Self-defense class teaches women protection and survival skills

Photo by Sue Suchyta Wyandotte Karate owner and instructor Jean Pilon (left) teaches Elizabeth Hall (right) of Wyandotte how to kick an attacker during a self-defense class for women.

Photo by Sue Suchyta. Wyandotte Karate owner and instructor Jean Pilon (left) teaches Elizabeth Hall (right) of Wyandotte how to kick an attacker during a self-defense class for women.

Times-Herald Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – By helping women change their mindset and view their surroundings differently, Wyandotte Karate owner Jean Pilon hopes women who attend the self-defense class are better prepared to protect themselves.

Pilon, a Wyandotte resident and third degree black belt in karate, has taught self-defense classes for women since 2008, more consistently for the past two years, at Wyandotte Karate, 4076 Biddle.

The two-hour, $20 class usually runs every other month. For more information, or to sign up, call 734-285-4830 or go to
A desire to be safe is the only prerequisite for the class, Pilon said.

“We have worked with people who have injuries, they’ve got arthritis, whatever,” Pilon said. “Self-defense applies to everyone.”

She said women need to be safe, and at the end of each class session participants leave talking about what they learned during the session.

“When we offer these classes, it always reminds me that women as a general rule don’t have the mindset to keep themselves safe,” Pilon said.

She said the class tries to get women to think differently.

“If you walk out of here thinking differently about the world around you, that is the first step,” Pilon said. “We can’t teach in two hours every possible technique to keep you safe. It is common sense, simple things that you can do under stress.”

Instructor Robert Sword of Woodhaven, a fourth degree black belt, said that while they teach participants to avoid putting themselves in a vulnerable position, sometimes a threat is unavoidable, and the class teaches them techniques they can use to protect themselves.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Sword said, “but realistically, generally women are a little bit weaker than men, so (we show) where to hit and how to protect yourself and what you need to defend against.”

He said it is important to become aware of both minor things and life-changing habits women can adopt to keep themselves safe.

Pilon said she and Sword know individuals who have been in situations where they have been hurt, and both are passionate about teaching self-defense.

“As a woman myself, even though I am a third-degree black belt, I am not going to be doing anything fancy-schmancy,” Pilon said. “If anything were to happen, God forbid, I would be in a situation where I need to do something simple, fast, and it’s got to be something top-of-mind.”

She said attendees have returned to her telling how the self-defense class techniques of being aware and having a plan in public places kept them safe.

Because society conditions women to be nurturing, Pilon said women should replace an impulse to accommodate a stranger with an automatic response that keeps them safe.

“You have to put yourself first, and a lot of women don’t think that way,” Pilon said. “Robert teaches a lot of the physical things, and I try to teach a lot of the mental awareness, and thinking about your surroundings differently.”

Pilon warns against focusing on a cell phone while walking in public and being oblivious to one’s surroundings. Likewise, wearing a hood that limits peripheral vision puts one at risk.

She also urges women to trust their intuition.

“Women are blessed with better intuition than men sometimes,” she said. “Pay attention to that. Pay attention to your ‘spidey sense.’ If it feels kind of ‘unh-unh,’ then it probably is ‘unh-unh.’ Pay attention to that. You have your own little warning system.”

Sword said one woman in three is subject to some form of sexual assault during their lifetime.

“If someone told me I had a 33.3 percent chance of winning the lottery, I would feel pretty good about that,” Sword said. “Unfortunately, this isn’t a good statistic for you ladies.”

In addition to learning about situational awareness, participants observed and practiced ways to get out of chokeholds, and ways to poke, punch and kick an attacker to give them time to get away.

Amelia Hall, 13, of Wyandotte, said her mother’s strength when she practiced self-defense techniques surprised her, as it revealed a side of her mother she had not seen before.

A palm strike, one of the self-defense techniques taught and practiced during the session, was one of the most important techniques Jessica Foley of Wyandotte said she learned during the class.

Foley said the statistic ascribing a 1-in-3 likelihood of a woman experiencing a sexual assault during her lifetime was sobering.

“I will probably be looking around a lot more, much more aware of what is going on,” Foley said.

Melissa Frantz of Flat Rock said she plans to be more aware of what is going on around her the next time she is running errands.

She said learning a stance, and how and where to punch, are important skills she learned.

“You never know what is going to happen, how fast it happens, and it is very important that your protect yourself,” Frantz said. “I think every girl or woman should do this. It is very important.”

Christine Vernham of Wyandotte said the training is valuable because it is not possible to anticipate the different situations that may arise.

“This kind of opens your eyes to the things you might not have realized can happen anywhere,” Vernham said. “If I do have to fight back, I feel like now I have some tools to use to do that.

She said it surprised her how fast an unsafe situation can arise, and how quickly things can go bad.

“Know that you have the power within you to protect yourself,” Vernham said. “Even if the person is bigger than you, there are steps you can use to protect yourself.”