“I’m 6’6″ and 300 pounds. Why do I need self-defense?” A male student’s perspective

07.28.17 by Thomas Cosgrove

Tom Cosgrove is a training member at Thousand Waves

I have been studying karate at TW for about a year and a half now and I was promoted to advanced yellow belt in mid-May. Shortly after I advanced, Amy Jones approached me and reminded me that the 12-hour self-defense course is a requirement for my next step, advancement to green belt. She also reminded me that the next self-defense class just so happened to be that very weekend and would not be offered again until mid-October. I had seen the self-defense courses being offered before and I had always thought, ”What do I need that for? I’m 6’6” and weigh 300 pounds. I was a Chicago police officer. I played football and wrestled in both high school and college. “What am I going to learn there?” But, I needed the class to advance. I signed up.

First, a little background. Many people I talk to are surprised to find out that when I was growing up, I was a victim of bullying. My physical appearance was that of a boy two or three years older than I but my maturity and intelligence were age appropriate. To the older kids, I appeared about their age but when they found I was much more immature, the bullying began. Any complaints to an authority figure were met with something along the lines of “You’re big, you can take it.” “Who would pick on you?” Times were different then but not so much. These are phrases I still hear today and I need to be very careful when I stand up for myself because it is automatically assumed that I am the aggressor.

Eventually, as I grew older and began playing sports I learned what my body could do, the bullying stopped. It didn’t stop immediately — there were some times when I had to defend myself physically, and my newfound abilities served me well in those times.  All through high school, when I would see bullying, whoever the victim, I would intervene. I liked the feeling of helping someone who couldn’t help themselves. It’s probably why I became a police officer and certainly why I became a lawyer. I wish I had someone who would’ve helped me. As I had more and more encounters, I learned that I did not need to engage in a physical altercation to intervene. My appearance, coupled with some strong words of deterrence was enough. This was very effective and has become my strategy for self-defense.

In my prior experience and training, I never really learned self-defense. I learned take downs and blocks, tackles and come-alongs, moves designed to put myself in a position to defeat and control my opponent rather than to escape my attacker or avoid uncomfortable situations. However, a practice that has served me well in life has been to approach every situation with the knowledge that no matter what, there is always somebody bigger, stronger, smarter or better than me and I just might meet that person today. This is how I approached the self-defense class. Even if I never used the techniques that I’d learn, maybe I could pass on what I did learn to friends and family members.

The class starts with the foundation of self-defense: Determining your boundaries and how well are you able and how willing are you to maintain/enforce/defend those boundaries. Some practice sessions followed where we were put into role playing situations that ran from the uncomfortable to the frightening. We were then asked to evaluate our performance. This format ran throughout the course. We then paired off to practice some hands-on techniques. The most informative of these for me were the escapes from “bear hugs”, head locks and other types of holds and fighting from the ground. The most effective weapon, I learned though, was the voice. A good, loud STOP or NO can cause the aggressor to pause and allow you to escape before any harm can be done.

The most important technique that I learned and one that I will venture to use whenever the need arises is that of alliance building. If one is in the presence of someone who is being made a victim, one, two, three or ten of the bystanders can place themselves at the side of the victim and either directly intervene or indirectly show the attacker that there are others present who will help this victim if necessary. Even in the role-playing scenarios, there was a feeling of relief and empowerment among both the victim and the allies.

There were several more techniques we learned, both physical and vocal, over the course of the 12 hours. I will be reviewing these techniques with my daughter who goes off to college in the fall and my 13 year old son. I feel that I gained more from attending the self-defense course than just checking off another requirement for advancement. I achieved my goal of getting something from the class that I can pass on to others. I learned how to use de-escalation techniques that will help me avoid unpleasant situations and I came away with a new understanding of self-defense.


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