Fit for Life

Self-defense training includes being mentally and physically strong

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From front to back, Angela Ogilvie, Karen Seemann and Sean McNamara demonstrate some tae kwon do moves during the 11th annual Boyertown Wellness Fair.

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

Pam Long, of Bechtelsville, recently took her first self-defense class in Pottstown so that she could learn protective techniques in case there was ever a need to defend her family including her young toddler. Not only did Long leave the class with a better understanding of how to protect her family but she also got a great workout out of the training.

“I definitely felt the workout almost immediately. My abs were sore as well as my quads and my shoulders. It was a total body workout that no matter the fitness level; each of us at one point were out of breath,” she said.

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Sean McNamara, left, and Donnie Ellixonson participate in a tae kwon do demonstration during the Boyertown Wellness Fair at Boyertown Junior High West School. Digital First Media File Photo

There are parallels between self-defense, physical fitness and even mental health. Charles Chauca, owner and chief instructor at Next Level Martial Arts in Reading, said a person needs both mental and physical strength to train in techniques that can be used for self-defense. Next Level offers mixed martial arts training for children and Muay Thai training for adults. Martial art forms such as tae kwon do and jiu-jitsu were traditionally used as self-defense.

“We tell our students that there is no way to physically defend yourself if you lack the physical ability to do so,” Chauca said.

He said the students must be healthy so they are “physically ready” to execute techniques correctly. He added that mental strength is also necessary because students need discipline and courage to fight off attackers if the situation ever arises. Chauca said he recommends everyone get some form of self-defense training but that it’s especially important for children because of the possibility for bullying. Chauca said it’s great for kids to know how to defend themselves but Next Level also teaches students that physical defense is a last resort and there are ways to diffuse a situation first.

Long said after taking her first self-defense class she could she how it’s mentally beneficial. She felt more independent and confident after learning how to take action if it became necessary.

“There’s no better feeling in the world than knowing you can do everything in your power to be able to protect your child,” Long said. “I would encourage more women and mothers to look into a self-defense class. It’s important being able to take care of yourself.”

The self-defense class Long attended was with instructor Steve Wakefoose. Wakefoose is certified to teach personal defense readiness and is also the co-founder of CrossFit West Chester. Wakefoose said he’s very passionate about both self-defense and fitness.

He practiced traditional martial arts for about 20 years and is a tae kwon-do fourth-degree black belt. He then got involved in security and worked as a correctional officer for about 14 years. Wakefoose said traditional martial arts was very “militaristic” and incorporated physical conditioning. Now Wakefoose uses his martial arts training as an addition to his physical fitness regimen at CrossFit.

Wakefoose is certified as a self-defense instructor through Blauer Tactical Systems. Tony Blauer created the system which uses something called the SPEAR method. SPEAR stands for “Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response.”

“Participants are taught how to recognize danger and negotiate fear, as well as how to defuse or defend against dangerous encounters,” states the Blauer Tactical Systems website.

Wakefoose said some of the concepts of CrossFit are incorporated into the Blauer self-defense system. He said CrossFit is a general physical preparedness program that doesn’t specialize in one type of movement but uses a variety of fitness activities.

“Tony Blauer developed a relationship inside that whole CrossFit community because the mentality of defending yourself and getting in shape … there’s some overlap there,” Wakefoose said.

Wakefoose said someone’s strength or endurance can impact how well they can defend against or get away from an attacker. He said an ongoing fitness routine should be part of learning how to defend against attacks.

“Physical fitness is definitely part of the equation to being what we call more dangerous to bad guys,” he said.

Wakefoose said in addition to the physical component, there is also a psychological and emotional impact when it comes to training for self-defense. He said it’s important for people to learn how to perform those moves while under duress.

“If you’re punching or kicking or you’re fearful of getting punched or kicked then that adds an emotional and psychological component,” Wakefoose said.

Because the mindset is just as important as physical readiness when it comes to self-defense, Wakefoose said people need to practice pushing themselves. He said practice drills that are “measurable and repeatable” and show progression in order to get better at defending yourself and loved ones. He said many people fear getting thrown to the ground. In his class, Wakefoose helps people through the emotional response by having them practice falling and getting back up quickly.

When it comes to combining aspects of the mind with those of the body, Charles Brynan says tai chi is the way to go. Brynan, of Pear Garden School of Tai Chi, has been practicing tai chi for 25 years and teaching the practice for 17 years. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that was created through the concept that the body moves but yields to a stronger force, Brynan said.

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“In that yielding, you can gain the upper hand,” he said.

Brynan said the practice of tai chi originated from five major families which then became the five major styles of tai chi. The Chen Style came about through the Chen Family which still has a stronghold in China, Brynan said. He said there’s even a village there where people go to train in that particular style of tai chi which is “more forceful” than other styles.

Brynan teaches another style of tai chi called the Yang style which is the most popular form. In today’s world, many people don’t use tai chi as self-defense because the training for it is so in-depth and takes many years, Brynan said. He said in the modern world, tai chi forms such as the Yang style are used mostly for balance and to promote well-being.

“You’re in constant movement but very slow and the body’s moving so it engages all the muscles of the body,” he said.

The fluid motions increase flexibility and circulation. The movements also require your mind to be completely focused on the actions of your body.

“That’s like the ultimate mind-body exercise,” Brynan said.

The Tai Chi for Health Institute website states that the mind is an important aspect of health since it controls the rest of the body. The website also states that principles of tai chi teach students self-control and empowerment.

Long said she wants to take more self-defense classes because the training made her feel more confident in her ability to protect herself if an incident arises.

“Not only are you learning how to defend yourself but you’re working so many different muscles that you may have forgotten you had during your everyday cardio workouts,” she said.

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