Lessons in empowerment
University of Missouri Police Department provide free self-defense classes that teach participants how to fight back if attacked
Story by: Sara Diedrich
In a training room at the University of Missouri Police Department, a dozen women dressed in workout clothes circle Lt. April Colbrecht as she demonstrates how to escape a choke hold. This is a self-defense course designed for women called Basic Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.). Colbrecht is a certified instructor.
The women watch as Colbrecht takes firm hold of the arm wrapped around her neck, clenches her jaw and pushes the bent elbow up, just enough to tuck in her chin and breathe. Other escape maneuvers she models include a heel stomp or shin scraping the attacker.
“But whatever you do, don’t head-butt him,” Colbrecht warns.
That would expose the neck and could make the attacker angrier.
R.A.D. is one of several self-defense courses offered by certified instructors at MUPD. The classes are free and open to faculty, staff, students and the general public.
“While MU is a very safe campus, the self-defense courses empower participants by providing them with strategies and tools they can use to protect themselves,” Chief Doug Schwandt said.
While there are self-defense courses for all genders, Basic R.A.D for women is by far the most popular at MU. The 13-hour course begins with three to four hours of classroom work that covers topics on general safety, how to make your residence more secure, travel safety, the use of weapons, what to do after an attack and much more. After that, participants spend about five hours learning hands-on techniques such as blocks, punches, kicks, defense against bear hugs and wrist grabs, and ground defense. The course ends with a series of dynamic simulation exercises, which gives participants the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned.
For participants who want to learn more, there are two additional self-defense courses: Advanced R.A.D. and Combine Aerosol/Keychain defense. All courses are open to children and teens ages 11 and up. However, those ages 11 through 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
“Most participants come away from the R.A.D. class with an attitude of ‘I can fight, and I can survive,’ ” Colbrecht says.
MU sophomore Sierra Nelson first heard about the free self-defense courses during Summer Welcome. She signed up the first chance she could fit it into schedule.
“I went into the class with minimal knowledge of how to defend myself,” she says. “By the time I was done, I had the tools to fight back and protect myself if I have to.
“I absolutely feel more confident since taking the class,” says Nelson, who plans to attend the Advanced R.A.D. course this academic year.
However, “expressed compliance” was the most difficult concept for Nelson to grasp during the training. It’s also the most difficult strategy to teach, Colbrecht says.
“Basically, it means you trick the bad guy into thinking you’re complying,” she says. “But in fact, you are waiting for the right time and opportunity to use the techniques you’ve been taught effectively.
“You’re not giving up, you’re being smart.”
Nelson had a chance to practice tricking the bad guy during a simulation scene at an ATM. She pretended she was taking out cash when an attacker came up from behind and demanded her money.
“The first thing you want to do is struggle and resist,” Nelson says. “But you have to wait for the right moment to fight back and get away.”
When asked who should take a R.A.D. course, Colbrecht doesn’t mince words: “Every woman should take this class.”