After nearly a decade of offering self defense, interest still increasing

The Denver Police Department has offered the class since 2010

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For nearly 10 years, Sgt. Noel Ikeda with the Denver Police Department has been teaching women the skills they need to protect themselves in the event of an assault. But for Ikeda, it’s also about teaching women to embrace the strength they’ve always had.

“Women are especially powerful,” he said. “My hope is that they’re empowered — they’re empowered with the fact that they’re confident, that they know that they are powerful.”

In 2010, Police Chief Paul Pazen, who was a lieutenant with District 1 in northwest Denver at the time, came to Ikeda with the idea to offer free self-defense classes for women. Ikeda has more than 20 years of experience teaching martial arts and is certified to teach Krav Maga, a form of martial art he teaches at the Denver Police Academy.

The Denver police started the classes, Ikeda said assaults against women were increasing, and DPD wanted to help provide women with a way to defend themselves.

Since then, Ikeda said the class has become an “ever-evolving” staple for the police department. What started as a two-hour class became four hours with classroom time on crime prevention and learning different Krav Maga techniques. Over time, the police department also began offering more classes — from one class per quarter to six a year.

Since 2010, between 3,000 and 4,000 women have taken the class, Ikeda said. In 2018, 1,000 women participated, an increase from 650 the year before, a growing interest that Ikeda attributes to the #MeToo movement. Classes have been filling up quickly, he said.

Now, the class is offered for free, once a month, for Denver residents. The five-hour class starts with a 90-minute presentation talking about crime statistics and what women can do to prevent becoming a victim of an assault.

Often, lone women are first targeted for crimes such as robbery, and the perpetrator sees an opportunity for rape or sexual assault, Ikeda said. He recommended people don’t leave personal information in their cars or walk by themselves in dark alleys. Even simple things like changing your daily routine can prevent people from being the target of a crime, he said. Paying attention to your surroundings, as well as listening to your instinct, is also key.

The remainder of the class is spent on the mat, learning some of the techniques taught to recruits at the Denver Police Academy. Ikeda added that the classes have been fluid, adding specific types of moves after getting feedback from women who have taken the class.

“Any evals we get, we are always listening,” Ikeda said. “We always want to improve these particular classes.”

Throughout his years of teaching the class, Ikeda has had an important sidekick join him — his 18-year-old daughter. Ikeda, who has 32 years of martial arts experience, started teaching his daughter martial arts when she was 7. She started volunteering at the DPD classes five years ago at 13. Bringing his daughter along helped show women their own strengths.

“I’m 6 feet tall. What is a 6-foot-tall Asian male going to teach (these women) in self defense?” he said. “But when you look at my daughter, who’s maybe 5 feet 5 inches, maybe 120 pounds, and she’s yelling and screaming, they look at her and they say `If she can do it, I can do it.’ ”

Part of his motivation for teaching the class was to help his daughter learn about empowerment and to show her that women are also strong and capable of fighting back. He hopes that women will pass on their knowledge from the class.

As a child, Ikeda came from an immigrant family who spoke Japanese and eventually learned English. Learning martial arts helped teach him confidence, he said. Teaching the self-defense class with the DPD is one way he can pay it forward.

“Martial arts and self-defense has provided me with a tremendous amount of benefits and I just want to pass that on,” Ikeda said. “The confidence that comes out of a class, that’s rewarding in and of itself.”

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