Carole Lewis was a naive teenager in 1992 when she walked up to give directions to a man in a car outside the restaurant where she worked. He kidnapped and raped her.
Now she is a 32-year-old black belt who urges other women to take self-defense classes.
“It helps women to know there is an option to be able to handle themselves,” the Calhoun, Tenn., resident said.
Ms. Lewis said her attacker was arrested and served time in prison, but she knows now that basic self-defense techniques would have helped her avoid the traumatic experience.
“The first thing, I would have never gotten that close to the vehicle,” said Ms. Lewis, a student at Oneheart Dojo in Athens, Tenn. “And if you are in a situation where you are grabbed, you know how to break those holds and get away,” she said.
Self-defense methods range from martial arts instruction to learning how to fire a gun.
Randy Harris teaches monthly self-defense courses on a ranch in Ringgold, Ga., using real-life scenarios. The curriculum was developed by Gabe Suarez, an international weapons trainer based in Arizona.
Mr. Harris said the reality-based training is more effective than firing at targets on a shooting range.
“I have yet to encounter a piece of paper on a range that has come up to me asking me for change, and when I looked down to stick my hand in my pocket, it sucker-punches me. That’s how these things usually happen for real,” Mr. Harris said.
During a recent four-day training session, students in Mr. Harris’ class used air-powered pellet guns to learn basic maneuvering during close-range gunfighting. Then they switched to live-fire drills.
Mr. Harris said it’s important for students to know how to shoot on the run and to be able to avoid gunfire.
“Not being shot is just as important as shooting,” he said. “If I don’t shoot him and I still get away, then it’s still a win for me.”
Brian Phillips, a mechanical engineer from Chattanooga, is a regular at the North Georgia self-defense, shooting classes. He said he feels safer learning weapons-based self-defense rather than fighting techniques.
“A weapon evens out a disparity of force,” Mr. Phillips said. “If you have a 100-pound woman, or 100-pound man, against a 245-pound, linebacker-type person, a hand-to-hand situation may be a very bad thing to get into.”
Ronnie Dodd teaches several weapons defense classes at his range in Sale Creek, but also has an instructor to teach martial arts fighting. The former Red Bank police chief said the two types of self-defense training “go hand-in-hand.”
“A person needs to have a little bit of working knowledge about some unarmed techniques, simple restraints, how to get away from somebody that may walk up behind you and get you in a choke hold, for example,” said Mr. Dodd, owner of Dodd and Associates Training. “But then if it escalates to the point where your assailant has got a weapon, you need to transition over into an armed conflict.”
Despite the discipline, though, self-defense trainers agree on urging their students to stay out of fights when possible.
“The best fight is the one you can avoid,” Mr. Dodd said.