Fifty-six women spread out across the gym, circling their arms to warm up. Sgt. Noel Ikeda stood at the front of the room, his 17-year-old daughter and three other instructors to his left and right.
“Don’t worry,” he reassured them. “We’re not doing anything ninja-like. This is stuff you can do at home.”
He then took them through Krav Maga self-defense training. The proper way to react when a man gets too close. How to strike someone who comes at you. How to defend yourself against a knife. What to do when you’re grabbed from behind. And, importantly, how to defend yourself legally so you can win an assault case in court.
The Denver Police Department’s free self-defense classes for women have been growing in popularity since they started in 2010 but the demand accelerated following the #MeToo movement. Women will be targeted, it’s the world we live in, police say. So let’s teach everyday women — from teens to seniors — how to fight back.
“As a police department, we can’t do it alone. As a community, you can’t do it alone,” Ikeda said of creating safer neighborhoods. “We can do this together.”
The crowd in on a Saturday in mid-December spanned from teenage girls to grey-haired women, the uncoordinated to the athletic. Friends brought friends, mothers brought daughters to the five-hour class at the Rude Recreation Center in Denver.
“It’s scary being old and you have to worry about taking the trash out and somebody jumping you,” said True Gallegos, a 62-year-old who lives near Interstate 70 and Federal Boulevard.
A shooting near her home prompted Gallegos to take the class. Others said they heard about it from friends, co-workers or through social media and figured they’d take advantage of a free class.
“This is sort of the reality of our situation now, especially as Denver’s growing,” noted 31-year-old Tricia Wu.
The last class of the year was initially scheduled for October, said Rob Gibbs, the community resource officer who coordinates the classes. But an outpouring of interest following the rise of public allegations of sexual assault led the department to add two more classes.
The classes have been getting longer and more frequent, growing from six a year to 12 this year, with more expected next. Class sizes have also grown to as many as 110 people from the 20 and 30 who showed up at the start.
The classes were the brainchild of District 1 Commander Paul Pazen. He asked Ikeda, who has more than 30 years of self-defense experience, to teach them. A little over a year ago, Ikeda’s 17-year-old daughter Tristan started to help.
Tristan has been taking self-defense classes since she was 7-years old. The 5-foot-5-inch girl, Ikeda said, brings out the confidence in timid women — if she can yell and throw strikes, so can they. Tristan said she was a bit shy when she started helping her dad, but when she took the mic from him Saturday, she commanded the room with an easy confidence.
“I like that feeling, watching them be empowered by what I do,” she said. “I feel like it’s making people’s lives better in a way.”
Two Denver Police districts offer the course but it’s primarily run out of District 1. Participants don’t have to live in the district, in Denver or even in Colorado. You can go once or you can come back repeatedly. Sometimes people who officers have seen on calls pop up in the classes.
“You can tell in their faces, the tears too, who is a victim and who’s not,” Ikeda said. “It’s amazing to me because they’re so courageous just to walk in there. So impressive to me how powerful these women are.”
Through his experience, Ikeda noticed that victims who fought back generally find it easier to recover from an assault, although he clarified that counseling and a fair amount of crying are still needed. But victims who didn’t find it harder, they tend to carry an additional weight.
In the class, the women shout: “Back up!” “I don’t want to fight you!” “I am not a victim!”
They shout repeatedly and loudly.
“They’re probably thinking, ‘I should’ve taken this class years ago,’” Ikeda added later. “I know it’s in the back of their minds, but they’re here now.”
How to sign up:
The next class will likely be at the end of January, although a specific date and location has not beenset. Those interested can email Rob Gibbs at email@example.com. He will follow-up with more information when the details are finalized.