Getting defensive

June 19th, 2015 9:27 am - updated: 9:27 am.

First Posted: 5/26/2014

One worst-case scenario for a woman is to be in imminent danger at the hands of an attacker who is stronger, heavier or taller.

Emma Hivner, 14, and Sarah Stevens, 36, were among a group of 10 women who took the first women’s only self-defense class offered at Pride Lands Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Clarks Summit on May 21.

The class was aimed at teaching women how to move their bodies in ways “they never thought they could,” black belt instructor Jason Ratchford said.

Hivner and Stevens have been practicing Jiu Jitsu for a few months and know their way around the mat.

“It gives me a lot of self-confidence because not a lot of girls can say they come down to the gym to train with the guys,” Hivner said. “It’s also self-motivating. For girls, it teaches you to stand up for yourself.”

In three months of training, Hivnerhas learned wrestling moves, submissions, choke holds and arm bars .

Stevens, who is a blue belt, believes self-defense classes provides a certain kind of strength for women.

“Knowing what I know gives me a peace of mind. I tell my daughter practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is something every girl should do,” she said. “It’s teaches a smaller person to defend themselves against a larger person. It’s all about technique over muscle.”

Stature and age seemed to have little bearing on the women’s objectives to partake in the class that began with a series of strength and conditioning exercises led by assistant coach, Robert Hivner. The warm up included forward rolls, push-ups and laps around the perimeter of the room, before Ratchford and Hivner demonstrated leverage and body positioning techniques that focused on building core body strength.

“If your core is weak, your whole body is weak,” Ratchford said.

The Clarks Summit resident is offering the class to give women a sense of empowerment, “to let them know they don’t have to become a victim. … That through proper use of technique and leverage they can overcome a stronger assailant. … My sister, Sarah, my daughter Makenna and my student, Kendra McHugh all have gained tremendous confidence and technique from Jiu-Jitsu.”

Ratchford said that while a lot of other martial arts focus on striking or overpowering a man, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really “engages the inevitable.”

Pride Lands BJJ Academy is headed by brothers Jason and Matthew Ratchford, both black belts under the Legendary Alison “Jucao” Brites, according to the academy’s web site. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has its roots in the Japanese Jiu-Jitsu of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and found its way to Brazil in 1910, when Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Judo expert immigrated to the country. There he became friends with Gastao Gracie, an influential businessman who helped Maeda get established.

Ratchford, a certified IBJJF Black Belt has been a student of martial arts for more than 16 years. In 1994, he began training and competing in Judo and earned the rank of brown belt.

“The main thing that differentiates this program and school from every other school is it puts the girls in a real world situation,” Hivner said. “It’s very relevant to what an attacker would do. It’s very real, live, active and engaging.”