The basics of self-defence

In a fitness studio at NAIT's Main Campus, Stephanie Harris starts her self-defence course by playing a basketball video for the 20 staff members in attendance.

The campus peace officer asks them to count the times players pass the ball to one another. The participants try, some get it right, but the answer doesn't actually matter.

The point is that no one notices the person dressed as a gorilla, casually walking among the players and even pausing for some chest pounding. Harris's students are shocked to discover they missed this - and how distractions can make us vulnerable.

"Self-defence is about your awareness," say Harris.

The more we pay attention to our surroundings, she adds, the safer we'll be from crimes such as physical assaults, which accounted for nearly 60 per cent of all violent offences in 2014, according to Statistics Canada.

We asked Harris, who has taken self-defence, police studies and peace officer training, for ways to avoid being caught off guard by the gorillas in our midst.

Avoid an attack

Awareness - when walking in public spaces, put your phone away and take your headphones off. Your senses are your first form of defence.

Your senses are your first form of defense

Walk confidently - keep your head up and check behind you regularly.

Look 'em in the eye - casually make eye contact with people around you - a quick glance and a smile. "If someone knows you know what they look like, they're less likely to attack," says Harris.

Types of attacks

In Alberta in 2014, there were 34,086 reports of assault or sexual assault. Common among the former, says Harris, is getting punched, tackled and choked. In her self-defence course, she teaches simple techniques to combat those types of attacks.

Among them is simply causing a scene. Don't be embarrassed to draw attention to the situation. "Make as much noise as possible and get as many witnesses as you can," Harris says. Yell and repeat phrases like, "Don't touch me," "Get away from me," and "Help!"

Learn more

Harris's courses are for NAIT staff but she recommends basic self-defence training to anyone who is able. In Edmonton, she recommends the Hard Target course from REACH Edmonton Council for Safe Communities or a class from Wise Warrior Gym.

Be strategic

Harris can teach self-defence techniques but, "when it comes down to it, people will resort to what is most comfortable to them."

If you have to fight back, target an attacker's groin, side of the neck, eyes, shins or stomp on their feet. The pain this causes can buy you time to escape.

Don't overdo it

Inflicting more harm than necessary can lead to charges for you as well as your attacker. When you contact police after an incident - which you should always do, says Harris - be prepared to explain your use of force. Your goal isn't payback; it's to get away.

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