PUNCH Boxing + Fitness self-defense class promotes mental, physical awareness
- Aug. 27, 2012
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The attackers, who Gates said had been watching her roommate throughout the night, followed the two women, striking Gates and attempting to force her friend into a vehicle. What their attackers did not anticipate was that Gates and her friend would fight back.
Gates, a 2005 graduate, participated in a free self-defense class at PUNCH Boxing + Fitness this Saturday. She said she wanted to participate because she knows how easy it is for students to become victims if they are naïve about their chances of being attacked.
Instructor Mike McAtee of the Lawrence Police Department began the class by telling the group of women that, statistically, 25 percent of them would be a victim of a violent crime. He said that, although victims may not be able to “out muscle” their attackers, they can escape by preparing mentally.
“You can do that in the bus going to class. You can do that driving to work,” he said. “So when it happens, you have a plan. You’ve been there in your mind at least 500 times.”
Sgt. Trent McKinley, a spokesman for the Lawrence Police Department, said Lawrence has a feeling of community, and that can lead to residents being unaware of their surroundings. He added that Lawrence being a college town leads to a false feeling of safety, especially among incoming freshmen.
“There’s a newfound feeling of freedom and independence,” McKinley said. “And at times that’s something that’s euphoric that people get caught up in and go a little bit overboard.”
The Lawrence Police Department reported 889 simple assaults and 132 aggravated assaults for the first six months of this year. A 48-hour tracking of police dispatches shows incidents loosely grouped along Massachusetts Street and around the intersection of 14th and Ohio Streets. Several local bars are in these areas. . McKinley said alcohol was a factor in the majority of situations involving students.
PUNCH Boxing + Fitness manager John Heleniak assisted with the class, and said his interest in self-defense came from his experience owning a bar. Heleniak owned The Jayhawk Cafe for 12 years, as well as managing several other drinking establishments. He said one of his biggest concerns during that time was keeping his employees safe at night.
Although only women took the class, Heleniak said men need to be just as prepared to defend themselves as women. He said one of his male employees was mugged on his way home from work.
“Men have bigger egos,” Heleniak said. “It’s all right to not know something; you just have to admit it. You need to learn. You need to make sure you’re safe.”
Gates said that she participated in the class partially because of her experience being assaulted, but also to learn what more she could do to protect herself. Luckily for her, when she and her friend were attacked walking home that night, they were able to fight their assailants until two passersby intervened. They escaped that night by what she called “random chance,” but not every victim is as fortunate.
McAtee ended the class by playing the surveillance video of the abduction of Kelsey Smith. Smith was an Overland Park teen who was taken from the parking lot of a Target store and murdered later that evening.
One woman asked how Smith’s abductor was able to force her into a car in the middle of the day in such a highly trafficked area.
“I don’t think she had a plan,” McAtee replied. “What is your plan going to be?”
Heleniak said PUNCH Boxing + Fitness plans to hold self-defense classes about every two months. Both he and McAtee, however, teach weekly boxing classes at their Lawrence location. McAtee teaches class Mondays at 5:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 8:15 a.m. Heleniak teaches Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.
Lindsey is a junior from Overland Park studying journalism, political science and leadership. Read more from Lindsey Mayfield.