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Women learn self-defense techniques at Carroll Lutheran School

Self defense for women class at Carroll Lutheren School on Friday, March 11, 2016.

Surrounded by posters emphasizing compassion, generosity and the importance of the Golden Rule, mother faced off against daughters, and friends tried their hardest to maul one another with elbows to the face and knees to the groin at the Carroll Lutheran School on Friday night.

The school was hosting a Women's Self Defense class, in which students — from middle-schoolers to adults — learned tips and tricks on how to stay safe, establish boundaries, and protect themselves.

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Joe Dressel, a fourth-degree black belt in Hapkido and the owner of Hanover Boxing Club in Hanover, Pennsylvania, spent the evening turning aspects of the participants' bodies — their elbows, palms, knees — into vicious weapons, capable of saving their lives.

"I'm not going to teach you how to cartwheel kick someone in the jugular," Dressel said. "I am going to teach you the skills you need to protect yourself."

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Dressel said the skills are not intended to teach women how to survive an extended fight or a boxing match, but rather to provide the tools they need to do damage and escape. Andrew Dean, president of the school's Family Partnership Program, said the event was planned last year but postponed due to snow.

"It's as much of a social event as anything else," Dean said. "It's a thing women in the community can do together. Mothers and daughters, or girlfriends can come out together, [and] have fun."

Skills taught included learning a proper protective stance, with the power foot stepped back, allowing for added maneuverability; how to bypass someone's arms in a protective stance; and how to throw your elbows into the vulnerable parts of your attacker's skull.

Some initially showed hesitance throwing themselves into the moves against their partners and friends. Soon, though, Dressel encouraged everyone to treat the exercise as if it were real.

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Emily Jeffers, 18, and friend Jessica Burrows, 17, spent the evening trying out their new techniques against each other, attempting to get past newfound defenses with vicious strikes. Jeffers said they decided to come to the event together, having wanted to learn self-defense for a long time.

"I wanted to be sure if I ever found myself in a dangerous situation, I was prepared," Jeffers said. "It's so important to know how to defend yourself."

Shannon Zepp attended with her daughter Ashleigh, 14. Shannon said she was looking to refresh skills she had learned while working at the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, while imparting protective knowledge to her daughter long before she heads off to college.

"You never know what could happen," Shannon said. "You have to be prepared to protect yourself in any circumstance."

A parent who had taken a class with Dressel suggested to him that he hold an event like this one. Dressel, who has 15 years of experience as a bouncer in Baltimore City and Owings Mills, teaches karate for the children at the Carroll Lutheran School.

Dean said these types of martial arts are advantageous beyond the combat skills they teach.

"Women come out feeling a sense of empowerment," Dean said. "It's as much about learning self-respect as it is about fighting."

In addition to techniques on how to disable physical attackers, Dressel also dealt with other situations in which personal boundaries might be broken, from how to escape a conversational web with a manipulator to how to read the signs of attack from friends and co-workers.

"Trust your instincts. I'd rather you be a jerk than a victim," Dressel said. "If someone comes up and says 'Hey, could you tell me the time?' it's OK to tell him to get the hell out of your way. It's OK to be that jerk."

Throughout the training, Dressel left his students with vital words of wisdom to remember.

"There are three things that cause an attack: an attacker, a victim and an opportunity," Dressel said. "Remove one and an attack will never happen."

"There's no technique to this. It's a knee to the face," he said. "Don't worry about precision."

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Twitter.com/Jacob_deNobel

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