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Tracy Frank, Published April 17 2013

Self-defense: Area classes teach more than fighting strategies

FARGO - With a few quick moves, Jennifer Hilland can bring a man twice her size to his knees.

And with just one touch, she can stop him in his tracks.

Hilland, 44, of Horace practices Hapkido, a Korean martial art that uses pressure points, joint locks, kicking and striking as a form of self-defense.

She said she’s never had to use it to defend herself, but feels confident she could if she had to.

“It’s just pretty much a good all-around self-defense martial art,” said Hilland, who’s practiced Hapkido for 28 years and own owns Red River Hapkido with her husband.

Hapkido is just one of a variety of self-defense classes offered around Fargo.

Some, like Taekwondo, Jui-jitsu and Hapkido, are based on martial arts. Those classes are good for people who also want to get in a good workout or develop a new skill, instructors say.

Other classes are solely for the purpose of self-defense and teach students how to react to real-life scenarios.

Sue Hollister, 45, of Fargo took such a class with her teen daughter after a woman was assaulted in the Sanford parking lot ramp a few years ago.

“We think we’re safe here in Fargo, North Dakota. Obviously we’re not,” said Hollister, who works at Sanford. “There have been some violent acts around here.”

The class she took at Dakota Dragon Defense taught her things like becoming more aware of her surroundings, what to do and what not to do when entering a car, and how to safely pick up her keys if she drops them, she said.

She also learned what to do if attacked from the front or behind to ward off an attacker and get away. She said she feels more comfortable now after having taken the course.

“I just appreciated the very simple tasks,” she said. “There weren’t all these complicated moves that we have to use to protect ourselves if we are being attacked. It’s all very practical and very easy to remember.”

Dakota Dragon Defense in Fargo offers a Basic Women’s Self Defense Class, which teaches situational awareness, mental preparation, legalities of self-defense, and creating a personal safety plan.

Paul Dyer, who owns the business and has a background in martial arts, teaches simple, yet effective physical techniques that can be applied against a number of common attacks, he said.

He also teaches students how to defend against armed attackers, ground fighting, sexual assault prevention and stress conditioning drills to show them how to react to high stress, critical incidents.

He takes his students out in the streets to go through real-life scenarios. He also offers free classes every month, he said.

“They are very shocked by how they are unable to defend themselves. They thought they were prepared, but they are not,” he said of students before taking his class. “I don’t preach fear. I preach preparedness, but I do have to let them know how little prepared they are for the situation they are going to encounter.”

Mariah Prussia, 35, who owns Xtreme Measures women’s workout facility in Fargo, took a similar class at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

It was a 20-Hour Women’s Basics/IMPACT self-defense course.

IMPACT is an international affiliation of independent chapters that offer personal safety, assertiveness and self-defense training through realistic scenarios. Students are coached by one instructor while another instructor plays the role of assailant. They’re taught communication strategies as well as how protect themselves by striking the vulnerable areas of an assailant’s body as hard as they can, according to IMPACT’s website.

Prussia said the program was amazing and she’s now working to bring an IMPACT chapter to Fargo.

“You’d be amazed by how many people have been assaulted but haven’t shared their story,” she said.

A few of the women in her class had been sexually assaulted, and the reenactment seemed difficult for them, she said. But everyone in the class was cheering them on in what Prussia called a “line of empowerment,” she said.

“I had never in my entire life seen a female living in so much fear,” she said. “She was crying, she was shaking on the mat, but when you have 15 other people cheering you on through encouragement, empowerment and talking about it, by Sunday she was drop-kicking the male assailant like there was no tomorrow. When you have a traumatic moment that has happened in the past, to be able to face it in a safe environment, it is huge.”

Prussia is now working on attaining nonprofit status and fundraising to bring the program here. She hopes to have her staff go through training at the end of May and start offering classes in the fall.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526.