Noemi Mata, 21, throws punches and elbows and practices blocking in a padded basement room of the Lake Forest Police Station.
“When you’re being grabbed, you have to concentrate on getting away,” said Sgt. Dwight Davis, who is leading a women’s defense class. “Punches might not affect someone drunk or a person on drugs.”
The Lake Forest Police Department has offered a women’s self-defense course for at least 15 years, Davis said. It’s composed of four evening sessions and is usually open to any woman who lives or works in Lake Forest though the course that started on Sept. 20 was reserved for female staff or students at Lake Forest College. It’s free and tends to fill up quickly, Davis said.
At the Oct. 4 session, Officer Matt Signa demonstrates techniques. Another officer steps behind and wraps his arms around Signa’s chest. Signa reaches back with one foot and hooks it behind his attacker’s ankle, tripping him. The officer again grabs him and this time Signa lifts his legs parallel to the ground, forcing his attacker to carry his full weight.
“You get very heavy very quick,” Signa said.
Mata says the most important thing she’s learned from the four-session course is how to react quickly.
“Before this I didn’t know what to do and when,” Mata said. “If I’m ever in a dangerous situation, I’ll know what to do and how.”
That’s important, the instructors say.
“Under stress, your subconscious takes over and tries to find a similar situation,” Davis said. “If you haven’t experienced a similar situation, you panic.”
More than knowing how to physically react, Davis would like to see women avoid a physical confrontation.
“Human beings are the only animals that will disregard warning signs,” Davis tells the attendees. “Sometimes you make eye contact and something isn’t right. When you get that bad feeling, don’t ignore it.”
Davis also teaches self-defense concepts such as “turtle-ing up.” If someone tries to grab a person around their neck from behind, make it difficult by shrugging your shoulder up, tucking your chin down and bending forward.
Davis said the biggest challenge for the participants tends to be throwing a punch. Brittany Schweiger, 21, agrees.
“Unless you’re in a martial art, I don’t think it’s something you learn to do,” Schweiger said.
Mara Negru, 21, said she thinks Lake Forest is safe but she sometimes goes to Chicago and plans to travel after graduation.
“As a woman, there are a lot of leverage components,” Negru said. “You don’t have to be big or powerful.”