Self-defense classes empower women

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Community News, Featured, Health & Wellness

Published on June 13, 2012 with No Comments

In a sense, it’s a community outreach program that makes us all safer.

Specifically, Pam Passera of the Portage Parks Department and Portage Police Cpl. Chris Irsa will present the next Women’s Self-Defense Class on Sunday, June 24, at Woodland Park, from 3 to 8 p.m.

It is for participants ages 17 and older, though 17-year-olds must be accompanied by adults. There is a $63 fee. Registration is available at the parks office, 2100 Willlowcreek Road, weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Irsa is the founder of Griffin Tactical, his own company that specializes in self-defense information.

He has been the self-defense trainer for the Portage police, of course, but also serves the state law enforcement academy in Plainfield and the local academy in Hobart.

“I started by just helping out in training of self-defense tactics for law enforcement,” he said. “Now I am in the process of making it continuing education for our department.”

But it is the self-defense classes for women that are his admitted mission.

It began at the Portage YMCA which, as he said, “took me under their wing,” and gave him space to learn how to train civilians. They saw the need and validated his ideas, he said.

The parks department became affiliated when he presented a staff training session and Recreation Program Director Passera saw the value in offering the classes.

Now, former class members spread the word best of all and that gets others interested.

“It is my way of giving back,” Irsa said.

But he also has identified a definite need for the training and has found great satisfaction in it.

“They come into class not knowing what to expect and they leave with a lot of self-empowerment,” he said of his pupils.

It started when he became aware, as a police officer, of the increase of crimes against women during holiday shopping times.

“So, as far as women’s defensive tactics, there was a really big need for it in my eyes,” Irsa said.

“The course itself covers everything from awareness in general to hands-on defense to escape from attempted assaults,” he said. “You learn how to steer yourself clear of all the things that can happen.”

He is most proud of his coworker team, Janis Regnier and John Wright.

“Janis, especially, is what makes it so nice,” Irsa said, “because Janis helps to immediately calm any apprehensions the women (who come to the session) may have.

“And they’re going to be apprehensive. But they see a female on the staff and it connects as an immediate comfort zone.”

That idea, a comfort zone, is really what self-defense is all about. Just as bullies in a school become adept at violating the space of their victims, street thugs want to come in quickly and put the victim off-balance, Irsa said.

As an aside, he’d like to be able to offer the classes in schools and is working towards that goal as part of the anti-bullying movement as well.

Irsa has developed a wide range of real-world examples to present to his students to “make it as realistic as possible,” he said.

For starters, he often will scope out new arrivals while sitting in his car in the parking lot of the class site. He is dressed in normal street clothes in a sort of undercover start to the sessions. He has been known to ask to borrow a cellphone because he is having vehicle trouble.

He will go so far as to say he can’t get a signal and walk a few steps away.

Once class begins and he reveals himself as the instructor, he can use the example of what can be accessed through a simple borrowed cellphone. Besides the phone number, he can scan pictures in it and send them to his own phone, as well as other personal information.

“I totally believe in shock and awe to get your attention,” Irsa said.  “I want to show something to make you gasp. That’s when you begin to learn about not being the victim.”

This is not meant to be a scare tactic as much as an example of how easy it can be to become a victim.

Another class lesson is teaching participants how to walk down a street while being more aware. For example, how to approach a doorway at a proper angle to make sure no one is lurking in it.

He has two full padded body armor suits. He will don one and prepare to surprise a student in a walk-by situation.

“Janis right behind them, talking them through it and when I approach them, she reminds them what to do and how to defend themselves. The suit protects me,” Irsa said.  

“They don’t freeze because Janis has advised them to look for a target, to use follow-through, to defend themselves.

“They are just awesome by this point.”

As far as student lessons are concerned, he proposes blending it into the curriculum of high school seniors.

“They are going to be out in the world, maybe working somewhere where they close a store late at night,” Irsa said. “Or at a summer job at 1 or 2 in the morning. They need to be aware and ready. For the younger students, ages 14-16, it is more about awareness and not nearly so dynamic.”

He approaches them all with his “bare bones, you know nothing” attitude.

“When you learn how to walk down the street and cut significant angles, when you learn strict drills based on distance, you are ready,” he said. “If you are caught against a wall, it really breaks into the comfort zone but even that can be handled with defense and escape. You separate from the target and escape, even in worst-case scenarios. We work them all.

“You learn what is the time to wait and what is the time to strike. You wait for the right opportunity and you will be fine.”

For more information on the Portage Parks Department, call 219-762-1675 or, visit www.ci.portage.in.us/parks.  For more information on Griffin Tactical, call 219-406-1939 or, visit www.Griffintactical.com, which has a calendar of classes as well as other information.

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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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