Would you know how to defend yourself if attacked?

Taos Systema Martial Arts offers women's self-defense courses to build skills, confidence

By Cindy Brown
For the Taos News
Posted 9/26/19

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, in which you or someone you love is being attacked, would you know how to react?Tania Glenn of Taos Systema Martial Arts explained that …

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Would you know how to defend yourself if attacked?

Taos Systema Martial Arts offers women's self-defense courses to build skills, confidence


If you find yourself in an emergency situation, in which you or someone you love is being attacked, would you know how to react?

Tania Glenn of Taos Systema Martial Arts explained that when we encounter an emergency situation, we freeze while our brain scans for information on how to react. If there is not information, we may stay frozen. However, if you have taken a class on self-defense, when the emergency arises, you will have the background to know how to respond.

Glenn and Tony Oviedo are offering a six-week course on women's self-defense every Wednesday evening from 5 to 6 p.m. at Taos Systema Martial Arts, 1027 Salazar Road, Suite 3, Taos. The class began in early September and runs through Oct. 9. Drop-ins are welcome and the next series of classes is planned for February 2020.

The class

At the first class in the series, the instructors Glenn and Oviedo led five women through a warmup and introduction to the system of self-defense. The participants introduced themselves and explained why they are attending the class. Reasons include wanting to get moving; to develop and grow confidence; to fill in gaps from previous classes; to be social; and to learn ways to defend themselves even though they are physically small.

After the warmup, Oviedo explained that "the purpose of the course is to learn to protect ourselves and create a calm state of mind."

He added that each person is responsible for knowing her own limits and keeping herself safe.

By way of introduction, he explained that there are two kinds of conflict. The first is a competition where there are rules, often an official to keep the event fair and the opponents are evenly matched, such as a boxing bout. The second kind is an ambush. In this case, you are likely to be at a disadvantage and there is no one to keep it safe or fair.

The heart of the lesson is learning to use "high-percentile strikes" to disable your attacker. These are techniques that wouldn't be allowed in a fair fight, but when you are ambushed or attacked, the fight by definition is not fair.

The high-percentile strikes target vulnerable parts of the body of the attacker, including eyes, ears, throat, groin and knees. A series of slaps and strikes are introduced, and the participants pair up to practice carefully striking the eye area and slapping against the ear to throw an attacker off balance. Each one gives thought to what they might be willing to do if attacked.

The instructors introduce the concept of distances of attack - or how close the attacker is to you. The first two distance stages are outside of touch and within touching range. The participants experiment with being approached by a partner and noticing when they begin to feel uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, it is much more uncomfortable to be approached from behind.

There are steps you can take to position yourself for defense even before your attacker is within touching range. Everyone learns how to move when approached so that they stand slightly off-center from the attacker, keeping hands in front of their bodies so that they are ready to strike the attacker if necessary.

Women only

In this setting, other than the instructor Oviedo, all the participants are women. "We realize for women that it can be challenging coming to a martial arts class when you may be the only woman. This self-defense class creates a safe and comfortable space for women to learn," said Glenn.

As part of the class, the women talk about overcoming societal messages that tell women they need to be polite and accommodating. The instructors explain that in research on predators, it has been shown that a predator watches for people with submissive or distracted body language in picking their intended victim. Oviedo pointed out that attack usually doesn't come suddenly - the attacker usually tests boundaries, getting closer and closer to see if there is resistance.

The homework for the first class is to practice saying "no" to friends and family in a forceful way using strong body language and the defensive position that has been taught. After the second class, everyone will give thought to situations that scare them that might be addressed through self-defense.

The practice of taking the lessons outside of class allows what is learned in class to begin to be integrated into real life, where it can build confidence and peace of mind.

"I have a passion for women's empowerment," said Glenn. "There are several ways to become empowered, such as learning to care for your body, health and finances. Knowing how to protect yourself brings empowerment from a primal level, something you experience viscerally inside your body. When it is really integrated, those skills will be available to you today and years from now, when you need them."

Taos Systema Martial Arts

The approach to self-defense that is being taught comes from a Russian method known as Systema. As part of the class, the women learn about four principles: breath, movement, structure of the human body and relaxation.

As explained on the Taos Systema website: "Systema, the Russian martial art, is a 'system,' a methodology for learning self-control, movement, self-defense and combat survival. It treats the human being as a whole; body, mind and soul. The goal is not just to become a better fighter or learn some self-defense (that's just the icing on the cake). The goal is to become a better human."

The system was used by Russian military special operations units and brought to the West where it was first introduced in Canada. The idea is that the basic principles can be used not only in self-defense but also to address the stresses of everyday life with a calmer mind and a stronger body.

Glenn is in training to become a Systema instructor and Oviedo has been studying Systema for the past seven years and has more than a decade of experience in karate, fencing, taekwondo, aikido and kung fu.

Future classes

The next few classes will explore escaping if you are grabbed and also how to defend yourself from knife and gun threats. The next series of classes will begin in February 2020. Fees are by donation, according to the website.

Taos Systema Martial Arts is located with Full Circle Acupuncture at 1027 Salazar Road, Suite 3, Taos. Call (505) 927-8336 for more information or visit the website at nmsystema.com. See Facebook for updates on classes.


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