Challenging a 6-foot-3 male friend, Tatum Maloney threw him to the ground with ease. “He said, ‘Whoa, I didn’t think you could do that,’ ” said a smiling Maloney, a 5-foot-5 college sophomore in Spokane. Maloney is among 10 women taking a Gonzaga University elective class, Judo and Self-Defense, which drew a record number of female students this semester. The class has 15 total students.
Many of the women said they took the class to feel safer walking on campus at night or for travel abroad. Some also noted increased coverage in news outlets and on social media about learning self-defense because of human trafficking, sexual assault and other crimes.
A classmate of Maloney’s, Matea Bidaburu, stands at 5-foot-3. In a break from judo sparring on Monday, she admitted also trying out judo moves on friends. She now agrees with an instructor’s viewpoint: Technique counts more than muscle.
“I’ve tried throwing some of my guy friends, and it’s worked,” said Bidaburu, a junior. “It’s all about technique, the angle, placement of feet and how you get them down.” She said a motivation for the class included knowing how to break free if somebody tries to grab her.
“I actually feel like if anyone were to attack me, I would know definitely some moves to get away, which is very reassuring,” Bidaburu said. For more than 30 years, instructor Bruce McDavis has taught a martial arts self-defense class on regional college campuses. But until now, the classes always have drawn a majority of male students.
McDavis, 69, has a seventh-degree black belt in Goju-ryu karate and has taught martial arts classes since 1975. Judo as a martial art focuses more on proper throwing techniques, body maneuvers against an opponent and how to fall without injury.
He credits a number of factors for seeing more female students, including changing attitudes in society about women athletes. He’s also heard feedback from families that they’re seeking safety for daughters on campuses.
“Twenty-five years ago, I had an average of three women in my classes, and, even five years ago, the most would be eight among about 20 students,” McDavis said. “I think part of it is changing attitudes. And I hear about more parents who say they want to protect their daughters at college.”
Abby Morris, a sophomore, decided to take the class after an internship at the Spokane Prosecuting Attorney’s Office this past summer. She noticed that many of the women in the office had taken some form of self-defense training. She is studying pre-law criminology and wants to become a prosecutor.
“I did Junior ROTC in high school, so we did some hand-to-hand combat training, but this is the first actual self-defense class I’ve taken,” Morris said. “I’ve definitely felt a lot more confident and comfortable if I’m by myself walking back from the gym or from my mock trial practice at night.”
“Judo is focused on how to fall and how not to get hurt. We’ve also learned about the martial arts culture and the respect aspect.”
When asked why she thought more women enrolled in the class, she cited seeing more items lately on social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram that include mention of learning how to protect against human trafficking or potential street crime.
“There is just a lot more emphasis on that,” Morris said. She practiced judo with Sarah McCarthy, a sophomore who wants to travel around the world.
“I feel this is a good skill to have when you’re abroad and a female alone,” McCarthy said. “I did take some karate (before). This is more structured than your everyday basketball class. We have to bow to each other and say certain phrases. There is a cool cultural aspect.”
Taryn Biever, a sophomore, came to Spokane from a “super-safe neighborhood” in a Colorado suburb, so she took the class to feel safer in an unfamiliar city. But the learning has surprised her.
“With all the defense moves we’ve learned, whenever I’m walking back in the dark, I think about this class,” Biever said.
“Our instructor always says how your elbow strike is super important, and I always thought your punch was important. When you come back, your elbow is the strongest point of your body that has a lot of force.
“So I think about using that if anyone were to come and attack me. I’ve also been curious to see if in a moment of adrenaline, I would resort to these moves we’ve learned. Even if I don’t, we’ve learned how to make our punches and kicks stronger.”
Her classmate, RaeAnna Malarkey, thinks the constant drills they’ve done in the class will come back quickly in a surprised moment.
“I think since we’ve practiced it so much, I can envision myself doing the moves just out of habit,” said Malarkey, who is from Spokane. “I think that even if I was scared, it wouldn’t shut me down completely.”
She also brought up recent news coverage of sexual assault and women protecting themselves on a college campus. “Women are at a higher risk for sexual assault, so being able to protect ourselves, I think all women believe that’s important, so taking a class would help in any way.”
McDavis said today’s students tell him they wouldn’t hesitate to hit someone if attacked. “I’ve found that women often make better martial artists because they listen and pay attention to technique,” he added. “I did amateur boxing at welterweight. At 147 pounds, you’re not going to out muscle anyone. It’s technique.”
“Eighty percent of altercations end up on the ground. If someone grabs you, the No. 1 thing is you need to know how to control them.”
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