KEEPING ‘WOMEN SAFE’

Story by Christina Keaster

Self-defense has always been that one thing I knew I needed to learn, but I could never find the time to commit. In early Sept., fliers were posted publicizing a Women- Safe Self Defense class at River Valley Martial Arts in downtown Russellville. Surprisingly, after seeing these fliers and going back and forth in my mind about signing up, I received a call inviting me to attend the 12-week class and write a story for ABOUT. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to learn self- defense, and better yet, to write a story about what I learned.

John Terry and Kyle Bennett, co- founders of River Valley Martial Arts, had the idea to open a martial arts school together in Russellville. After training together and forming a close friendship, Terry said to Bennett, “You know how to teach good classes and I know how to run a business, so together we can open a business and make it successful.” River Valley Martial Arts was established in 2006.

At age 13, Terry became the target of bullies being the small “new kid” at his school in Russellville. As a result of becoming a target of bullies, his father signed him up for karate classes, at which time his career in martial arts began. Bennett always had an interest in martial arts, and began his career in the art after he graduated high school.

Terry served in ministerial roles at local churches in Russellville. During his time serving in those areas, he met several young women who had been abused, assaulted, or raped.

“As I was involved helping the families with the aftermath of those situations, I saw a specific need to have something available to help teen and adult women address this problem that we have not just in Arkansas, but across the country.”

He began researching the issues of child abuse and molestation, predatory behavior toward children, bullying, and sexual assault against women.

Terry was presented with the opportunity to meet Edward Copley, director of the National Security Alliance (NSA). The NSA, a national non-profit organization, offered two programs: The Kid-Safe and Women- Safe programs. Terry completed the master certification in both courses in one year, and was promoted to regional director with the NSA.

Terry then founded the “Fighting Back Institute” (FBI) in 2005 as a local non- profit organization promoting the same values and courses as the NSA. The FBI uses the facilities of the River Valley Martial Arts to carry out its Kid-Safe and Women-Safe programs.

“The whole concept behind the Fighting Back Institute is community empowerment. We want to educate families and individuals of the dangers they may face at school or in the community.” Terry trained instructors from the Van Buren and Benton areas, and once they became certified, they began to teach the two programs in their own communities respectively.

Terry has also trained three law enforcement officers who are now certified to teach these courses, as well as developed a certification course for officers to teach other officers in their community. The FBI has been working with the Russellville Police Department for five years now, helping to get the word out about these two programs to the River Valley.

The first night of the 12-week Women- Safe program, John and Kyle welcomed each student, gave a preface to the program and discussed why knowing self- defense is important. All agreed with John that criminals are everywhere, even in the quiet and safe River Valley.

Classmates learned that one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and that college women are four times more likely to be assaulted. Students learned that the key to self-defense is awareness, and that awareness is a mindset, not a skill.

The old saying, “This is never going to happen to me” is ignorant, as no woman can be immune to a threat. John told participants that apathy, denial, and complacency are deadly, and each student is responsible for her own safety. He reminded those present that, “even if a threat doesn’t happen, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

Through proactive education, Terry believes that women are more aware to identify the threat before it becomes problematic and to avoid the threat altogether.

The author finished the course with two extraordinary women, Stacey Branscum and Priscilla Turner.

“I wanted to be more empowered,” said Branscum, “and be confident in my daily activities. I wanted to have the knowledge and know-how to take care of myself.”

Turner agreed, “I always wanted to take a class on self-defense, and I decided to act on it when I saw the flier at Snap Fitness. I wanted to feel like I could take care of myself.”

As for myself, at the beginning I was simply excited to learn a few moves, but as week by week went by, I found myself learning muscle memory for more than just “a few moves, ”but a menu of choices I had for different situations that could actually happen.

The best part was that the menu of moves and techniques were customized just for me, and I could execute them effectively. I felt empowered and confident by the end of the program, as well as more aware of my surroundings to recognize potential threats to avoid.

I am confident that if I had to fight back, I would be the one to win. Terry encourages his students to re-attend the Women-Safe program to refresh their memory and skills.

“If you don’t review the basics and practice it over time, the quality of what you’ve learned will diminish over time,” he stresses.

The Women-Safe Self Defense program is open to women interested in learning self-defense.

“Women of all shapes, sizes, and styles can learn to do what we do from a grandmother in her 70s to a 12-year-old girl in the seventh grade.

“We have had some handicapped women take the course, as well as a lady who is blind. We modify the curriculum for those women, and they finish the program feeling empowered as well.”

For more information on the upcoming Women-Safe Self Defense course, please contact John Terry of River Valley Martial Arts at (479) 890-6988 or rvma@ imga.com.

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