Self-Defense on a Student Budget

Martial Arts for the Academic Masses

By Derek Chartrand Wallace

In addition to eating healthy, working out regularly, optimizing cardio levels, and maintaining flexibility, a certain amount of self-defense knowledge is becoming increasingly necessary in society’s urban jungles. As highlighted in The BCC Voice writer Hannah Litwin’s article “BART: Violence on the Rise,” 2017 saw a marked increase in assaults over 2016. And as fellow Voice writer Maya Kashima illustrated in her piece on Berkeley’s co-opted Free Speech Movement, “From Mario to Milo“, violence at political rallies can turn our small town into a combat zone. Considering that Berkeley City College is a commuter campus near the nexus of the battle for Berkeley’s soul, the increasing chances of students finding themselves targeted for attack because of their demographic warrants attention. You don’t need to have skills comparable to those of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, but a look at the street-level techniques of his famous philosophy of Jeet Kune Do (JKD) could make all the difference between students making it to statistics class … or becoming a statistic.

some bruce lee shit derek wallace

Martial artists James Yim Lee and Bruce Lee, founders of Oakland’s first Jeet Kune Do school. Photo: Felix Macias Jr.

Pop culture icon and action mega-star of 1970s Kung fu films like “Enter the Dragon,” Bruce Lee imported the more formal and traditional Wing Chun practices of his Hong Kong childhood to the mean streets of the East Bay. The synthesis Lee invented aimed to improve practicality in often-chaotic street fights and together with well-known instructor James Yimm Lee (no relation), Bruce Lee soon opened a “Jun Fan Gung Fu” martial arts studio in Oakland. Over time, this system was honed and then renamed “Jeet Kune Do,” also known as “way of the intercepting fist”.

While his Hollywood legacy stands strong, his vision of multiple unified dojos never manifested. In an email interview with The BCC Voice, Richard Grewar, the Bruce Lee Foundation’s Executive Director, lamented that since Bruce’s passing, the Jeet Kune Do world “has become quite fragmented, so we don’t get involved with who’s doing what, or what schools exist where, unfortunately.” Grewar recommends that those interested in learning JKD “approach a local school who is dealing with this sort of instruction on a daily basis for specific advice on what to do” in situations such as muggings or other assaults. Grewar also suggests curious readers follow Chris Kent’s “Finding A JKD Instructor” primer on what to look for in potential teachers.

One such studio keeping the torch alive is Original Oakland JKD in Hayward, run by Sifu Felix Macias Jr. (whose father was the school’s founder and personally studied under Bruce and James Lee). In addition to affordable classes ($50 a month), Original Oakland JKD offers seminars on what to look for in a crowd or when you’re out on your own.

JKD seal

In the time-honored spirit of resilience and self-sufficiency, The BCC Voice has worked with Sifu Macias to compile the following tips in case you find yourself on the receiving end of an attempted assault:

☯ Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu once philosophized, “Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.” Translation: the best defense is a good offense. For BART riders, Macias offers that, “What you have on, what you’re advertising in the form of your phone or jewelry, that can label you as an easy target. I suggest you put everything away until you get to where you want to be.”

☯ Not having your head constantly buried in your smartphone is a great way to avoid landing on the radar of would-be attackers. “If you don’t pay attention, things happen,” Macias emphasizes. Staying aware of your surroundings and knowing your exit(s) is always a smart move, plus it’s a mental exercise that can help prepare you to react during crisis scenarios such as earthquakes, fires or active shooters.

☯ When awareness isn’t enough and you still find yourself being targeted, remember you are part of a community and calling for help verbally, via whistle, or a small keychain air horn is always an option. “Make a big scene, draw attention,” Macias recommends.

Training in conflict resolution could help de-escalate a dangerous scenario — but what are some nitty-gritty moves one should know when you can’t talk down your assailant or mugger? Many assaults are perpetrated by those who sneak up from behind, and if you find yourself grabbed in this manner use your foot to stomp on theirs and your elbow to pound their ribs. A good old-fashioned Judo hip-throw might be possible at this point, but honestly your best bet is to run for safety. Choke-holds can happen, often occurring in instances of domestic abuse. To counter, start by spreading your legs to take a large step to one side and then bring your arm up over theirs so as to wrap up their wrists in your armpit like a headlock. Now that you literally have the upper hand, you can again elbow. Do not allow yourself to be afraid to fight dirty! Macias stresses that if your life depends on it you should absolutely, “Defend yourself! Kick the knee, kick them in the groin, or poke the eyes. Do whatever you gotta do … Be like a little, feral cat — if they try to pick you up, scratch the hell out of them!”

Readers interested in more info can contact Sifu Macias directly at (510) 432-7724 or visit his Hayward studio for lessons Mondays and Wednesdays 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.

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