Free women’s self-defense class coming to Alta

Friday, October 19, 2018
Jessica Tierney

Two recent high profile murders of women in Iowa, including Mollie Tibbets in a town about the size of Alta, have women in small towns across Iowa rethinking how safe they are every day.

Despite the heightened awareness, self-defense instructor Jessica Peterson Tierney from Mason City says that the majority of women are more likely to be targeted by someone they know in an attack.

“We kind of want to live in a world where it’s a small community and pretend it doesn’t happen,” Tierney said. Some women in small towns don’t even lock doors, she said, leaving their guard down.

“Taking a step to attend a class admits vulnerability,” she said—something that some women may be hesitant to do.

She invites women to attend her free class on Sunday, November 18 from 3 to 5 p.m. The event is sponsored by Jill Anderson, thanks in part to a grant from Thrivent Financial.

Women are facing violence more interpersonally, the instructor says, meaning that sometimes their guard is down when they’re most vulnerable with acquaintances and known people.

Her class shows women how to use their unique areas of strength to defend against attackers where it matters most.

Perpetrators look for easy targets, Tierney says, and will do things to push boundaries to see how their victims respond. For women, she practices boundary skills, teaches women how to trust their instincts and practice being assertive. “Women have been raised to be nice, polite and not rough house,” she said. “We weren’t raised to just start pummeling,” at threats, she said.

Using a rounded approach, the instructor teaches her students that their brains are their best weapon in coordinating a response to attacks. She also dispels myths that have discouraged women for years.

One of the most egregious myths she comes across is that women who fight back will get hurt worse—an assertion that Tierney, who worked with domestic abuse and sexual assault victims before teaching self-defense, says is completely unfounded.

She says a changing climate and the #MeToo movement is helping women find their voice and be open to learning the best defense mechanisms for themselves. The movement has helped women know they’re not alone when they feel like they’re at fault for an attack or fear retaliation against an attacker they know.

“By coming out and talking about it, it gives a voice to survivors,” Tierney says.

Another misconception is that women can’t fight back because they’re smaller and weaker. Tierney teaches women their strengths, particularly with the lower body, dropping motions, and even yelling, which puts more force behind the hips and the core—part of the reason it is practiced in martial arts.

“What works well for a man in a fight isn’t going to work well with women,” she said. “It’s all about knowing how to use your body to generate power.”

The class starts by talking about the mindset of a predator, moves into demonstrating awareness skills and practicing boundary settings. Tierney then moves women into using verbal skills and finding their voice. Getting to physical techniques, she shows them how to throw kicks and strikes, do wrist grabs (a common method) and how to resist a grab from behind. Other defenses will show attendees how to fight back against hair pulling, strangulation and ground fighting.

Even those who carry other weapons, like firearms, tasers and pepper spray need to know how to physical fight, Tierney warns, in case a weapon is unavailable or physically inaccessible at the time of the attack. She incorporates use of weapons into her physical technique teachings.

She says even those shy at the beginning of the class will be eager to line up to hit the punching bag at the end. Injured and pregnant women are encouraged to attend to learn from the class, even if they cannot physically participate.