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Penn State Club Taekwondo Spreading Safety Awareness Through Self-Defense Class Partnerships

As Penn State students continue to progress through another dreary State College spring semester, it can feel unsettling walking to or from class in the dark during the winter months.

Statistically, young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are at higher risk of crimes such as stalking, sexual assault, and dating violence, and women are primarily the targets of crimes like this.

On campus, Club Taekwondo has begun hosting partnership seminars to educate students on ways to protect themselves. Club Taekwondo is affiliated as a club sport through the Office of Student Affairs at Penn State and accepts members of all backgrounds.

President Abigail Frey encouraged all members interested in the club to attend a practice and iterated that no prior experience or knowledge is necessary.

The group practices “World Taekwondo,” which consists of sparring techniques, poomsae, conditioning, yoga, and fight nights where club members spar with each other. They also have social events and prioritize creating a family environment within the club.

Club Taekwondo has partnered with CHAARG, Sisters On The Runway, and other clubs to uplift a general understanding of self-defense and some basic tactics to be familiar with.

“It is important to share these methods because we want to empower individuals to feel safe and confident in their own ability to get out of a hard situation,” Frey said. “The bottom line is that you never know what could happen, so we try to spread our knowledge of self-defense techniques to help others prioritize smart and quick safety.”

“Hopefully, after we teach people the information that we know, they will share that same information with their friends and their friend’s friends and so on, until it reaches as many people as possible,” said Frey.

Club Taekwondo coaches Luke Cantrel, Faith Sheaffer, Maddie Yuhasz, and Frey shared three basic tactics that are typically demonstrated in their seminars and explained how to carry them out.

Front Choke/Shirt Grab

Attacker: The attacker stands in front of the victim and grabs onto the top of their shirt or throat with both hands.

Defender: The defender will begin by stepping back with one leg while rotating their torso in the direction of the step. This is designed to pull the attacker off balance. The defender should then raise their front arm up over their head, bring that arm across their body and over the attacker’s arms, clasp their raised hand with their other hand, and pull both arms down to break the grip.

Defenders should also lower their bodies into a squat-like stance as they pull their arms down to generate greater momentum for the grip break while also establishing better balance and stability. Once free of the grip, the defender is free to make a counter strike, if necessary, to stun the attacker before retreating to a safe location.

Cross Wrist Grab

Attacker: The attacker will likely use their dominant arm to grab your opposite hand. They are facing the defender, so in this case, assume that they used their right hand to grab the defender’s right wrist.

Defender: The defender will bring their free hand across their body, where their hand should make a closed fist, with the palm facing their ear. From there, they will swing their arm down and across their body, striking the attacker’s hand at wrist level and pulling the wrist that is being grabbed back to the hip so that when the block strikes the attacker’s wrist.

This will cause the attacker’s grip to release slightly and allow the defender’s wrist to escape the hold. The defender now has both arms free and can disengage or react as necessary.

Ponytail/Hair Grab

Attacker: The attacker grabs your ponytail or hair from behind you with one of their hands. First, turn slightly to see which hand is holding onto your hair. For this example, say the attacker is holding with their right hand.

Defender: Using the same hand they’re grabbing with (here, your right hand), slide your hand underneath theirs so that your hand is closer to your head than theirs. This will lessen the attacker’s ability to move your head around by pulling your hair and give you more control of your own head movements.

Create a fist with your free hand and ensure your thumb is tucked underneath instead of wrapped inside your fist, turn your fist so the back, flat part faces sideways, and turn your body in the direction of your fisted hand.

As you turn, hit the attacker in the body or face with the back of your fist as hard as you can. The best place to aim is the attacker’s stomach region. Once you strike the attacker, they are likely to loosen their grip on your hair for a few seconds. At this point, you want to use your right hand to pull your hair out of their grasp. 

Sheaffer also provided things to keep in mind when using this method.

“In this situation, one of their hands is still free,” Sheaffer said. “Keep your distance until you’re ready to do the self-defense technique, as they could hit you with their free hand. If it doesn’t work right away, keep trying. Bide yourself time and don’t give up. Be loud. A passerby is likely to hear you and call for help or the attacker might leave to avoid the attention.”


Frey also provided some common tips for safety at night, including walking with one earbud instead of two to increase awareness, informing others of your whereabouts, and always being observant and prepared.

Folks can reach out to the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response for more information about safety or to report a crime.

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About the Author

Nina Jeffries

Nina Jeffries is a senior secondary education English major, minoring in English from Uniontown, PA. If you don't know where that is, you're not alone. She's a Pittsburgh girl at heart, has an unhealthy obsession with "The Office", and still is in denial about One Direction breaking up. You can follow her on Twitter @njeffries06 and reach out to her email [email protected].

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