In a simulated self-defense move designed to escape a potential attacker, 104-pound 2nd Lt. Coraviece Terry throws off the restraining hand of Staff Sgt. Timothy Noel, while team member Todd Engelman observes. The Wright Patterson airmen will teach others at the base the Gracie self-defense techniques they learned this week. (Michele Eaton/Air Force)
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Ninety airmen and civilians from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, are finishing up a week of learning the Gracie technique of self defense, which is meant to develop their mental, physical, spiritual and social well-being.
After finishing the Gracie Academy Self Defense Systems course today, the airmen and civilians will be tasked with teaching the self defense techniques they have learned to others at Wright-Patterson, said Col. Cassie Barlow, commander of the base and the 88th Air Base Wing. The lessons’ applicability go far beyond the physical skills that students master.
“The mental piece of the Gracie self defense course is all about creating a level of assertiveness with our airmen and having them understand that they can be assertive and how to be assertive, creating more self confidence in our airmen and creating a self efficacy as well,” Barlow told Air Force Times on Thursday.
“On the social side: We have a lot of very young airmen who are coming from all sorts of different walks of life and it’s important for them to have their own self-awareness and for them to understand social distancing and for them to understand what a healthy relationship is and to make meaningful connections. I think that the Gracie self defense course reinforces all of those things for our airmen.”
Gracie Academy self defense classes are also offered at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. In November, an officer at Minot said he helped bring the classes to the base because he felt the self defense techniques airmen learn could prevent sexual assaults.
“Every sexual assault must have three pieces: a perpetrator, a target and an opportunity,” 5th Security Forces Squadron Deputy Commander Maj. Tyrone Bess said at the time. “Sexual assault cannot happen unless all three pieces are there.”
The Air Force is not encouraging bases to offer self defense classes to prevent sexual assault, said Lt. Col. Jill Whitesell, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Pentagon.
“We applaud those bases for offering these classes, as self-defense is a great skill to have for any airman’s personal protection; however, we do not view it as a way to prevent sexual assault,” Whitesell said in an email to Air Force Times on Wednesday. “Prevention measures for sexual assault need to focus on the predator. Self-defense puts the onus of ‘prevention’ on our victims and prevention is not the victim's responsibility.”
But Barlow said that reducing sexual assault was not a factor in her decision to bring the self defense courses to Wright-Patterson.
“I really want airmen to understand that they can set boundaries; they can set social distancing and they can be more aware of their surroundings; they can be assertive with each other and they can be more self confident — that’s what I want airmen to understand,” she said. “I also want them to understand that there’s a way of having a healthy relationship and there’s a way of having an unhealthy relationship and that they can make meaningful connections with friends and still have appropriate social distances.”
Kristin Davis contributed to this report.