in 1978. My father taught in his garage in southern California for 11 years before opening the Gracie Academy World Headquarters in Los Angeles. In 1993, my father created the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Ironically, it was Nov. 12, 1993. Today marks the 20th year anniversary for UFC and we're here celebrating with the men and women of Malmstrom AFB and we couldn't be more honored."

During the seminar, the participants learned different strategies as well as the triangle of victimization --the three components of a sexual assault: a predator, target and an opportunity.

"We are also teaching a lot of techniques regarding the boundary setting and the psychological aspect of sexual assault so that these men and women know essentially how to put up the barriers that make them hard targets," Gracie said. "Sexual predators are very particular about who they chose because they want a target that guarantees them the result they're looking for and (an opportunity) that prevents them from getting caught."

After successfully completing the self-defense seminar, participants became certified instructors to teach fellow service members on the installation.

"This week's course is a train-the-trainer course," Gracie said. "By the end of the week they will all be certified to teach this self-defense program to hopefully thousands of men and women to help neutralize these (sexual assault) threats that are becoming ever too common."

Though the techniques Gracie and Torres taught during the week proved to be effective, he emphasized the importance of prevention and empowerment so there is never an opportunity for a predator to attack.

"In a fight, whoever manages the distance manages the damage that can be done," Gracie said. "We teach students how to manage the distance, avoid getting injured in a fight and we remind them that victory during a sexual assault isn't to beat anyone up; it's to neutralize the threat, disengage and get home safely at the end of the day."

With nearly a foot difference in height, Torres removed the doubt from any skeptics as she proved that minimum force can go a long way when she demonstrated the maneuvers with Gracie.

"It's extremely important for women to learn self-defense not just for the techniques, but for their confidence; the confidence to set boundaries for themselves," Torres said. "I think people have a misunderstanding of what self-defense really is and what it can be. I think people are blown away by what they're learning and are realizing these (techniques) can actually work against much larger, heavier and stronger opponents."

For Staff Sgt. Sheena Smith, the 341st Medical Group unit training manager, the seminar proved to be a fun and serious learning experience.

"This seminar is making women feel more confident in what we're doing because before, some of us wouldn't know what to do if someone tried to attack us," Smith said. "Now we know the stance, where to put our hands and what to verbally say."

"These self-defense techniques are great for women and men to both learn and share the knowledge at future seminars," Torres said. "They are protecting our country and we're here making sure that they can protect themselves."