Platt Park martial arts school teaches women to defend themselves

The studio is offering free classes through October


Imagine you’re driving a car. You go to make a turn and suddenly another car is there. Quickly, you slam on the brakes preventing a collision.

For Vanessa Spindle, a teacher at Wash Park Martial Arts in Platt Park, learning self-defense is a lot like driving a car. Awareness of your surroundings can go a long way in preventing a potential incident. Even without any physical skills, Spindle said women can use a combination of instinct, direct eye contact and awareness of surroundings to recognize a potential threat.

“Being aware of your surroundings in and of itself is one of the biggest things you can do,” she said. “In that moment of ‘can it be prevented’, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It’s ‘can it be prevented?’ ”

Spindle, who has practiced martial arts for 25 years, has been running seminars and other classes specifically on women’s self-defense for the past three years at Wash Park Martial Arts, 1073 S. Pearl St.

But after a woman was attacked in July on the Platte River Trail in Littleton — she managed to escape her attacker — the studio decided to take action and is offering women two months of free classes. They must attend their first class by the end of October. The offer is for the general adult martial art classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with open mat time on Saturdays.

One of the difficult things about teaching self-defense is getting people to stay in classes long-term, Spindle said.

“What I noticed was that women were going to one class, and it was concerning to me because I didn’t want people coming to an hour-long class and then thinking `Oh I’m good now,’ ” she said. “In some ways I felt I was almost doing a disservice.”

For Spindle, offering the martial arts classes is about more than teaching women a practical skill — it’s also about empowering them to find their own strength.

Over the years of both teaching and taking martial arts classes, Spindle said she has noticed that younger classes are full of girls. But fewer women are taking martial arts classes as they get older. Many of the adult classes she teaches are composed primarily of men, with one or two women here and there.

Women in adult classes tend to follow a pattern, she said.

In the beginning some are timid and apologetic, worried they might hurt someone. As the class goes on, women begin to realize their own strength and to understand they can use martial arts as a way to potentially overpower someone who outweighs them. This moment is one of Spindle’s favorite parts about teaching women.

“At some point, about halfway through class usually, this little switch will flip,” she said. “Suddenly, she’s having the time of her life. It’s like this little beast within usually wakes up.”

A key piece to staying safe, though, is trusting your instinct, Spindle said.

If a woman notices someone that causes her to feel uncomfortable, it’s important to trust that instinct, Spindle said. Many women try to diffuse the situation by ignoring the person or trying to blend into crowds. Instead, Spindle said women should do little things to build confidence — such as maintaining eye contact — and make themselves look like less of a target.

“Really,” she said, “we want to do the opposite and let them know `I see you. You’re not going to sneak up on me, I’m not afraid’ — even if you kind of are.”


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