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Women Strike Back : Model Mugging course teaches the use of an array of self-defense techniques.


Phyllis Sehrer's attacker clutches her throat from behind and begins to squeeze. But Sehrer does not give in to fear.

Instead, the 61-year-old woman grabs her assailant's pinky fingers by the tips and pries them away from her neck.

And she would like to snap those fingers. But the pain drives the mugger to release Sehrer for a second--long enough for Sehrer to spin around, catching the attacker in the face with the force of her cocked elbow. She could follow with finger jabs to the eyes or blows to the nose and Adam's apple with the heel of her hand. But Sehrer wisely flees while her attacker is momentarily disabled.

Luckily, Sehrer's "mugger" is really a friend. And they are only practicing self-defense techniques for women at a free demonstration at the Westlake Resource Center, presented by instructors from Model Mugging of the Conejo Valley.

Nevertheless, Sehrer and the others in the class realize how easily the scenario could be a life-or-death struggle on a deserted jogging path or at an isolated automated teller machine, or even during a date in their own home.

"Are you worth being treated with respect?" Alexis Margolin asks the 25 women assembled. "YES!" they shout.

"Increasingly we are approached by strangers on the street. And at times they are persistent," says Margolin, 47, who team-teaches the self-defense classes with her 28-year-old daughter, Sandy Margolin.

Model Mugging, a 16-hour intensive hands-on self-defense course specifically designed for women, is offered in several cities around the nation. Some groups, such as the one conducting the courses in Thousand Oaks, operate as nonprofit organizations. The cost of the local course ranges from $275 to $400.

The course is offered to women of all ages. Its techniques, from several martial arts disciplines, have been selected to compensate for women's lack of upper body strength and to help them fight after being knocked to the ground.

A woman's strength is in her legs. So even a petite female can roll on her side and deliver a kick with 600 pounds of pressure to the side of an assailant's knee.

What sets Model Mugging apart from other self-defense courses, Alexis Margolin says, is the emphasis on lifelike scenarios in which women have the opportunity to deliver full-force blows to a well-padded "mugger's" face and groin.

"Most women don't really know what it feels like to hit someone," she says.

In addition, the course emphasizes repetition, Margolin says, so women learn to react automatically.

Except for the "mugger," men are not permitted to attend sessions. Margolin says women need to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics, including verbal or domestic abuse. Some even relive actual experiences through simulation.

"No matter how long ago something happened to you," she says, "we help you relive it as a winner."


* If you are being followed, cross the street or invent a distraction and let the person pass you. But if confrontation is unavoidable, Sandy Margolin advises you to face your opponent. Make eye contact and let the person know you are aware of his presence.

* If someone gets too close for comfort, Alexis Margolin says "raise your arms in front of you, making an X to maintain distance and to be ready to fight."

* Women should also overcome their reluctance to shout. "Men don't expect you to yell," Alexis Margolin says. "But the voice is a very important weapon." You must shout, "NO, BACK OFF," like you really mean it from deep in your gut, she says. "When you bring up that noise, it diverts your fear and raises your adrenaline," she says.

* If someone actually grabs and begins pulling you, resist the instinct to go along. Instead, dig your heels in, regain your composure and lean the other direction.

* If your attacker grabs and lifts you off the ground, wait until he puts you down instead of wasting energy struggling in the air.

* Women can also use the element of surprise. If the person has a weapon, you may have to gain his trust by playing along until you can surprise him.

* If someone grabs you in a bear hug from behind, the Margolins advises women to stomp on the attacker's instep. Then immediately move your hip to one side, lock your elbow and hammer-swing your clenched fist back into the groin. You should then be able to spin around and strike the person in the face with the cocked elbow of the same arm you just used. While he is off-balance, grab the hair and slam the chin down on your raised knee. Then try to escape.

* "The whole thing about fighting is you never stop," Alexis Margolin says. Do not use just one technique and wait to see your attacker's reaction. She says you must yell, bite, kick--in short, do whatever it takes to escape or knock your attacker unconscious.

* Once you have escaped, yell "fire," not "rape" to get attention. If necessary, break the window on a nearby house to get a quick response for help. But if you are in an isolated area where running might only prolong the pursuit, Sandy Margolin says you must be prepared to "finish off" your attacker by any means possible, including jabbing your thumbs into the eyes.

* Even if you are threatened with a weapon, never get into a car with the attacker. Alexis Margolin says, if, for example, you are in a parking lot and get shot, your chances of being helped and recovering from the wound are better than if you go with the attacker to some isolated location.

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