Most universities have safety programs on campus, but it is not very common for a program to mix religious discussion with self-defense techniques for students to use in case of an attack.
Amethyst Bennett is a martial arts black belt and a student at USF who teaches a women’s self-defense class at the USF Baptist Collegiate Ministries (USFBCM) building.
“The thought process behind it is the self-defense,” Bennett said. “We do talk about the religious aspect … about the fact that being Christian shouldn’t prevent you from doing self-defense, but the techniques are solid for anyone.”
Though self-defense is the focus of the class, instructors do take time out of each session to talk about the lessons of Christ and encourage prayer.
Bennett began teaching the class after meeting her boyfriend’s father, Jack Fernandez, who is a black belt and the instructor of another Christian-based self-defense class held at USFBCM.
“It truly was a calling,” Fernandez said. “When my son first started here, within the first four months, there were four sexual attacks on campus … and at that time I felt that it’s sad that this is going on; a little bit of self-defense might help some of these students.”
Fernandez said both he and Bennett have their own specialties when it comes to the lessons they teach in their classes.
Fernandez said he emphasizes awareness and preparedness during his self-defense class so students can recognize dangerous situations and avoid them.
This includes not letting oneself be distracted by cellphones in public spaces and being able to use everyday objects as weapons. Fernandez said a victim could use a comb with a pointed handle to stab an attacker, or use hairspray as a “poor man’s pepper spray.”
Bennett, on the other hand, prefers to teach unarmed self-defense and advises students attending her class to use cellphones as a crime deterrent by calling a friend and telling them their location and where they’re headed. She also recreates real-life self-defense scenarios and works with students on how to escape these situations.
“My class is very relaxed,” Bennett said. “The girls come in, I have the (punching) bags there, and I present a situation. If someone’s got me in a chokehold, what do I do?”
An effective defense to a chokehold is “a couple of quick elbows.” Bennett said she often spends the rest of the lesson practicing the moves used to get out of those situations.
The instructors said these lessons are not only meant to teach students about building self-defense skills, but are also designed to help students develop a self-defense mindset.
Though one of the most important aspects of self-defense is being aware of one’s surroundings, Fernandez said many students are often not vigilant enough or are simply unaware of the danger they may place themselves in when walking alone at night or in areas with a high crime rate.
Bennett also emphasized that walking with confidence is an effective way to deter personal attacks, and she makes it a point to teach this in her class. She said it is less likely for people to be attacked if they appear to know how to defend themselves, and this appearance is easier to maintain if a person has built confidence through the knowledge of self-defense techniques.
Regarding the religious aspect of each class, both instructors stated they remind students that they shouldn’t refrain from learning how to defend themselves because of their religion.
“Being Christian doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat or that you have to be a victim,” Fernandez said. “Different areas of the Bible which we talk about … specifically say you can use self-defense.”
While the classes are Christian-based, Fernandez and Bennett both said that a student does not have to be Christian to attend, and the self-defense lessons they teach apply to anyone.
In the future, Fernandez said that he would like to expand this program to other BCMs in colleges throughout the state and one day “work himself out of a job” by teaching students to become class instructors at each college.
“What I want to do is teach a group here to take over and teach a group at UT (University of Tampa) to take over and just kind of spread it,” he said. “We don’t teach martial arts … what we teach is nuts and bolts.”
Fernandez’s self-defense class is normally taught Mondays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Bennett’s women’s only self-defense class is taught Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 5:50 p.m.