SMC's Self Defense Classes Pack a Punch

Santa Monica College students practice self-defense maneuvers in the Women’s Self Defense course, taught by Jennifer Tanaka (back left), who has been practicing martial arts for 20 years, at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica. The course, KIN PE 41W, meets twice a week for 1.5 hours, and also comes with a semester-long provisional membership at the Kung Fu studio White Tiger, where Tanaka is a student along with fellow SMC Self Defense Professor Blaine Eastcott. (Evan Minniti/The Corsair)

Santa Monica College students practice self-defense maneuvers in the Women’s Self Defense course, taught by Jennifer Tanaka (back left), who has been practicing martial arts for 20 years, at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica. The course, KIN PE 41W, meets twice a week for 1.5 hours, and also comes with a semester-long provisional membership at the Kung Fu studio White Tiger, where Tanaka is a student along with fellow SMC Self Defense Professor Blaine Eastcott. (Evan Minniti/The Corsair)

In a brightly-lit studio in Santa Monica College’s (SMC) Core Performance Center, female students line up in front of a bank of mirrors to stretch, warming up for a rigorous hour and a half of self-defense instruction. The 16-week, one-credit course meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, and teaches students practical, hands-on methods to protect themselves from assault. The class aims to empower students to become more aware, confident, and safe in the world.

Jennifer Tanaka, who teaches the class, has been practicing martial arts for 20 years. “I started in martial arts when my father passed away, and I took it upon myself to defend myself because I didn’t have him to do that for me anymore,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka began her training at White Tiger, a kung fu studio located near Westwood. She became the studio’s first female student to receive a black sash, the studio’s highest rank. One of Tanaka’s fellow students at White Tiger, Blaine Eastcott, who works at SMC as a Self Defense professor, recommended Tanaka for a position at the college. She then taught her first class in 2018.

Students enrolled in Self Defense at SMC have a semester-long provisional membership at White Tiger included in their tuition, which is an integral part of the class. Tanaka says that her mission for the semester is to, “have all the students have a basic knowledge and understanding of self defense and have the opportunity to train at White Tiger.”

Sabrina Lagos, a student in the class, says that, “prevention-wise, I wanted to know what to do if I was in a certain situation. Especially in college.”

Understanding how to defend oneself is a major concern on college campuses. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five female college students will experience sexual assault or rape. Ninety percent of on-campus assaults go unreported, and 91 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are women.

“I think the most rewarding thing is to see all the students who walk in on the first day, and through the progression of 16 weeks, be more confident, more self aware, and more brave than that first day,” Tanaka said.

The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence reports that Self Defense classes offer an opportunity for women to be prepared to slow down, stop, or entirely avoid attack scenarios. A student-report based examination done by Model Mugging, a self defense school, revealed that 98.3 percent of the 60,000 graduates of said class have not encountered an attack scenario at all. Of the remaining 1.7 percent, there was an 80 percent success rate on stopping assailants with just voices and body language alone.

To that point, Tanaka’s class emphasizes the power in awareness and using one’s voice. She describes a student in her class who, at the start of the semester, “was barely able to do any of the techniques. Wasn’t able to participate. Couldn’t look any of her peers in the eyes, couldn’t really vocalize, and now she’s leading some of the classes and is a stronger female role model, because she’s allowed herself the challenge to be brave.”

Matilda Loke, a business major enrolled in the class, seems to agree. “Halfway through the class, I’m more aware of my surroundings and I feel more safe because I know my strength,” Loke said.

At the end of the day, the class is centered on bravery. Students must put their all into practicing to get the most out of it. The class offers students the opportunity to practice self defense in a safe environment, while performing as though it were the real thing. Young women have the chance to eliminate the shock factor of an actual attack, and to do so in a collaborative environment where it is okay to ask for help.

“The ability to ask for help when you need it,” Tanaka said, “to be able to give that help when you can, is part of the new wave of the stronger female.”

Women's Self Defense can be found in the SMC course catalog, titled KIN PE 41W. There are three offerings for Fall 2019, taught by both Tanaka and Eastcott.