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Personal Self-Defense Advice Headline: Think Like A Fighter

Montreal Gazette  ( September 25 2004 )

Written by Alyson GRANT

Carole Pageau fights off Paul Henry Danylewich as he tries to throttle her. In class Danylewich wears thick padding and a helmet to add realism and let students hit as hard as they can to learn to deliver blows.


Women have traditionally been taught ways to prevent assaults, but that strategy goes only so far

A man recently approached me to ask the time. Before I'd even looked at my watch, he'd moved in very close and was asking more questions. Within seconds, he yanked me down and was on top of me, my stomach to the ground, legs apart.

My head pounded with fear, and I struggled with all my might to get free. He fought hard to hold me down, and we paused, momentarily but palpably, both of us breathing heavily.

My muscles ached, but I managed to get a knee up to my side and use it as leverage to tip him off of me. He immediately came back at me, but I'd turned on my side, propped by an elbow and a hip, and kicked him hard in the head.

"Ten points for that one," instructor Paul Henry Danylewich said, leaning over the scene. "Now kick him again. Don't stop."

I didn't. Ten minutes earlier, as we were preparing for the role play, I'd told the guy I was afraid of hurting him, despite his heavy padding. Now I wanted to hurt him.

A few more kicks in the chest and legs and another bout on the ground, and we stopped fighting. I sat shaking and close to tears.

"I found that very disturbing and too real," I managed to say.

"Most women do," Danylewich said. "But if you're learning self-defence to defend yourself against a male aggressor, how will you know it works until you try it out on a male?

Danylewich is the director of White Tiger Street Defense, a professional security consulting group that specializes in personal safety issues for women and school-violence prevention. The group offers women's self-defence programs to colleges and high schools throughout parts of Quebec, Ontario and the United States.

I went to Danylewich for a crash course in the wake of the several rapes in the Petite Patrie and Plateau districts this summer.

Carrying bear repellent, as many women do, never struck me as a strong defense; rather, it might give a false sense of security. And how useful is it if it's in the bottom of a bag or in a pocket?

Screaming? Several people heard one of the rape victims on the Plateau scream, but no one came to help.

Leona Heillig, a trainer at the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, explained how women have traditionally been taught rules to prevent assaults.

"Don't go out. Wear your purse this way. Why were you wearing that skirt?" she asked by way of explaining the rules.

"But that approach leads to blaming the victim when really it's the aggressor's responsibility," she said. "If I'm out at night, I'm told it's dangerous, which increases fear, instead of being told I can defend myself."

She explained further that rules are usually based on myths "about where and when assault happens. We know that most happen by someone we know, yet we are still worried about going out at night and talking to strangers."

Her organization offers a 15-hour course, "taught by women for women only," which looks at how different forms of assault that can happen, from "really subtle harassment, to guilt and manipulation right up to a weapon."

They look at verbal self-defence, where a woman makes a scene, and they also show how to hurt someone enough to get away."

As with White Tiger, all kinds of women of varying ages take the courses at the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, but interest does tend to increase when there's a high-profile case in the media.

Which is exactly why I called White Tiger.

How easy or hard is it for a woman of average build and strength to learn how to defend herself? I asked Danylewich late this summer, after police arrested Roberto Manuel Belnavis, a 29-year-old carpenter accused of sexually assaulting five women in Rosemont/Petite Patrie and Plateau Mont Royal. "Come down and see us and we'll show you," he said.

The moves I used against the padded aggressor were all taught to me by Cheryl Meriales, 22, one of Danylewich's employees.

Before teaching me anything, however, Danylewich started with some role play to see what my instincts were. He approached me much the way the Plateau rapist did by asking a few seemingly innocuous questions. I answered and backed off, knowing something was wrong, but when I started to run, he easily caught me. When I tried to kick him in the groin, he was ready for it.

"He has a plan, and you don't in this situation," Danylewich explained.

"So a big part of what we do is help women come up with their own plan, because the instinct is to run, but the moment you turn your back, you're defenceless."

Meriales taught me the basic moves that can be used in the attack situation. Danylewich came up with the moves by drawing on his extensive martial arts background, "but you don't have to be exceptionally physically fit or big to use them successfully," he explained.

Within an hour, I'd learned the proper stance, how to get out of wrist and strangle holds, how to hit, how to kick while either standing or lying on the ground and how to free myself while pinned to the ground.

These are the moves I used against the padded aggressor, and I was able to see their effectiveness. I in no way "won" the fight, and the realism of the attack shook me to the core, but maybe my fighting back would have been enough to deter a real aggressor.

"They want an easy victim," Danylewich said. "They're thinking they've got to get you within a minute or their chances of getting caught increase. Become the aggressor, because he doesn't want to get hurt or get caught."

Linda, 41, who spoke on condition her last name not be used, took the White Tiger course with her adolescent daughter.

She said it was one of the most useful courses she'd ever taken and thought teaching her daughter to defend herself was important because as a young woman she'd found herself in a couple of what she called difficult situations.

"I wanted her to have the skills and maybe feel empowered so she might be able to deal with potentially dangerous situations," she explained.

"I think every high school, community centre and company, should have this type of thing available to women," she added.

For more information on White Tiger Street Defense visit www.fearlesstiger.com or call (514) 685-8888. For more information on the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, visit www.cam.org/~cpamapc  or call (514) 284-1212.


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