Taekwondo coach, team equips female students to defend themselves in event of an assault
Twenty members of Liberty University’s men’s and women’s taekwondo teams assisted Head Coach Tom Childress in running Tuesday night’s first women’s self-defense class of the school year, with 26 female students attending the event held in the Liberty Club Sports Complex’s taekwondo team room.
Besides coaching Liberty’s team, Childress works as a police officer at BWX Technologies, Inc., the latest stop in his 29-year law enforcement career. He has also taught defensive tactics at the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy in Lynchburg for more than 25 years.
“This is something I’m pretty passionate about,” Childress told the mostly female gathering, with only seven male members of his team on hand. “What I find very unsettling is when I started police work, the statistic was that one out of every four women will be assaulted in their lifetime. It’s probably one of the most underreported crimes in this country, for a myriad of reasons.”
Being aware of one’s surroundings and sensitive to potential threats is of utmost importance in averting an attack.
“Use the senses the good Lord gave you,” Childress said. “The first thing He gave us is eyes to see, so scan and ask, ‘Visually, what do I see?’”
Secondly, he described a sixth sense that can alert someone to a dangerous situation.
“Has anybody ever had the hair on the back of their neck stand up?” Childress asked. “Something feels funny, it doesn’t feel right. Pay attention to that. That’s a sense God gave you. Please use it. If you feel that way, stop. Get someone else, call someone.”
He said avoidance of conflict is the best strategy in most instances.
“I don’t want you to fight,” Childress said. “The goal is not to fight; the goal is to get away. If you fight, there’s a good chance you’re going to get hurt, but you have to accept that beforehand. Here’s the thing: you can’t let that stop you. You’ve got to finish (the fight).”
He said the greatest deterrent to becoming a victim of assault is portraying the ability to reciprocate the pain the assailant is threatening to inflict.
“Why don’t lions attack porcupines?” Childress asked. “Because it hurts. Well, if the bad guys know that you can hurt them, most of the time, they don’t want to mess with you.”
For times when a confrontation is unavoidable, Childress introduced a variety of escape maneuvers and means of attack that would enable potential assault victims to immobilize their assailant long enough to assure their freedom and safety. He noted that his objective in the two-hour session was not to turn the women into black belts.
“The simpler, the better is the philosophy,” he said. What we’re going to try to do tonight is to give you a few tools that hopefully you will never have to use, but if you found yourself in a bad situation, you could use … to protect yourself.”
He said in all of his years of law enforcement, as in the military, he has learned that there are three elements of victory in battle: surprise, speed, and violence of action.
“You have to win two of the three,” Childress said. “If they’re still standing, they can still fight. (Contrarily,) you cannot defend yourself if you’re unconscious.”
He started by demonstrating techniques that included palm strikes to the nose, punches to the throat, and elbows to the head before having his student-athletes, protected by punching bags, allow the female guests to practice those tactics on them.
“An elbow can be thrown in an upward motion, it can be thrown in a downward motion, it can be thrown in a cross motion or a reverse motion,” Childress said. “They work in a variety of angles.”
He then instructed students on how to execute a series of kicks to the groin and other soft target areas, or to the knees while laying on the ground, before showing proper techniques for pulling ears and gouging eyes.
“What is an area that is vulnerable to any person, regardless of size and strength?” Childress said. “That is where you want to hit them.”
Once a woman has engaged in the fight, she must fully commit to it and pull no punches, as Childress demonstrated through his frank speech.
“I don’t want to turn and try to get away or try to get help until I feel like I’ve disabled this person in some way,” he added. “Then, and only then, do I grab my phone and call 911.”
He introduced some taekwondo fundamentals that make punches and kicks more powerful.
“Your head should always stay centered above your shoulders; your shoulders should always stay centered above your hips … so that you are standing straight,” Childress said. “Whatever hand you’re hitting with, you want to make sure that’s your rear hand. True power comes from your feet. It starts from the ground up going through your hips. Make sure you rotate your hips and drive through (the hit).
Childress is a proponent of self-defense courses for girls entering middle school through their college careers.
“It should be part of their curriculum,” he said, noting that he is working with Liberty’s administration to make that happen. “I’d love this to be a required part of the freshmen orientation for all female students, when they come here the week (before the start of Liberty’s school year).”
Childress said he and his taekwondo team members could safely train as many as 100 at a time over three two-hour sessions per day for the entire week, for a total of 1,500 students equipped in self-defense.
“To me, that would be ideal, and I’m willing to put the time in,” he said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer