MVPD self-defense class proves a course in confidence

Megan V. Winslow / Town Crier
Mountain View Police Department Sgt. Pete Beninger, at podium, reviews moves Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) students can use to defend themselves if threatened.

One woman mimed breaking my fingers. Another wrapped her arm around my neck. The only injuries I sustained during the Mountain View Police Department’s free Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course Feb. 3, however, were self-inflicted: a knee bruised while righting myself after a practice tussle and a sore ankle I earned by kicking a punching bag like a soccer ball.

“It was tiring, but I’m glad I did it – I am,” I told my instructors when the daylong session concluded. “I can’t wait until my husband gets back. I’m going to show him my moves.”

Matt has since returned from his trip – and subjected me to a viewing of Monty Python’s “Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit” sketch, his mental image, I suppose, for what transpired in my class. Amusing, to be sure, but instead of slinging bananas and lingonberries at each other, my classmates and I perfected “hammer strikes” and “grab and tears.” Rather than mop-haired goofs, I imagined us as warriors. In reality, we are simply 12 ordinary women who, with a little training, discovered the confidence to defend ourselves should we need to.

“This is about empowering women, to let them know that they actually possess strength and that there are plans of action,” said instructor Pete Beninger, a MVPD sergeant.

Lawrence Nadeau developed the RAD method of self-defense in 1989 with college students in mind. His company, RAD Systems of Denham Springs, La., now offers training to men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds and to community leaders like law enforcement officers who then teach RAD themselves. Funding from the Mountain View Public Safety Foundation paid for MVPD instructor training and for gear such as the pads and bags students learn to strike, punch and kick.

While RAD education includes a manual and PowerPoint presentation, most of the class is active and hands-on. Students learn a series of defense moves by inflicting them on the equipment and, with a bit more restraint, on each other. They learn to vocalize resistance with a force summoned from deep within.

“It’s kind of amazing because most of the people who come to this class – at least that I’ve seen – have never thrown a punch, have never hit anything,” Beninger said. “You can see, like the last class, where you have really shy, small little ladies, and at first they’re like, ‘No, no, no.’ And then at the end, they’re yelling it: ‘NO! NO! NO!’ And they’re really striking hard and hitting. It’s really a good feeling.”

UC Santa Cruz sociology student Nisha Sharma, a Mountain View resident, said she often hears about sexual assault on college campuses and that participating in the MVPD RAD course granted her peace of mind.

“After taking the class, I have the confidence and courage that if anything happens, I can fight back,” she said.

RAD participation is limited to female Mountain View residents 18 and older, though female teens as young as 16 may attend if accompanied by an adult female guardian; currently, MVPD instructors are only certified to teach women RAD techniques, but future class offerings could be geared toward men and children.

So far, 53 women have completed the local course and scores more hope to; the waiting list features at least 60 names, said Jodie Pierce, MVPD community service officer and RAD instructor.

“Our goal is to reach as many people as want to be taught,” she said.

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