Glasgow martial arts coaches on spike in women learning to fight back since Sarah Everard murder

“That’s the beautiful thing about jiu-jitsu. Because it’s the best martial art in the sense that it doesn’t matter your size or the size of your opponent, because if you have the skill and the knowledge, you will come out on top.”

Kimberley Gillon, resident women’s coach and personal trainer at Gracie Barra martial arts school in Glasgow, has just donned a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.

The black belt is the highest rank, granting her the title of Professor.

Professor Gillon runs the women’s only course at Gracie Barra, a class that’s dedicated to self-defense and giving women a safe environment to learn skills and techniques to protect themselves.

Internet searches for self-defense classes spiked at the beginning of October, increasing by over 100% on the previous biggest spike in August of this year. This increase coincides with the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the police officer that kidnapped and murdered Sarah Everard, which took place on September 30.

Professor Gillon says attendance at her women’s classes has increased from two in January 2019 to 11 this year.

After acquiring her black belt, Professor Gillon considers the significant benefits Brazilian jiu-jitsu can have for women: “I do a lot on the coaching side now, and seeing the difference in the girls, watching them grow into strong women, you know that’s a journey. You can’t buy that. It’s just so inspiring.

“Within yourself, you become a lot more confident. There’s so much on social media that tells girls that they need to look a certain way and act a certain way, and it’s so inspiring for girls to see that their body isn’t just made for other people to look at and judge, they realise , my body can do amazing things. I can pull moves out, I can defend myself and I can do a beautiful art, and that’s enough.”

Professor Gillon says that martial arts classes, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the gateway for women to learn self-defense moves and techniques: “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to defend ourselves, we would just be able to walk down the road without a care in the world.

“For a lot of women, I think jiu-jitsu gives them that confidence that even though they may not want to defend themselves or fight, they know that if someone puts their life in danger, they can deal with it in the best way possible ”

Mark Hendrie, owner of the Glasgow Thai Boxing Academy estimates about one third of his attendees are female. Mr Hendrie says the behavior of the students changes after training: “It’s a lot more than just the fact that they now know how to defend themselves, the way that they carry themselves changes, they walk with more confidence, it’s the subtle changes that can put off potential attackers as well. The body language changes completely.”

The Office for National Statistics published their findings on perceptions of personal safety from January to June of 2021, which revealed staggering results.

29% of women aged 16-34 have felt like they have been followed when walking alone.

65% of women aged 16-34 have experienced some form of harassment in the last 12 months, including beinged or whistled at, catcalled, insulted, received unwanted sexual comments or jokes, or felt physically threatened by a stranger.

Bartosz Szczepanski is an instructor at Glasgow United Krav Maga, a self-defense school on the north side of the city. He thinks that recent events like the Reclaim the Streets campaign may have increased the number of women in his classes:

“We saw a steady incline within the last few months. A possible factor may be due to a recent increase of media coverage of the domestic and non-domestic violence women undergo at an alarming rate.”

Professor Gillon thinks that self-defense classes could be the key to keeping women safe:

“I think it’s so important, every gym should have a women-in-power program, I don’t think it should be overlooked. I’m very much inspired by other women, other women empower me, so I think it’s really important.”

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