I was pleased to see the story about the actions and programs that Ohio University, OUSAP, OUPD other OU programs, and the Athens Police Department, are putting in place to address sexual assault at OU, particularly in the first-weeks-of-a-semester “Red Zone.”

I was particularly pleased that some of the programs – such as the presentations on consent and sexual assault during Student Orientation sessions, and the staff bystander intervention training – are on the preventive side of the equation. That is, stopping assaults from happening at all by shifting the culture, or interrupting them in progress. These are steps that have the potential to prevent assaults from happening.

Most of the programs described are understandably reactive, meaning they come into play only after an assault has happened and been reported. Survivor support, police reactions and investigation, the “more than 400 security cameras” (which, unless they are to be monitored in real-time, are mostly useful to gather evidence after the fact) are all important and necessary steps.

There is another preventive step that can be taken using already existing programs at OU and in Athens. Research shows that training in defense-focused martial arts, can help women – and men – effectively resist sexual (and common) assaults with a high degree of success, and – more – that taking even a one-semester class can actually reduce the incidence of harassment or assault for the people who take such a class.

Go to this link for a summary of this research.

One caveat is that the defensive training should focus at least partly on defense in situations where the attack is “friendly fire” – that is not perpetrated by a stranger jumping from the bushes, but by someone known to the “victim,” someone who is supposed to be “safe.” A friend, a date, an instructor, a professor, a minister, a relative. Statistically, most sexual assaults are by “known persons,” not strangers. If one trains in fighting or defensive skills, thinking only of using them against an “evil enemy,” they become psychologically unavailable if attacked by a “friend”; the target is likely to be immobilized by cognitive dissonance.

You may develop skills that allow you to inflict even lethal damage to an enemy, but not be able to use them against someone who is supposed to be your friend, on your side, helping and protecting you. This has happened to women in the military, well trained and capable for combat with the enemy, but locked up when assaulted by their own platoon mates or officers. This link is helpful in understanding this idea.

For a small town, Athens presents many options for this kind of training, in martial arts and defensive skills. Each system has differences, and much depends on finding the right match of system and school to personality, athletic ability and values.  There is no use in training in a system you will be physically unable, or ethically or temperamentally unwilling, to apply.

(I am purposely leaving aside armed defense (guns) as that is its own complex issue.)

Both the OUPD and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office sometimes teach self-defense workshops that touch upon situational awareness and physical defense skills. While a single-session or two-day workshop will only scratch the surface of training, these can be a good introductions and eye-opening experience. 

To really develop skill and use it when you need it ability, an ongoing, regular training discipline is needed.

The OU Club Sports program has clubs offering instruction and practice in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts, which combines striking, kicking, grappling, and some throwing in a full-contact combat sport); TaeKwon Do (a traditional Korean kick-punch martial art and combat sport); and boxing (a sport based in striking), all of which can be applied in self-defense situations, though that may not be the focus of club activity.

There are also OU Club Sports in Kendo, fencing and archery.  While technically “martial arts,” these are less clearly applicable as self defense, but actually can teach a lot about fighting skills in terms of focus, timing, observation, coordination and tactics.

Local off campus groups, of course, will be more expensive for students, but offer some varieties of systems not available at Ping. 

The Athens Community Center offers classes in (Japanese) Shotokan Karate and (Korean) TaeKwon Do, which meet most people’s expectations of what a martial art looks like. Both are traditional, kick-punch, fight-focused arts, and include sport-competition as an aspect of their practice. The Community Center, located on East State Street, also has classes in Fencing and Taiji.

In The Market on State mall is the Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, which teaches the Brazilian Gracie Family development of Japanese Jujutsu/Judo. BJJ, as it is known, focuses on grappling-striking fighting skill for sport competition and self-defense.

Sam’s Gym in Glouster is a traditional American boxing gym.  Boxing is a combat sport with rules and restrictions, great for conditioning, which can be applied for defense.

In Nelsonville, just off the Public Square, is the Athens Kickboxing club, which is an aspect of the local Bando group.  Bando is a Burmese Art that includes traditional weapons, unarmed kick-punch-throw fighting, and American-type boxing.

Out on Columbus Road is my group, Athens Ki-Aikido, a Japanese practice of Mindfulness, Awareness and Defensive Skill training. We practice practical and effective defensive skills in a cooperative, non-competitive atmosphere. Aikido has no sport-competition element and is an evolution of traditional martial arts.  We do not fight; we only defend. Our objective is to neutralize the attack and end the conflict situation, without either allowing ourselves to be harmed or harming the attacker.

As a matter of local interest, Athens Ki-Aikido is the only school of this type of Aikido in Ohio; we have been in Athens since 2008 starting at the Community Center and moving into space at ACEnet in 2012. The Instructor (myself) has professional-level qualifications and over 40 years experience in the art; and the local group has just been advanced to Authorized Dojo status by the international Ki Society organization.

Editor’s note: Stan Haehl first came to Athens in the late 1980s to teach in the OU School of Theater. Since he returned in 2008, his primary activity has been with the Athens Ki-Aikido Dojo (school/practice group) where he is the head instructor. He has been doing Ki-Aikido for over 40 years and holds rank and certification from the Shinshin Toitsu Aikido Kai (Ki Society) of Japan. Athens Ki-Aikido is the only Authorized Ki Society Dojo in Ohio (or between Philadelphia and Chicago, and south Ontario and Virginia).

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