ODESSA — I'm the person who groans when a teacher urges students to pair up and pick a partner. I like doing things on my own. I don't want to be bothered with awkward small talk. I appreciate my personal space.
But, in spite of this, I found myself Wednesday night flat on my back at a martial arts studio with a stranger sitting on me.
"Ready?" the woman asked, her face bent toward mine. She raised her fists. She smiled.
"Um … yes?" I said.
And she started trying to hit me.
We were at a free self-defense class offered by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and held at V.I.P. Black Belt Champions Training Center in Odessa. The theme was domestic violence awareness, but it was also about being safe in general.
"Unfortunately there is evil in our society," said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. There is another free class at 7:15 p.m. Friday at V.I.P., located at 2409 Merchant Ave. in Odessa. Nocco said he hopes to offer more classes like this throughout the county.
"This is an opportunity," Nocco said. "We want to do anything we can to make our citizens safer."
Cpl. Alan Wilkett spoke about interviewing offenders to find out why they preyed on certain victims.
It turns out confidence can save your life. The bad guys prey on those perceived as weak.
"The more confident you are, the less likely you are to become a victim," Wilkett said.
I took a self-defense course in college. But I don't think it would have helped me if I had been grabbed by an attacker because I, like many women, spent years as that self-deprecating, stick-to-the-shadows, head down type of person. I didn't want people to notice me. At the class Wednesday I met two young women — both 18, fresh out of high school, heading to college this fall — who came to get ready for college.
"I'm sure within dorm life and college life, the situation will present itself," said Kim Thompson of New Port Richey.
"We want to be prepared," said Cassandra Smith, also of New Port Richey.
They were confident, more than I was at that age, I think.
Maybe it's that I'm older now; 33. Maybe it's that I've incorporated working out into my daily lifestyle, so I feel physically stronger — I could outrun a bad guy. But I feel more confident now. At the class we learned how to hit an attacker in the face with your palm and with your elbow. How to grab a person's head and either drive your knee into the person's face or groin. The goal is to strike and escape. And you have to strike with 100 percent of your conviction and force. If you do it half-heartedly, it will only anger the attacker.
"You're really hitting hard," a teacher said to me, as I drove my palm into a cushion she held, trying to imagine doing this to a person's face. I don't know if I could hurt someone. But then again, I haven't been in a life-or-death fight before.
The last thing we learned was how to throw someone off you if you're pinned to the ground. If you are on your back, with the attacker straddling you, throw your hips up and twist. The person will be sent off balance, giving you an opportunity to escape.
This is why that young woman was hovering over my face. If you're not used to fighting, it's difficult to have someone throwing punches at your face. You want to curl up and freeze. But I blocked her shots and threw her off of me.
When I stood up, I felt strong.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.