HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Shouts of "Back off!" and "No!" could be heard echoing inside the Campbell Fitness Center basketball courts Saturday, but it wasn't from basketball players stepping up their defense.

Instead, it was a different kind of defense being practiced - women's self-defense.
As part of Army Community Service's Family Advocacy and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, and in conjunction with the military police, Heidelberg's first women's self-defense classes were offered.

After Saturday's two sessions, around 20 women are trained in ways to protect themselves from a potential attacker or similar situation, according to Michele Barber, Heidelberg Family Advocacy Program manager.

Sexual assault is a real-life problem, Barber said. The important thing is for women to learn ways to protect themselves, and a class such as this one offers them a way to learn while having fun.
The course was taught by Yvette Castro, the sexual assault response coordinator for U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. Master Sgt. Charles Cavanaugh and Staff Sgt. Dana Valentine, both from U.S. Army Garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg's Directorate of Emergency Services, also volunteered their time to help teach the class.

Castro taught participants how to use their voices along with moves she calls by such names as the 'chop' and the 'hammerfist.'

She gave class participants what she said was "a little bag of tricks to help you if you decide to use them," and pointed out that it is always their own personal choice to decide if they want to fight back.

"The most important step in self defense is actually having the confidence to do it," she told participants. She also reminded them the decision to fight back can sometimes escalate the violence and urged them to pick what worked for them and what they felt comfortable with.

First, the class started out by practicing how to yell "Back off!" with confidence, and combined it with arm, hand and leg movements and pressure points to help figure out the best ways to fend off a perpetrator.

Class members paired off and took turns playing the perpetrator before getting the chance to really practice on someone. Cavanaugh was dressed in the "red man suit" - protective gear to allow the women to hit as hard as they wanted, which gave the real-life experience of hitting someone and trying to get away from a potential attacker.

Cavanaugh said he enjoyed volunteering his time to help the women become more prepared, alert and assertive.

"We were helping them and giving them a tool," he said. "It was fun. Some of the ladies took it serious and hit really hard.

"Some of them may have been intimidated at first, but after the training by Yvette, they became more confident."

Valentine agreed that helping the women gain confidence in themselves was an important part of the class.

"This is a great class because I think the participants were given great knowledge and power to be able to defend themselves if they ever find themselves in a situation where they are being attacked," Valentine said.

Participants Nancy Blazek and Diana Kelch said they both enjoyed the class and felt they learned a lot. Kelch, a self-proclaimed "scaredy cat" who doesn't like to yell, said it was especially helpful for her confidence.

Both women agreed that learning ways to turn the tables on a potential perpetrator and getting to actually put what they were learning in to practice made for a successful class that was fun at the same time.

Barber hopes to offer the class again in the future. The main reason it's important for women to know self-defense techniques, she said, is to protect themselves and then be able to possibly teach others how to protect themselves as well.

(Editor's Note: Kristen Marquez works in the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg Public Affairs Office).