Last Saturday, the Rude Recreation Center erupted with the roars of 100 women newly empowered with self-defense skills. “GET BACK!” they yelled in a flurry of elbows and fists.
This is the Denver Police Department’s free, monthly martial arts class exclusively for women. The program’s been in action since 2010, but instructor and seventh-degree black belt Sgt. Noel Ikeda, says it’s grown substantially in the last year.
The reason? In the era of #MeToo and massive Women’s Marches, Ikeda says Denver’s women are hungry to take action. Learning to fend off an attacker through his pump-you-up instruction style is one way to do just that.
“Women are fed up with everything,” said Dana Parker as she walked out of class with her friend, Kae Stoddard. Both said they felt invigorated after the five-hour class. Especially because she lives alone, Stoddard said, the new confidence delivered with her training will go a long way.
“Anything you can do that makes you feel less vulnerable is important,” she said.
Kaela, 12, whose grandfather brought her to class, agreed. Bullies at school have been a problem lately, she said as she pulled up her pant leg to reveal a healing bruise. Now that she knows how to shimmy out of a headlock, she might be a little safer, but it was something deeper in the instruction that she said made her walk out of the gym with a new sense of confidence. Maybe it’s got to do with the shouting.
“I’m surprised I didn’t lose my voice,” she said.
Sgt. Ikeda said his students take away more than new skills, and it’s not just a simple ego boost either. Giving people any recourse in a dangerous situation is crucial for their eventual recovery, he said.
Ikeda spent a decade as a Denver Police detective, mainly working violent cases from simple assault all the way to murder. In his time interviewing victims, he said, he noticed that people who had no idea how to react often blamed themselves after the fact.
Ikeda’s class also offers a chance to connect DPD with the community they serve. He says a better relationship between cops and citizens improves community policing and ultimately helps prevent crime in the first place.
And this is not lost on Ikeda’s students.
“It’s a good demonstration that they really are on our side. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like that,” Dana Parker said. Looking to current events again, she said, that kind of outreach is important in an era where police slayings of unarmed black men have often dominated headlines.
“We’re vulnerable to the police, too,” she said. “It’s really good to see them doing something to empower us.”
That’s certainly the message Ikeda tries to get across.
“Remember,” he shouted to the gym full of women: “You are powerful. You have a voice. You are confident and you are going to win!”
Then, at his signal, the room again boomed with voices backed up by new skills and fresh ferocity.
If you’re interested in signing up for an upcoming class, you can email Officer Robert Gibbs (firstname.lastname@example.org). Gibbs said July, August and September are available for sign ups, but he expects July will be filled by the end of the week.