Women’s Self Defense Class
Saturday, July 28, 2018 9am–2pm
8731 Northfield Blvd (The Cube)
Women and girls 12 and over
Parent waiver required under age 18
Register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/womens-self-defense-class-tickets-46820091153. Space is limited.
Close to 100 women file into the Rude Recreation Center early on a Saturday morning. Some appear in pairs but many arrive unaccompanied. A few cluster on the bleachers and engage in small talk while others wait silently, guarded. My reticent 14-year old daughter and I sit among women of all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes for a self-defense seminar sponsored by the Denver Police Department (DPD). Inspired by personal experiences, a desire to empower our daughters, or the #MeToo Movement, all have committed to spending the better part of their Saturday in the confines of the gymnasium to learn self-defense skills.
Sgt. Noel Ikeda has led these classes since 2010. A 7th-degree black belt, he later confides to me his own interest in self-defense as a child: “I was small and didn’t have much self-confidence but I wanted to learn how to defend myself, and there was an Enshin [Karate] I could bike to.” The child of Japanese immigrants with limited English, he was happy to find a place to learn where the Japanese instructor could communicate with his parents in their native language. As he progressed, both his confidence and his school work improved. Karate was transformative. When he speaks of the self-defense seminar he regularly teaches, Ikeda notes that this class, too, can be life-changing for many.
Sgt. Ikeda begins the seminar by communicating the importance of prevention; he stresses listening to one’s internal voice or gut. His years working with assault survivors adds a sensitivity and a personal dimension to the PowerPoint slides he shares. Ikeda exudes strength and wisdom, but is not intimidating, and his audience—which includes survivors—quickly warms to his message. Ikeda employs a pencil metaphor to drive home the importance of community in preventing crime, observing that a single pencil lacks the strength of a fistful of pencils: “We all have to work together. If we partner with police, community leaders and elected officials and continue to train and educate ourselves, we can prevent assault. It’s about knowing you are powerful and you have a voice.”
After arming attendees with knowledge, the hands-on instruction begins. Ikeda’s teenage daughter, Tristan, helps lead the demonstration of moves based on Krav Maga or “Contact Combat,” the system developed by the Israel Defense Forces. At 5’5” she is petite but fierce, confidently exhibiting how to evade, deter, and strike the would-be attacker played by her father. Tristan has volunteered with DPD to co-teach these classes since 2012, and her presence is testament to Sgt. Ikeda’s faith in the program he teaches. “I really believe in this program. I wouldn’t be teaching it to my family if I didn’t.”
Women line up in columns to practice the techniques Tristan and her father demonstrate, shouting with each escape or punch “Get Back!” The first exclamations are measured, suggesting both timidity and self-consciousness. Quickly, however, the shouts grow increasingly emphatic and gain authority. My own daughter overcomes her ingrained politeness and increases her volume, and I smile, gratified that we are sharing this experience despite my sadness that this is necessary.
After five hours, the women exit Rude, welcoming the spring sunshine with a deeper awareness and confidence. “I will definitely be looking in the back seat of my car before getting in,” I overhear. When we later take stock, my daughter shares “I loved the sense of community I felt, realizing that we were all working towards the same goals.” Empowerment and community. We have a voice.
Currently, only District 1 DPD regularly offers this popular self-defense seminar, and all remaining 2018 spots are full. Demand for this program has skyrocketed, with approximately 650 women completing the seminar in 2017 and over 1,000 on track for 2018. “My dream is for every district to provide this course to their communities,” Sgt. Ikeda states. In response to community interest, District 5 is offering a class on July 28. See boxed announcement for details.
Readers who wish to support DPD’s efforts can not only participate in the class but can also voice their support for the program by reaching out to their city council members.