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Protecting Yourself One Class at a Time

The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network says every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Sixty percent of those attacks won’t be reported and 80 percent of the victims will be under the age of 30. Norman resident James Clark tells his self-defense class that danger is a constant possibility even where you feel safest.

James: He came through the front door he didn’t have to break anything, didn’t have to unlock anything he just came through the front door, she was in the shower at that point getting ready to go to work…  

When you aren’t expecting a threat, a lack of self-defense training can leave you vulnerable. 

James: She fought back and he took what’s called a penknife, a small pocketknife and cut her throat almost from here to here. Fortunately he didn’t hit the jugular or the carotid, he was about a centimeter from the carotid artery, so he barely missed it.

Not everyone is as lucky as James Clark’s Friend, and he wants others to be able to protect themselves, if they’re ever in situations like this.

James: People who are weaker, whether that’s a male or female should be afforded the opportunity to learn how not to be weak, you may not be able to change your physical strength necessarily but you can train so that your mind allows you to do things that evens out the playing field.

Since the 1970s Clark has practiced mixed martial arts, He is a certified Defensive Tactics instructor for law enforcement and now educates children, teens and adults. After moving to Norman, Clark founded the AWARE program, a free self-defense class for women.

James: AWARE stands for arming women against rape and endangerment. And so unfortunately, you know, to sound someone politically incorrect, women are considered the fairer sex or the weaker sex, there are some attributes that make that relatively true, most women are not as physically strong as men, that’s certainly not universally true but that is an aspect of reality, certainly not inferior mentally, women develop a hell of a lot better than we do.

And as a 5- foot- 2, 21 year old woman, I quickly realized how little I knew about self-defense.

The First Strike martial arts building along Grey Street and Webster Avenue is small but inviting. The blacked out windows ensure no one sees in or out and allows privacy for students. The inside is just one giant green matt across the floor with punching bags in the back of the room. Clark greets newcomers with his welcoming smile and gets right to work.

James: Hi guys just go ahead and take your jackets off and shoes off and line them up..

Everyone sits in a circle on the mat while Clark and his son Jamie explain the moves.

Once you got him here you’re going to hold for a second, hold like this. The reason you’re doing that is take a breath, get your senses about you, because this is only a matter of seconds right..

And then it was our turn

James: Keep it there; okay one knee goes against the inside of the hip, okay can you feel like?

Hayley: Yeah

James: Okay switch I mean switch, now bring it down to the hip?

Hayley: Oh my God this is weird.

James: See what I’m saying? It’s not what people think. Most people don’t understand, women in particular, that in that position that actually, you have a lot of control options. But what do they do? They hit a couple times and then they give up.

Giving up is not an option for one mother, who asked me to use only her first name. Cynthia brought her daughter to the AWARE program because she was being bullied at school.

Mother: I want her to be assertive, I want her to be able to look the world in the face and stand up for what she is entitled to and not be scared when somebody growls at the door, if somebody is going to come after her I want her to be able to defend herself instead of run so she doesn’t get cheated out of what she deserves.

Cynthia’s daughter aggressively hits a punching bag during their third class together, and her mom smiles.

You can watch her and you can see the assertiveness, she’s actually putting forth effort, she’s not afraid of it, and I think its going to be really good for her confidence.

And that confidence comes from knowing how to defend yourself. Remember James Clark’s friend? The attack in her own home inspired her to learn to respond to danger she might encounter.

Then after that she went to FrontSite which is a fire arms training institute that we’ve known for years out in Las Vegas and became a very crack shot, she’s very good with a Glock now.

For Clark, the AWARE program and stories like these feed his passion for others.

I wish I could give you one strait answer on why it matters to me, I think, I just care about people in general. At the risk of sounding overly religious scripture tells us to care for the week, so as for me as a person, I just care about people in general. 

The AWARE program takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 at First Strike in Norman.

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