Originally published in The Miami Student in November 2017

It was Thursday. It was dark. I was Uptown, walking alone past a brooding Brick Street and suspicious cars tucked in alleyways. Walking alone at night reminds me of horror stories from family and friends, sexual assault notifications and the statistics that aren’t in my favor.

This is what drives the demand behind the women’s self-defense classes run by Tier 2 Defense. Tier 2 CEO Chris Cravens has eight years of experience in the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry, followed by work for a protective agency. Cravens also protected for a time on behalf of the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS. The Tier 2 self defense syllabus for both law enforcement classes and women’s self-defense classes on college campuses is based on his experience.

I was on my way to Tier 2’s first-ever lesson at the Oxford Community Arts Center. The lesson ran from 7-9 p.m. (Another class marketed to Miami students is coming up on Nov. 30).

Despite spending the better part of the past year attending krav maga classes and learning tae kwon do, judo and hapkido with Miami’s Red Dragons martial arts club, I was about to find out I had been too tense to be able to effectively defend myself on my walk home in the dark.

While women’s self defense classes are often free of charge, they are nowhere near as intensive as the mindset training and maneuvers Tier 2 instructor Justin Goshorn focused on. He trained for a time in Langley, Virginia, to prepare for his current position, but he first worked for Tier 2 as a janitor before working his way up to an instructor.

Most self-defense classes offer a brief mindset or attitude training, but Goshorn began by pulling up a PowerPoint presentation complete with bullet points covering the legal rights of someone facing an assailant.

While you do have the right to defend yourself, Goshorn said that “you must be able to demonstrate you were not the initial aggressor,” since your attacker can file a civil suit if you injure them in a fight.

“You can’t punch someone just because they harrassed you at a bar,” he said.

If you’re unable to prove this in a court of law, consequences can land on you instead of the aggressor.

“You may be charged with assault even if you only use the force necessary to defend yourself,” Goshorn said.

However, the legal definition of aggression extends to the verbal kind as well — for example, if someone is intentionally intimidating you to get in their car.

Goshorn recommended escaping a situation as quickly as possible to avoid a lawsuit. He then moved on to what you should do before, during and after a potential physical altercation.

“This is more applicable to your daily life than the moves you’ll learn later on in the training,” Goshorn said.

Being aware of your surroundings can allow you to remove yourself from a situation before it starts. Goshorn also mentioned the importance of having a healthy amount of suspicion about people’s behavior and appearance, but warned that this was relative, citing the most recent high-profile sexual assaults in the news as an example.

“It’s okay to be suspicious of someone wearing a hoodie, but that does not mean a guy in a suit can’t be a potential aggressor,” Goshorn said.

After Goshorn’s presentation, the 38 of us paired up to practice key moves that could apply to multiple situations. Goshorn and his assistant instructor, Chris Kleiner, would demonstrate a maneuver before allowing the class to break out and try the move on each other.

I paired up with a woman who’d been correcting the Chinese characters in her young daughter’s workbook before class started. Her name is Lei Kerr, a Miami University engineering professor.

“I think an attacker would be much taller than me. I need to be able to strike higher,” Kerr said while she practiced a lance strike — a quick hit to the throat with the space between the forefinger and thumb — on my forearm.

Kerr and I also practiced getting out of a hold if an attacker wraps their arms around you from behind, if they push you up against a wall and then if they are on top of you and holding you down.

Goshorn encouraged everyone to return for another class. A two-hour session is educational, he said, but it is not a guarantee that we would be prepared for a potentially dangerous situation years later.

The class was made up of Oxford residents of all sizes and ages, including Joelah Marcum, a 14-year-old who dances regularly at the Flowing Grace School of Dance studio, which hosted the lesson.

“It’s not that you’ll necessarily have to go through this, but it makes you feel confident that you would be able to survive it,” Marcum said.

Marcum and fellow dancer Sarah Webster, 17, asked the instructors questions long after the class ended. What if an attacker pinned you to the wall this way? What if they were holding you down this way?

“You see a bunch of scary stories all over the news and you think, ‘Oh my goodness, would I be able to survive this?” Webster said.

The Tier 2 curriculum does not teach punching, kicking or kneeing techniques because this will supposedly come naturally in a dangerous situation. Goshorn leaves the “nitty gritty” details to traditional martial arts schools and gyms.

On the dark walk back to my dorm, I could tell Brick was packed through the windows. Music blared on both sides of Main Street. But after the Tier 2 Defense class, I felt a bit safer — relaxed, even — on my way to the other side of campus.

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