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Published: Wednesday, 10/18/2006

Course helping women build self-defense skills

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Debbie Porter never learned how to properly twist an attacker's fingers in knots, gouge his eyes, or kick him in the groin.

She will soon.

Ms. Porter, 42, of Monclova Township is one of a handful of women participating in a Rape Aggression Defense class (called RAD) being offered by the Metroparks of the Toledo Area at Oak Openings Preserve in Swanton.

The class lasts for 12 hours and is broken into three, four-hour sessions.

The second and third sessions are today and next Thursday.

More condensed defense classes are offered by the Metroparks throughout the year. Other RAD classes are taught by different institutions at various locations throughout the Toledo area.

In last week's opening session at Oak Openings, Metropark rangers taught Ms. Porter and her classmates how to be aware of their surroundings and ways to reduce the risk of being attacked. They also began to cover some self-defense options in case of attack.

Ms. Porter, who said her family moved to Monclova from Washington, said she had never been attacked or raped, but it was still important for her to sign up for the class.

"Because I'm coming from a big city, I always know there's an element or possibility of always being in danger," she said. "I want to at least have a response ready if a situation were to arise."

The class at Oak Openings is being taught by rangers Becky Woodcock, Mark Fesh, and Gail Awls.

All have received extensive training in the RAD system.

Ms. Woodcock, from Toledo, said one of the most important objectives in the class is to build the students' confidence.

"Many women in our society have been brought up to be nonconfrontational," Ms. Woodcock said. "It's important to build up their confidence in case of an attack, so they have a sense of their physical abilities to defend themselves."

No one can get a better sense for the females' improved confidence by the end of the class than Mr. Fesh, who plays the aggressor in attack simulations.

Adorning an insulated, full-body protective suit, Mr. Fesh has to approach each student and brace himself for an elbow to the head, a knee to the stomach, or worse.

The harder Mr. Fesh is hit, the better he feels about the job he and the other instructors have done.

"This class is there to teach them how to fight back," said Mr. Fesh of Maumee. "I hope they literally punch, kick, and do everything they can to escape.

"I can feel all the hits in that suit, and the more I feel them, the more confidence I know they have in themselves."

Mr. Fesh's day of reckoning usually comes with the final session of the class, when the women show off all of their new defense techniques.

Ms. Porter, for one, is excited to show what she has learned in the program.

"I think we're all looking forward to getting in a few good knocks," she said. "The biggest thing is to see if we can put what we learned into action and find out if we can really do it."



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