Local girls learn how to defend themselves

By Ryan Fitzmaurice

Instructors Deputy William Lavine and Deputy Dominic Twomey spent 10 minutes putting on full-body armor.

Chest pads, shoulder pads, knee pads, shin pads, a helmet with a black visor. It was time for their students to show what they have learned. 

“I’m putting on a helmet because I’m going to go hard,” Lavine told the class.”

Evelyn Brown was up. Lavine lurched toward her, a hulking figure with
over 100 pounds on the teenage girl.

“Come here,” Lavine said. “I just want to talk to you.”

“No,” Brown exclaimed. “Stay away.”

With that, Brown leapt into a flying kick, planting her foot into Lavine’s stomach. Lavine crashed onto the floor and Brown’s fellow students cheered. 

“Yeah, it can hurt,” Lavine said after the lesson. “If they hit you in the chest, the pads absorb that pretty well, but there’s not much padding in the groin area.”

Lavine and Twomey got hit in sensitive areas more than once during the exercise Tuesday evening. After staying on the ground a few seconds longer than normal they congratulated their students. This wasn’t about playing fair. This was about learning to escape by any means necessary.

“You’ve got eye-gouge. You’ve got (the) groin-kick,” Lavine instructed the class earlier. “Don’t limit yourself.”

Nine teenage girls attended the self defense class Tuesday, held through Big Horn County School District No. 2 BOCES program and the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department. Tuesday was the third night of the class, with previous classes taking place on March 22 and 24. A fourth and final class is scheduled for March 31.

“We’re mostly looking at the top situations that we see, situations like street fights or abduction situations, positions where young ladies are stuck on the ground or being grabbed from behind or just approached in a strange manner,” Lavine said. “We’re just trying to expose them to as many situations as possible.”

The difference in the students between March 22 and now has been significant, Lavine said.

“The first day, they really were hesitant to even step on the mat,” Lavine said. “Today, I told them to step on the mat, and they all came running on. It’s just the familiarity with the idea that they are going to learn something and find something valuable out of this. The skill progression has surprised me. I didn’t think we would be this far on the third day.”

Students were exposed to multiple situations Tuesday evening. The first exercise had students being grabbed from behind. 

“There’s multiple ways to possibly defeat that,” Lavine said. “The one we’re utilizing is to try and step behind and get the opponent off balance.”

The students then practiced maneuvers to escape being choked from behind and then focused on ways to attack when being suffocated against a wall. 

Deputy Keri Angell gave a presentation on how to be a good witness when at the scene of an attack, which included being aware of surroundings by connecting with one’s senses and remembering license plate details. The presentation also focused on how to respond to being assaulted.

“I’m all for scratching,” Angell said. “That’s collecting DNA. Get some blood.”

“If you’re attacked, don’t be ashamed about it,” Angell added later in the talk. “It’s their problem, not yours.”

Captain Deb Cook also gave a presentation on how to use pepper spray.

“Make a Z,” Angell contributed. “Eyes, nose and mouth.”

Roseannah Brown is unabashed when it comes to stating her favorite part of the class - beating people up. 

“I’ve learned how to defend myself when I’m approached upon,” Brown said. “I’ve learned to stay mad and give it all you’ve got.”

It’s hard work, her sister Evelyn Brown said.

“I’ll go home and be real sore and stuff,” Evelyn said.

The class is light-hearted, encouraging and fun, but at its heart, it’s deadly serious.  

“We have to be violent,” Lavine instructed the class early in the evening. “In a real-life situation, if we are not violent, it’s not going to work.”

Lavine said he has two nieces who are the age of the students in the class. It makes it personal to him. Knowing how to handle oneself in an attack makes every difference. These are skills that are important for everyone to learn.

“If you can control someone who wants to attack you, and you can decide where that fight takes place or if that fight takes place at all by keeping distance and learning how to strike, learning advanced techniques is an amazing way to deter would-be-attackers,” Lavine said. “It’s huge in having confidence in knowing you can defend yourself and to defeat someone who wants to cause you harm.”