One look at his teenage daughter’s senior photo on his desk and you understand why Dr. Don Johnson, professor and chair of the psychology department, is so passionate about teaching women self defense.
For the past six years Dr. Johnson, a certified R.A.D. instructor (Rape Aggression Defense) and black belt in both karate and kung fu, has offered women’s self defense and co-ed martial arts instruction as an extracurricular for students. But now Women’s Safety and Self Defense is a new academic course offered by the physical education department. The course teaches basic self-defense skills with an emphasis on risk awareness.
National and world news headlines confirm an increasing need and demand for women’s self defense as a necessary life skill. “By virtue of their gender, women are more likely to be targeted,” Dr. Johnson explained. “That’s the unfortunate reality.” His primary goal is for every female student to become equipped with the “knowledge of how to reduce risk and have the ability to do whatever it takes to keep from becoming a victim.”
But the protector in him goes beyond simply being a concerned father. “I am deeply disturbed by the horror of kidnap, rape and murder,” said Dr. Johnson. “What a nightmare for a family to go through. I can’t objectify these women [as statistics]. They are real people loved by their families.”
For 20 years as a counselor, Dr. Johnson helped women as they overcame the trauma of sexual abuse and assault. Recognizing the importance of prevention, he switched his focus from traditional counseling to instructing women on how to take steps from becoming victims.
“No one expects to be assaulted,” said Dr. Johnson, “but that’s when you are at the most risk—when you think it could never happen to you or someone you know.”
He explains that self defense is a combination of knowledge and skill, but it’s primarily about knowledge. “Ninety percent of it is awareness—avoiding and reducing opportunities (for risk)—and ten percent is knowing what to do in the event of an attack.” He added that without awareness and training that’s ingrained, women usually freeze up when attacked. The course addresses this by teaching practical techniques, including how to control the “fight, flight or freeze” response. “For these women, this isn’t just martial arts. This is survival.”
by Jenny Collins '05