Article 3


By Jane Hallandar

(Reprinted from Black Belt magazine, February 1984.)

[Black Belt Magazine]

She was in her kitchen washing lettuce for the evening meal when she heard the front door close with an almost unnatural soft sound. Realizing it was too early for her daughter to be home from school, she hurried into the hallway to find a masked stranger staring at her. The man rushed forward and grabbed her wrist. Rather than panic, she quickly stepped back to interrupt his momentum and throw him off balance. She followed with a smashing attack to his face with the heel of her palm. He released her wrist and grabbed his injured face with both hands. She took advantage of his exposed position to administer a hammerfist to his groin and another open-palm attack to his face. Her would-be attacker immobilized in pain, she ran to a neighbor's home and summoned help.

This could have been a real situation. Seventy percent of all attempted rape attacks occur in the victim's home. The training that enabled the housewife to repel her attacker in this illustration is currently available in San Francisco.

Most martial arts contain programs that include women's self-defense. Unfortunately, not all women are martial artists. Many martial arts require training for several years before the student is able to safely defend herself. The average housewife needs a self-defense program that can be absorbed in a few weeks or months, and one that employs self-defense techniques she can easily understand-with or without any martial arts experience.

June and Julie Castro, daughters of well-known kenpo karate teacher Ralph Castro, provide a six-week course in women's self-defense designed to train the average housewife. Women can learn simple techniques for defending themselves that apply to almost any situation where they might be attacked.

June and Julie both have over 17 years of martial arts training and both hold third-degree black belts in kenpo. Their father owns a large kenpo karate school in San Francisco, where he teaches Shaolin Kenpo, a system passed down to him by his teacher, the highly respected William Chow.

The Castro girls' self-defense course, appropriately named "Fighting Back is Ladylike", is taught throughout the San Francisco area and is specifically geared toward women who aren't interested in learning martial arts, but who do want to be able to defend themselves. The course prepares women for actual situations where they may need to defend themselves--in an elevator, at home, while pushing a shopping cart, sitting down somewhere, and even while sleeping.

The Castros don't initially teach the basics of kenpo. Instead, they teach self-defense. The techniques are practical and efficient. Kenpo basics are incorporated into the techniques in a manner that doesn't interfere with the self-defense training.

Ralph Castro's Shaolin Kenpo system is an ideal foundation from which to build self-defense techniques for the non-martial artist. In Shaolin Kenpo, combinations of techniques are emphasized, using both hands and feet if necessary. The techniques for June and Julie's women's self-defense classes are simple, effective and easily learned. The same combination of techniques can be used in many different self-defense situations. Castro stresses the importance of speed and accuracy (knowing where and how to strike) to counteract the effects of an opponent's superior size and strength.

As a father, Castro wanted his two girls to know how to defend and protect themselves, so he taught them kenpo with a strong emphasis on the self-defense aspects. It's this extensive background in martial arts and women's self-defense that makes June and Julie Castro well qualified to instruct their classes.

They structure their classes toward women who don't know how to fight back. Several years ago, they took a university course called "Psychology of Violence Against Women" and learned that most women are brought up to be passive and to not assert themselves. Because many women behave in a passive manner, they are not attacked in the same way that men are. Men are often approached with a lapel grab, while women will be grabbed by the wrist or hair. Women are also victims of front or rear throat chokes, arm-locks or mouth gags.

Men who attack women are usually looking for a special kind of victim. They want their attack to be an easy one, without any undue trouble or disturbance. The potential victim may be waiting for a bus, standing hunched over with her arms crossed, staring at her feet. "Her body language says, 'Please don't attack me, I'm scared,'"June notes.

The Castros' students are taught to recognize what a would-be attacker might look like. They are instructed not to take people at face value and to be cautious and aware, but not paranoid.

Students learn what Julie and June call the "Oh nos." "Oh nos" are timid reactions brought about where a woman fears an attack. For instance if a women is followed, an "Oh no" is fearfully choosing not to turn and face the attacker. Instead, she says "Oh no," keeps walking, and actually waits for the attack to come.

What the Castros do to alleviate this problem is to incorporate awareness training into their women's self-defense course. They teach their students to be assertive and to project picture of confidence to the attacker. Instead of standing at the bus stop with a victim's attitude, the student learns to stand erect, look casually around her, and project an "I'm confident, I'm not going to let you attack me, and I will fight back" attitude. The awareness training is taught in discussion-group sessions.

Of course, the student still has to learn to physically protect herself. She won't always be able to deter her attacker simply by projecting a confident attitude. Before they learn actual techniques, June and Julie's students learn the difference between struggling and fighting. Struggling only makes an attacker angry, but if a woman puts her energy into striking the right targets, her attacker can be quickly disabled.

From the very beginning, the Castros' students learn where and how to strike their assailant. The classes deal with both the psychological and physical aspects of knowing how to fight. The Castro girls feel that believing in your capabilities is half the battle.

Since initially they don't expect their students to know how to fight, the Castros start women out with open-hand techniques, such as palm-heel strikes. Palm-heel techniques don't take a great deal of strength and can be quickly mastered by any woman.

The Castros also emphasize that the size of the attacker doesn't matter, because vital spots all feel the same when struck-very painful. They tell their students to "get in shape, because if you can push, you can punch, and if you can walk, you can kick."

Their self-defense techniques are simple and effective. Students are taught combination strikes of at least three consecutive techniques. If the victim misses the attacker's groin, she always has a quick follow-up available to his head.

Essentially, the same technique is used for most situations, with only slight variation. This allows the student to perfect one combination of strikes during the six-week course. She doesn't have to, or need to, learn the many kenpo techniques usually taught to combat different situations.

The basic technique the Castros teach is to first either step back or go toward the assailant (depending upon his attack) in order to destroy his momentum and balance. The victim then directs the heel of her palm against his nose. He is now exposed to her continued attack. She follows with a hammerfist to his groin. As he doubles over in pain, she directs another palm strike to his face. If she uses a kick in conjunction, it will usually be a low, back-thrust kick to his kneecap.

This technique works well against a left, right, or two-handed wrist grab or a front choke. When grabbed by the lapel and pulled toward her attacker, the victim varies the basic technique only in that she steps toward, rather than away, from him.

If she is sitting, perhaps with her legs crossed, the victim can first jam her foot into the assailant's knee. Then she might administer a double palm to his ears, followed by a palm-heel strike to his face. If necessary, she can easily push or kick him, since he'll be in a great deal of pain by then.

If the victim is sitting and doesn't have her legs crossed, a straight punch to the mugger's groin is a very effective way to quickly end an attack. Ralph Castro has a student who is confined to a wheelchair, who after only six lessons used this technique to put an end to an attack against him on the street.

Rather than teach their students to depend on weapons such as knives or mace, June and Julie stress the point that a woman's own body is the ultimate weapon. They teach that, no matter where she is or whatever situation she's in, she likely still has use of her arms and legs for weapons.

One reason the Castros instruct their students in the limitations of weapons is because weapons, such as a knife or blunt object, can be easily taken away from most women. When it is taken away, the weapon is then often used against the woman. If women are taught to depend on something like mace or a hatpin, they learn to put their confidence in everything except themselves.

The Castros do give their women's self-defense students instruction in the use of everyday weapons, but they emphasize the importance of a weapon only as an extension of the user's hand. They teach their students that mace, for instance, is not enough in itself, and that the woman must be ready to follow through with some thing else.

One of the final and most important subjects taught in June and Julie's self-defense class is that of attitude. Attitude often helps to prevent an attack when the woman presents herself in a calm, confident manner. If the confrontation can't be averted, then attitude may save the woman's life or property. She learns not to scream, because her attacker will often react violently to control her and passersby, as often as not, will choose not to get involved anyway.

Instead, the Castro students learn to get mad, but not out of control emotionally. They react as if the attacker is invading their space or do main, and they are prepared to defend it and hurt him if necessary. The victim uses her anger to her advantage by showing her assailant that not only is she not frightened, but she is capable of doing him damage if he persists.

June and Julie's students are trained to react quickly to any given situation. It's one thing to stop and think of the right move before acting when inside a martial arts studio, but outside, on the street, students have to be able to act before they think. Most attackers don't give (heir victims any time to plan their defense.

The Castros' women's self-defense course is not intended to be a traditional martial art form. Traditional self-defense instruction is equally as effective, but not for the everyday housewife who has no interest in learning a martial art. She may, however, have an interest in her own protection, and that's the purpose of June and Julie Castro's class.

About the Author: Jane Hallander is a freelance writer and photographer from the San Francisco area. A regular contributor to BLACK BELT, KARATE ILLUSTRATED and FIGHTING STARS magazines, she has had articles published both' in the United States and abroad.

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