WEST SALEM — Master Matthew Reardon cuts an imposing figure.
Broad shouldered and muscular at 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds, the martial arts professional is twice as heavy as of 5-foot-4 Kyla Delaney, and yet the petite 20-year-old showed no hesitation as she lunged at a masked and padded Reardon, striking, kneeing and shouting with abandon.
“It hurts,” Reardon said, catching his breath. “Even with the pads.”
Delaney and six other women, most of them college age, had plenty of opportunities to unleash their strength on the instructor of 30 years, who led the group through a four-hour self-defense and rape prevention course Saturday afternoon.
A&C Martial Arts owner Angela Davidson partnered with Delaney on choke holds, hits and simple but effective maneuvers to block and escape an attacker.
“You have two seconds to explode,” Reardon said of fighting back. “Do whatever you can to get your attacker to flinch, then run.”
While some self-defense classes take the approach of attacking back, Reardon stresses the opposite approach
“Our whole point of today is not to create fighters out of you,” Reardon told the class. “Just get away. Get away — fight another day.”
Davidson and Reardon have created similar incarnations of the course for several years but added in the rape prevention element in light of the increased awareness of sexual assault both on and off campus in recent years. One in four college students and one in five high school students will be the victim of sexual assault, and a rape occurs on average in the U.S. every 2.4 minutes.
“Today’s society is scary,” Reardon said. “With all the stuff in the news about all the sexual assaults, we wanted to get in front of that so they know how to protect themselves.”
Along with learning and practicing movements to either block, stall or stun an assailant, called reactive techniques, Reardon covered proactive skills, the first defense against an attack. Students are taught to follow the SAFETY method: secure your home and car, avoid unsafe situations and strangers, flee, engage your attacker (physically), think (plan ahead and be aware), and you are responsible for your own safety.
Reardon also stresses trusting your gut, causing a scene if you are fearful for your safety and remaining vigilant of one’s surroundings — texting and listening to music on headphones provide perfect distractions for an attacker.
“Lock your car, don’t walk in alleys — this is stuff you can keep in mind for everybody,” said Delaney, who has taken a previous class with Reardon and helped demonstrate holds and grabs. “You can always learn more, practice more. We (train) in some of those positions we might find ourselves in (during an assault). I feel like if I were to get into a situation like that I would be more physically and mentally prepared for the situation.”
In order to make the course as effective as possible, students were paired off to mimic attacking and defending each other in common assault positions, including being pushed onto their backs or grabbed from behind. In most situations, victims find themselves both smaller and weaker than the attacker, further disadvantaged by the element of surprise. It is possible to hurt them, Reardon said, but you won’t be able to stop them.
Students are taught to use the anything at their disposal with the least amount of movement and exertion to create a window to flee. A rear choke hold can push someone into unconsciousness in around six seconds. If the attacker has you pinned on your back, scissoring your arms around the neck, pulling on a shirt collar and pushing away with your thighs can be an effective method for shifting power.
“When you’re standing you have a 360-degree environment to move around in,” Reardon said. “When you’re on your back its only 180 degrees. You have less strength, and you have to work with that.”
Reardon has had former students contact him, sharing potentially dangerous situations in which his techniques protected them, from simply trusting their instincts to screaming to attract attention. However, he stresses one course is not enough and refreshers are essential. Should your mind go blank, run.
“You are not trying to win a fit,” Reardon emphasized. “You are trying to escape.”