MHS students take self-defense classes due to fears of being attacked; say they feel more secure on their own now

Sophia Johnson | Staff Writer

They don’t plan on starting fights, but they’re prepared to finish them.

In August, senior Ellie Uematsu began taking classes in boxing and kick-boxing: common practices of self-defense. The class’ full body workouts are taught through practicing on a punching bag, and Uematsu said the workouts are physically demanding.

“We start up with a warm-up which is a lot of cardio and jump-rope to build up speed,” Uematsu said. “We do eight rounds of three-minute combos; they yell it out, and we just do it. You build up speed and work on power and they’re like ‘you’re going to do this one for speed’ and you have to go as fast as you can so you can see what you’re capable of.”

Uematsu said there had been several instances while at work where she’s been confronted and followed by strangers. When she was approached by a stranger in a Target parking lot, Uematsu said she was initially unsure of how to respond.

“I knew people were being approached in parking lots and there have been reports of human trafficking happening around Mason,” Uematsu said. “When I was working at Target, I was approached in the parking lot by a man trying to sell a makeup product. Then my boss came out and told the man that he needed to leave and wasn’t allowed on the property. This could’ve just been a salesman, or it could have been something else because you never really know when it comes to that kind of thing–there are so many tactics that people warn you about.”

Feeling unsafe at work, Uematsu said she felt kickboxing classes could make her feel more confident so she could defend herself.

“In the moment you don’t really realize what could happen because you think ‘oh that could never happen to me,’ but then when you look back on a situation, you realize it could have gone bad. So after that, I decided I just wanted to be able to defend myself and also to feel confident in my abilities, so I started kickboxing to help with tech- nique and to build strength.”

Senior Ellie Uematsu practices kick-boxing techniques she learned from self-defense classes.

Now attending the kickboxing classes regularly, Uematsu said her mindset has changed in situations she would typically feel threatened.

“I definitely feel safer walking to my car alone and feel if I was in a situation that I could defend myself,” Uematsu said. “I don’t know how well, because it depends on the person, but I feel like I would be a lot more confident in my abilities and what I’m capable of.”

While senior McKenzie Snyder has never been in a situation where she has needed to defend herself, she said being a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo has given her confidence to depend on herself. Snyder said she encourages people to take self-defense classes at some point before graduating high school so they can rely on themselves to stay safe after high school.

“We did a lot of self-defense stuff; kicking, punching, and forms of hand techniques,” Snyder said. “Not that I would go try them out, but if something happened, I would feel more comfortable. As we move on, because a lot of us are going to college or going to other places where we will be alone walking sometimes, I definitely recommend knowing some self-defense.”

Junior Vibha Erasala values self-defense lessons because she sees the real world application for many students. Being the secretary of The Young Women’s Club, Erasala said she would recommend members of her group and many others to take the classes.

“It was really eyeopening, showing unfortunately how many people might want to hurt you,” Erasala said. “It relates to Young Women’s club a lot though, as the young women in Mason, it was good to know.”

Having taken self-defense classes several times, Erasala said realizing how a dangerous situation can suddenly arise has shown her how important it is always to be prepared.

“The first time I took (the class) was right after I heard about the woman that was attacked at MECC (Mason Early Childhood Center) when she was running. That was kind when everyone realized Mason isn’t always as safe as we want it to be.”

Junior Regan Courtney’s mom was the runner who was attacked at MECC last January. Since the incident, Courtney said her family had taken precautions by always wearing a self-defense device now when they run.

“After my mom got attacked, my dad gave us these little boxes that we hold in our hands when we run,” Courtney said. “There’s a little strap that goes around your wrist, and it just sits in your hand. When you push down, then plastic claws come out. If you scratch the person, it can scare them off, and you also get DNA from them that you can turn into the police.”

Learning that unexpected encounters can happen at any moment, Courtney said everybody must be mindful of their surroundings.

“With the claws, or I know a lot of people use pepper spray, those things scare them off and keep you accountable,” Courtney said. “I’ve never taken a self-defense class, but I know a little bit more on how to be aware now of the situation. It’s really important to keep yourself safe in environments, even when you feel super comfortable and in situations you are used to, it can happen anywhere at any time.”

Uematsu said she plans on continuing her practice of combat sports after graduating from high school to keep her mentally and physically healthy.

“I think I’m going to continue it throughout this year, and then try to look for something on campus that’s similar just to keep up my skills,” Uematsu said. “It not only makes you feel better, but it keeps you in shape, and you are happy with your health. Especially just being on campus by yourself, it gives you peace of mind.”

Photos by Tanner Pearson.