LOA self-defense workshops empower participants: ‘Giving people a sense of agency’

Day Blake (junior) practices self-defense techniques with Michelle Pereira. Los Angeles, CA. April 5, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Occidental’s Love Ourselves Anonymous (LOA) club invited self-defense instructors Michelle Pereira-Henriquez and Magdalena Díaz from Empowerment Self Defense (ESD) Global to campus to teach a three-day self-defense workshop April 2, 3 and 5. According to the LOA Instagram page, the club promotes empowerment and self-love through student events on campus.

Pereira-Henriquez said they have facilitated workshops at other colleges, and any group or organization can invite them to teach. Pereira-Henriquez said it is important for college students to feel they can set boundaries and have autonomy over their lives through self-defense. During the workshop at Occidental, Pereira-Henriquez said they taught participants palm-strike techniques and strategies to escape strangulation. They also taught activities that went beyond physical self-defense techniques, including intuitive and meditative exercises and bystander intervention practices.

Yareimy Patrocinio (sophomore) said she participated in all of the workshops as it was her first time learning self-defense.

“I thought it was gonna be super physical, and that seemed a little intimidating to me,” Patrocinio said. “But in the email that they sent out, it clearly stated that it was trauma-informed, and as a survivor, things being trauma-informed is very important to me. Just because it makes me feel a little bit safer — makes me feel like it’s a space that I’ll be affirmed at. And I think that was true in the three events that I attended.”

Michelle Perreira and Magdalena Diaz demonstrate self-defense techniques to students at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 5, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Pereira-Henriquez said the instructors try to help people feel safe in the workshops through different strategies like allowing people to opt out of activities they do not want to do and making it a confidential space.

“Primarily, we have to be very mindful of where people are at in their journeys,” Pereira-Henriquez said. “So giving people a sense of agency in whatever they do, or don’t do, during these workshops, providing support, really touching on the different aspects of safety.”

Pereira-Henriquez said self-defense is not just about physical safety but is also for emotional, spiritual and mental safety.

According to Díaz, ESD Global trains people in self-defense strategies and certifies trainers to teach self-defense to others. Díaz said she has been doing anti-violence work for about 10 years by working with survivors of interpersonal violence through legal advocacy. Pereira-Henriquez said they also work as a sexual assault clinical supervisor at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and has facilitated the self-defense workshops for about four years.

Pereira-Henriquez said learning self-defense is important for the safety of individuals and entire communities.

“A lot of the time, law enforcement is not going to keep you safe. Law enforcement might make things worse in certain communities — there’s not a lot of resources, there’s not a lot of healthcare or mental health support,” Pereira-Henriquez said. “And so I think being able to receive some of that from self-defense or keeping each other accountable is really helpful and effective for a lot of communities.”

Patrocinio said attending the workshops increased her confidence levels.

“Not only do I think I was affirmed by it, but also it made me feel more powerful within myself,” Patrocinio said.

Day Blake (junior) and Peer Language Advisor Kenji Montecinos at a self-defense class at Stewie Beach at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. April 5, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Patrocinio said she most enjoyed learning the palm-striking technique. The instructors told the participants to say “no” aloud as they did the strikes, and Patrocinio said the activity helped her to better vocalize her boundaries.

“I realized that I have trouble saying no but also yelling no. And then the instructor came up to me, she was like, ‘Why don’t you try saying yes?’” Patrocinio said. “And I said yes, and I felt more comfortable saying yes, and she was like, ‘Think of saying no as saying yes to yourself and yes to your boundaries.’ Ever since then I just felt so much more confident in being able to say no, and being able to not only do the physical act of self-defense but also just vocalizing.”

Díaz said the ultimate goal for everyone doing this work is to help people feel empowered to set boundaries and to eradicate violence at all levels.

“Self-defense is not just about if someone is physically attacking you; that’s one layer, but even in setting boundaries in friendships and relationships and families, feeling empowered to act for what you’re worth, might that be in a job or in a relationship,” Díaz said. “And hopefully, if the participants are able to do that in their communities, other folks in their communities will see that and feel also empowered to do the same.”