Remy Schow didn’t expect a lot when she tagged along with her friend Samantha Katz and Sam’s older sister to a self-defense class last August.
Katz’s sister was going away to college, and her parents insisted that she get better prepared to keep herself safe. Schow, 15, and Katz, 16, both sophomores at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, discovered to their surprise that they needed that safety preparation, too.
“A lot of girls, like, you think you know how to defend yourself — you think you’ll just kick him in the (groin) and yell,” Schow said.
“But a lot of women, when it happens to them, their bodies kind of go into shock, and they don’t really know how to respond,” she said. “I think it’s really important that girls get the right repetition, and they know what to do and are comfortable enough in their bodies that they know how to defend themselves.”
Schow and Katz were so impressed by the training that they organized a free, two-hour self-defense class Thursday at the high school gym. About 30 female students attended the class, taught by Asher Smiley of Krav Maga Revolution in Petaluma and instructor Caroline Nganga.
The instructors ran the class through drills in punching, kicking and various other ways to respond with force if approached by an attacker.
“These skills are important for everyone in this day and age, because of the amount of random violence, as well as coordinated violence,” Smiley said.
“For girls of this age, particularly, this is the point that they’re starting to get to do things by themselves, and go to parties, stuff like that,” Smiley said. “But they don’t have any training in the social interaction cues of what predators look like or what real-life violence could possibly look like for them — and that’s super scary.”
“Situational awareness” is key, Nganga said.
That means “being aware of the surroundings, being able to de-escalate a situation,” she said.
“If they do have to get violent, to get out of the situation, and to do it in a self-defense way and do it safely,” Nganga said.
One in three women globally will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes — either from an intimate partner or from a non-partner, according to the World Health Organization. For women from 15 to 24 who are in a relationship, one in four have already experienced sexual violence from a partner by the time they are in their mid-20s, WHO said.
Schow and Katz said the session they took in August was so impactful, they wanted to repeat it and to share it with others.
“It was a really good class I took,” Schow said. “I learned a lot about sexual assault and how to be self-aware in a lot of different settings — like looking out for spiked drinks and what to carry with me, like when I’m walking alone at night.”
Katz said she realized that although the initial self-defense class had given her some tools, she hadn’t had much opportunity to practice them. The realization came, she said, after a male student grabbed her leg about three months ago while she and Schow were sitting together in the school cafeteria.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Katz said of the incident, which she later reported to the school authorities. “It was just kind of shocking, and, since we didn’t have the experience, we felt we needed to do this class again, so we can practice and to show other girls that it’s important to know how to defend yourself.”
They are hoping the strong turnout and high interest in the class held Thursday will spur high schools throughout Marin to duplicate the event for their own female students.
Katy Dunlap, the Terra Linda principal, said the school administration fully supports the program. The school picked up the $600 fee for the two instructors, allowing the class to be offered to students for free, Dunlap said.
“I was just so appreciative of our two students who took the initiative to arrange the class,” she said. “It was a really good opportunity for students to learn some skills to assure that they feel safe on campus and in the community.”
She said she would urge other Marine schools to also sponsor such a class.
“It was especially good, at this time, after the pandemic, when some people are still kind of lost coming back to school,” Dunlap said. “It was good to bring something positive on campus.”
Krav Maga is a form of hand fighting used by the Israeli Defense Force. In Hebrew, Krav Maga means “contact-combat.” The training is spreading in the US mostly as a self-defense system.
According to Smiley, one does not need great physical strength to employ the hand fighting system.
“All of us should be able to learn how to defend ourselves,” he said.
“Yes, we all have different physical ailments or injuries from past trauma,” he said. “But then it becomes a question of figuring out how do we work around that to make our self-defense work for you and how to get out of these situations safely.”