Two women in a gym studio holding targets and wearing boxing gloves

Class Goal: Defend Yourself

Written by Emily Marsh

On a snowy Friday afternoon, I walked into the Splex to meet with Becky Waters, Hillsdale’s women’s self defense instructor. Instead of sitting down in an office, she took me to the room where she usually teaches class to give me a feel for what the class is like. The girls warm up for each class in different ways, from agility ladders to obstacle courses. After we were warmed up from the agility ladders, she showed me some of the statistics they discuss at the beginning of class. For example, the fact that one-in-five women will be assaulted in their lifetimes, or that every 78 seconds an American is assaulted. These are startling stats, and although I wasn’t surprised the numbers were quite high, the immediacy of the statistic made the reason for her class suddenly very clear. 

Becky explained her background in self defense to me. After earning her second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, she realized that although she had learned lots of techniques, she still didn’t feel like she’d be able to confidently protect herself in an emergency, against a bigger or stronger opponent. So she switched to studying Krav Maga, where she was taught how to respond to real life, not just a formulaic, planned situation. 

Stepping into the middle of the studio room, she demonstrated jabs and low kicks, and we practiced for a couple of minutes until I could do the motions confidently. It was empowering to think that I could fight back if someone grabbed my arm or jumped at me. Becky told me this is a huge part of the purpose of the class. Her syllabus says the class exists “to empower the ladies of Hillsdale College to develop awareness to prevent an assault, learn what to do if threatened, establish instincts to protect themselves and others, and perform effective techniques and combinations to combat and neutralize an attack in a fun, hands-on environment with realistic drills while improving optimal fitness training and conditioning.”

Her syllabus mentions having fun in the class, and I was a little surprised at how much she really means it. The girls do drills with a partner, like holding up targets for each other to hit. Becky told me a story from earlier in the semester of two girls practicing their blocks together and laughing hysterically. 

“It’s hard not to be giddy after punching and kicking foam pads with your new friends,” she said. 

After a half-hour of pseudo-class, I understood what she meant. Patricia Fernandez, a student in the self-defense class, said Becky creates games and drills that help the class learn in entertaining and lively ways despite the fact they’re learning critical techniques and maneuvers.

It is a great and energizing study break, and I always get excited to see what we learn next!” Patricia said. Maggie Wackenhut, a freshman in the class, also noted the sense of sisterhood in the class. 

As I spoke with Becky and her students about the class, I felt a more urgent need to fill in my own lack of preparedness. Thankfully, Hillsdale’s campus has been very safe, but these are the kinds of skills that would be relevant for my life beyond these four years. For any woman who might live on her own, work in a city, or even walk to her car at night, this is an important class. But Becky centers the focus on why self-defense is necessary, without fear-mongering. 

“I love learning from Coach Becky because she encourages us to feel confident in our God-given dignity as women,” Patricia said. “She teaches us how to defend the beautiful body that God gave us.” 

For Further Reading:

Dear Freshman Me: Find These Academic Gems

Pursuing Arete at the Splex

Emily Marsh, ’23, studies economics and mathematics. She is a self-diagnosed coffee addict, and she loves the water, meeting new people, and writing (on the good days). Her favorite part of being on campus is people watching when she’s supposed to be doing homework.

Published in March 2021