Fort Polk, La. Aca,!" What are you afraid of' Is it spiders' Maybe your fear is of flying. You might be frightened of the dark or the unknown. You wouldn't be human if you didn't have a few fears. The problem is, fear is an emotion that can paralyze you if you let it. Learning how to deal with your fears is important.

Being human, I have a few fears tucked away in my psyche. Though I don't love them, I don't run screaming from creepy crawlies; I do tend to prefer my feet firmly planted on the ground and when I was a child, I was afraid of the dark. Every monster I could imagine (I have a vivid imagination) was waiting to pounce the minute the lights flickered out. With time and parental patience, I proceeded to persevere over that phobia.

But the fear that still hounds me is of the unknown. I think if folks are honest, it's a fear that worries many of us. The unknown is scary because of the vast possibilities it presents. How do you overcome a fear when you don't know where to start' The trick is narrowing down what frightens you most. One of the things that scares me without fail is being at the mercy of someone who could rob, rape or kill me.

All you have to do is turn on the television to have that fear reinforced. Whether it's a new episode of CSI or the reality of the nightly news, I've discovered monsters are real. The ones I used to be afraid of as a child can't compare to the things human beings are capable of when they turn on each other.

That's why, when I was asked to cover a self-defense class for the Guardian last year, I jumped at the chance. The class was part of April's sexual assault awareness campaign and held at the Army Community Service center. I really wanted to learn what the people running the class had to say.

What I discovered was fascinating. Joe Harvey, owner and sensei (teacher) of West Louisiana Jujutsu Training Academy in Leesville, had several students with experience, from white (beginner) to brown (advanced) belts, there to help him demonstrate simple but effective ways to defend yourself and get away from an attacker.

I remember as I took pictures and watched the beauty of the sometimes deadly jujutsu moves that I wanted to get on the mat and learn what he was teaching. But I was there in an official capacity and couldn't join the spouses as they paired to practice simple strikes and holds. I tried to absorb what he said and was rewarded at the end of class when he said if he got enough women to sign up, he would consider teaching a self-defense class. I was the first to sign up. I wanted to learn more.

And so, my adventure began. I'll be honest, I was scared and it took everything I had to enter the dojo for the first time. I thought to myself, "You are nuts. How in the world is a thirty -..." Then again, never mind how old I am. I just wondered how I was going to learn something so new and strange. Would my body be able to perform the way the other students' had' I just didn't know, but I had to try.

The first thing you learn in the class is how to fall. That way, when you begin to learn the more advanced techniques, like throws, you don't get hurt. You learn to fall by tumbling. I looked at Harvey and thought to myself "You want me to do what'" But I did, over and over again, until I got it. Months went by and students came and went, but I stayed. I would go home and tell my son about the class. He said it wasn't fair that I got to take the class and he didn't. And so it has become a family affair. Though I sometimes wonder if teaching my teen-aged son, Kyle, how to throw me was the smartest thing I've ever done.

It's been a year now and on April 28 Harvey and his students were once more asked to host another self-defense class for 2009's sexual assault awareness activities.
I was again assigned to cover the class. The difference this time is that I was also in the demonstration. As I looked at the women in the audience, I saw trepidation in their eyes. They were wondering if they could make their bodies move like ours. I know because I was once in their shoes, or out of them (you have to take your shoes off to get on the mats). I wanted to tell them that by simply walking into the class, they had taken their first steps in learning how to protect themselves. The rest comes with time and practice.

As Harvey and his students continued to demonstrate how to break holds and cause physical damage to an attacker, participants began to lose their fear and enjoy the process of learning what jujutsu could teach them. I found that I was proud to show them what I had learned.

And so I've come full circle in the quest to vanquish my fears. What began as something I was curious about and had to do as part of my job became a way to spend time with my son, enjoy a community of people that have become my friends and, last but not least, protect myself.

Looking back on this year, I think one of the most important things I've learned is that it's empowering to realize that I can throw a man twice my size, break a choke hold front or back and take a fall without breaking bones.

Am I still afraid' Of course, but less so. I feel more confident in my ability to survive and escape if my worst nightmare comes true. At the same time, I realize that I still have much to learn. After all, if I can do this, anyone can. Get out there and conquer your fears. For more information call 531-6795.