The self-defense course teaches women how to avoid conflict, work with stress, and find their inner strength

The self-defense course taught Roma women how to avoid conflict and, if unavoidable, how to successfully defend themselves against physical attacks. It was led by Michal Horňáček and Gabika Horková from Prodefense Academy. They also focused on dealing with stress, which can negatively impact not only potential attacks but also, for example, in a job interview.

The self-defense course took place 2. on February 2nd and 3rd, 2023, in Dobšiná, where women from the UPre Women programme from Dobšiná and Veľký Krtíš met. And why is the self-defense course important for them? “Although it may seem that the self-defense course is focused on physical defense, it’s not the case. First and foremost, it teaches women how to avoid conflict and can help them find their inner strength. Because mental well-being is often related to physical condition,” says Natália Príhodová from the Carpathian Foundation. Michal Horňáček, the instructor himself, explains that the self-defense course only dedicates about ten percent of its focus to physical strength: “More precisely, it’s called the Personal and Situational Safety Course and mainly focuses on how to avoid conflict or physical violence. We simulated various escalated situations for women and taught them how to react to prevent violence. Metaphorically speaking, how to change the course of the river. That is, to change a problematic situation, which is heading towards a serious conflict or violence, into a safe, neutral, or even cooperative situation. Conflict, as such, is about interaction, it is a relationship. Each conflict has its own stages of development, which can be seen in the so-called pre-conflict phase. By default, the aggressors have their patterns of behavior, or even a well-established type of conflict (in ordinary life) has its patterns that are repeated. If we can observe this to a certain extent, and therefore read these patterns, the chance of managing and transforming the situation increases.”

Pretend to be on a phone call

“In random threats, for example, it’s a strategy to prevent interaction with the aggressor by diverting attention in the initial phase. The aggressor tends to first approach and then subconsciously test the targeted person. We can imagine it as if the aggressor wants to be the director or main character of their movie and is looking for a person who fits their victim criteria. Diverting attention strategy (for example, pretending to be on a phone call and leaving the place simultaneously) reduces the initiation of such interaction,” says Michal, describing several methods. Let’s mention another one that can help when the aggressor is in an emotional state. In such a situation, we try to ask questions related to numbers and data (And how much money exactly do I owe you? When exactly did I lend you the money? Last week or three weeks ago? When exactly were your children born? And where did you come from?…). With these questions, the aggressor has to start thinking, which can shift them from an emotional state to a thinking one, usually calming them emotionally, thus reducing the threat of an attack.

Even if violence occurs despite the learned techniques, the course trains women on how to physically defend themselves, that is, how to effectively use their movements when grabbed, pulled, or hit. Practical self-defense techniques, according to Michal, are much more effective than instinctive self-defense. “Instinctive self-defense is something unlearned, often perceived as shortcuts, it’s a crude survival instinct, how to survive and defend oneself. It can sometimes be dangerous even for the defender because ‘it adds fuel to the fire, worsening the situation.’ If instinctive self-defense is inadequate, it can, paradoxically, harm the aggressor, leading to further unintended legal consequences,” explains Michal.

Stress makes it difficult to react to an attack, as well as a job interview

The third part of the training focused on stress management. Women learned how stress arises and why negative stress phenomena occur, such as stiffness, fear, restricted breathing, etc. They learned to deal with these negative phenomena, which affect not only their mental but also physical state. Such stress phenomena can not only affect how they can defend themselves in an attack but also, for example, a job interview, which can be complicated by strong stress and its consequences when it’s hard to breathe, hands are shaking, etc.

How did UPre women like the self-defense course?

“In addition to learning a lot, we also laughed a lot. We learned that when an attacker attacks us, we should know how to react and defend ourselves,” they agreed. For participant Katka, the most interesting aspect was not letting the attacker approach and avoiding the attack. Some participants in the course began to realize that they can take life into their own hands, make decisions for themselves, and underestimate themselves less. Because “not only society often underestimates us, but we also underestimate ourselves”.

The self-defense course was just one of many activities in the UPre Women programme, which aims to strengthen internal resilience and change the internal mindset of women from poor Roma communities. At the same time, it prepares them to get a job and know how to keep it. It improves their communication skills, financial literacy, and personal development…