It could happen in an instant.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives. That’s why eight Ponte Vedra High School students recently completed a self-defense class to learn the skills needed to protect themselves in a dangerous situation.
The Abduction and Rape Response Tactics (ARRT) class is the signature course of The Women’s Defense Company located in Bartram Park. The six-hour class teaches fundamental defense techniques and culminates with a simulated attack in which participants have to use the skills they learned to fend off an attacker.
Sixteen-year-old Darby Bishop, who attended the class June 24 with seven of her friends, said she feels better prepared to defend herself. Although a six-hour class may seem daunting to some – especially to high school-aged girls – Bishop said the time passed quickly, as the class was packed with useful information.
“It was a lot, but it didn’t feel as long as it actually was because you learn so much that (time) just flew by,” Bishop said. “It was all worth it.”
The event was organized by her father, Ben Bishop, who wanted his daughter to know not only how to react and defend herself, but also how to minimize the chance of being put in a dangerous situation through increased awareness. Through research, he stumbled across The Women’s Defense Company.
“I just think it was critical, at least for my comfort, to teach them how to fight every step of the way,” Bishop said. “That’s the one thing that my daughter Darby came back saying is that you scream ‘no’ with every move you make and you don’t stop no matter what. You’re never compliant with the bad guy. God forbid any of them are ever in that situation, but hopefully this helps them in the future.”
At the end of the class, each participant has to walk into a large, dark room where they individually have to defend themselves against a simulated attack using the techniques they learned.
“It’s pretty intense,” Bishop said of the simulated attack. His daughter found the experience scary but empowering.
The Women’s Defense Company is owned and operated by Chris Oklevitch, a former Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office reserve officer, former protection officer with the Federal Reserve System, and former crime analyst with the Department of Children and Families. Oklevitch opened the business in 2012 after receiving numerous requests from friends and acquaintances wanting to know how to protect themselves.
“You have plenty of martial arts programs out there, but we found that the typical woman that we deal with wasn’t interested in pursuing a long career in the martial arts – they just wanted to come in and try to learn the basics, realistic things they could use to defend themselves,” Oklevitch said. “They can take a one-day class and keep that information with them for the rest of their lives.”
The six-hour ARRT class – one of many programs available at the The Women’s Defense Company – begins with a discussion on current crimes and occurrences facing women today, especially sexual assault.
“We try to get them into the mindset of it’s not enough just to stand there and try to defend yourself,” Oklevitch said. “These criminals have made a plan, they know what they want to do to you and by you just trying to react to everything that they are doing, you are always behind the curve.”
Oklevitch advises participants to try to put themselves in the mindset of the attacker.
“I tell them you have to attack your attacker,” he said. “You have to put yourself in the criminal’s shoes and you have to make them your victim instead of you being the victim.”
Participants are also instructed in how to “fight smarter,” he added.
“We tell them, ‘you’re never going to win a battle of strength against somebody stronger than you but you can fight smarter,’ and the way that we fight smarter is we go looking for vulnerable spots on the human body and then we teach them some really fundamental but powerful skills they can use to attack those targets.”
The ARRT class is for females ages 14 and over, or ages 11-13 with an adult.
In addition to women’s self-defense classes, The Women’s Defense Company offers children’s self-defense classes, weapons defense, corporate seminars, a girls’ night out class, a safety seminar for real estate professionals and an active shooter seminar.