Toting collapsible white canes, their eyes shrouded in dark glasses, the group of blind Los Angeles-area residents gathered Saturday because they feel they have little defense against an often violent world.
After six hours of specialized training in how to kick, punch and deliver a debilitating blow to the most delicate areas of would-be assailants, the participants said they now have a fighting chance.
"Ugh!" yelped one of the well-padded trainers as an 82-year-old grandmother put him down with a knee to the helmeted head.
The self-defense workshop in Glendora offered instruction in everything from carrying valuables safely to bringing an assailant quickly and painfully to his knees.
"As blind people, most of the predators in society don't expect you to fight back," said instructor Millicent Collinsworth, who is blind. "If you show confidence, if you show aggression, they are going to be completely stumped."
The workshop, sponsored by Project: Blind Ambition and the Glendora Lions Club, is the brainchild of Collinsworth, who believes she is the nation's first blind certified self-defense instructor. After being attacked four times in two years, she said, she had had enough.
"If I was going to survive being blind," Collinsworth said, "I was going to have to learn to defend myself."
Although one of Collinsworth's batterings--by a man who went berserk on a Los Angeles city bus in 1987--was the subject of a television movie, attacks on the blind are anything but unusual, she said.
According to her figures, three out of four blind people are the victims of some type of assault because of their disability.
Of the 19 participants in the workshop on Saturday, 10 had been the victims of more than one attack--from battery to robbery to rape.
"It is always easier to attack someone who appears weaker than you," said Steve Aminoff, who attended with his wife and sister-in-law, all three of whom are blind. "We're here to try and reverse that."
"Follow the sound, follow the sound," called out trainer Michael Belzer as one participant awaited the attack of an "assailant."
Listening closely is indeed the key, said Pam McInnes, who has lost most of her eyesight through a degenerative disease. And she demonstrated how effective a keen ear can be in appraising one's attacker by quickly guessing the precise height, to the inch, of one visitor, and just as quickly feigning blows to his throat, eyes and groin.
Little by little, several participants said, the fear they had known for years began to ebb.
With each forceful shout of "No!" and each jarring kick or well-placed punch to a would-be assailant, they felt that they had taken back a little piece of their lives.
"This is excellent therapy," said McInnes, the victim of a brutal assault.
And if she's ever attacked again, "I'll give it my best shot. At least I won't freeze like I did before."