The recent alleged murder of a woman by an ex-boyfriend is far from a unique event in Hawaii, so a young MidWeek reporter signs up for a women’s self-defense class. Thank you for taking an active role in your own survival,” Steve McLaughlin says to 18 class participants.
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Thank you for taking an active role in your own survival,” Steve McLaughlin says to 18 class participants. “This single class will affect you for life. It is not an exercise class, but the real thing. This one class is your ticket to avoiding and, if necessary, surviving and escaping a brutal assault.”
Then, to ease any fears, he adds, “Relax! It’s fun and easy to do. We’ve taught this to women in wheelchairs and 88-year-old grandmothers. We just taught 20 sight-impaired women - and their dogs! That class was too much fun.”
That jokester attitude is apparent upon a first meeting with McLaughlin, professor and sensei/CEO of Hawaii Zenyo Bujutsu Kai Martial Arts College, on a cold and windy afternoon. It’s only been a few weeks since a young woman was chased down and allegedly murdered by an ex-boyfriend in Kailua; hence the reason I, a young woman, am on assignment in Nuuanu on a Sunday - to learn how to defend myself should a possible life-or-death situation arise.
“A 3-year-old having a temper tantrum is probably the perfect self-defense model,” he says with a deep-felt chuckle. “They’re gonna yell no, they’re gonna be completely uncooperative, they’re gonna sit down and not go with you. If someone is trying to drag you off and if you’re screaming and kicking and fussing the whole time, just like a 3-year-old would do, he isn’t going to be able to pick you up very easy and drag you off very easy. He isn’t going to be able to do much of anything except draw attention, and he doesn’t want that.”
But don’t let the wry grin and snappy retorts fool you. In addition to being a 7th degree black belt under the Bushidokan Federation, he is also the author of HZBK Common-Sense Self-Defense Assault Prevention, a knife fighting instructor, master locksmith, police course instructor, professional gun-smith, massage therapist and computer information systems specialist (just to list a few). But what this jack-of-all-trades prides himself in is his ability to help others keep safe.
“Fighting back takes years to learn,” he firmly states. “It’s too hard for the average woman to do. If she wanted to know how to fight back, she’d already be in martial arts. What they do need to know is what might happen to them, how to keep it from happening to begin with, and then the simplest, easiest way to get out of it.”
Professor Henry Seishiro Okazaki first founded Danzan Ryu, or Kodenkan Jujutsu, in the early 20th century. As part of his teachings, he wrote the first book on women’s self-defense, published in 1929 in the Territory of Hawaii. McLaughlin handed me a copy of this book to read before class began. Flipping through the pages during our hourly breaks, I was amazed at how the pictures on the yellowed pages mirrored the moves we had just performed on the mats minute ago. As McLaughlin explains, he has based this Women’s Assault Prevention Course on the instructions of Okazaki as well as the latest Hawaii police reports and social work research. It has been in continuous presentation at various schools across Hawaii and the Mainland for the past 35 years, receiving several awards from National Women’s Groups in L.A., San Francisco, Las Vegas, Reno and locally.
An ounce of common sense can make all the difference in the world. But, as McLaughlin explains, those lessons everyone’s mother taught them back in kindergarten go flying out the window during an attack. Or, he adds with a chuckle, “Some people don’t know common sense. Once you tell it to them, they get it; they just didn’t think of it before. And that’s a lot of our job, to remind you of what you already know and what you’re capable of reasoning out for yourself.”
But don’t base your reasoning on what popular entertainment broadcasts. Contrary to what Hollywood slasher films and novels lead many to believe, weapons are hardly ever used. Attackers are more likely to use their physical strength to overpower and intimidate their victims.
But - and this again goes against what Hollywood and over-protective family members have taught us - self-defense is best done without fighting back.
“Avoid trouble,” McLaughlin flatly puts. “This might sound too simple, but people forget this piece of common sense all the time. Take a little responsibility here and be good to yourself, even if it takes a little extra effort. Even if it takes a lot of extra effort, do the right thing.”
Sometimes the right thing for a woman to do is de-escalate herself so she can bide time and survive. While my female companions and I were laughing and feeling pretty good about ourselves the more we flipped and flopped our partners, McLaughlin reveals that most course graduates actually try not to use the techniques because they realize how difficult
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