Denise Buie raises her hands to chin level, elbows out, fingertips together, almost as if praying.
With a single sharp motion, she slices the air with her hands, until they spread far apart at her hips.
Quickly, she snaps her hands back to chest level and pushes out.
She smiles. Her invisible attacker has been taken by surprise, giving her enough time to turn and run.
“I’m tired of being pushed around,” said Buie, 32.
She’s a client of The Arc of Spokane, an organization for the developmentally disabled. Along with others from The Arc, Buie takes karate classes from Ron Bledsoe.
Buie says she is often harassed, touched and tormented while walking downtown, shopping or taking a bus. She wants it to stop. Through karate, she’s learning that she doesn’t have to tolerate abuse and also how to protect herself. , “If anyone tries to touch me now, they’ll be on the ground,” she says.
After hearing stories about the abuse of disabled people, Bledsoe decided to offer them free self-defense classes each Monday afternoon at his North Monroe Street studio.
“It’s a pretty sad situation when you talk to some of these people,” said Bledsoe, who’s been teaching karate for 23 years on the North Side.
Instead of teaching complicated karate moves and tricky kicks, Bledsoe focuses on giving these students self-confidence, by teaching them to recognize dangerous situations, and how to escape.
“I want them to know how to get loose, to run or flee from a situation,” said Bledsoe. “I want them to know they don’t have to take it.
“Escape with no confrontation is ideal,” he said.
Sandie Shepard, an advocate at The Arc, said the self-defense class gives her clients freedom.
“They learn that they don’t have to be a victim,” she said. “So many grow up from childhood being victims, and not knowing that they don’t have to be.”
A dozen developmentally disabled students take Bledsoe’s class.
Bledsoe says he’s happy to donate the hour each week.
“If I can instill a little self-confidence and self-respect back in each of these people, it is well worth it,” he said.