ASI’s Campus Recreation redefines Self Defense Workshop into ‘self-protection’

By Samantha Lopez, April 27, 2021

ASI’s Campus Recreation team hosted its lecture-based Self Defense Workshop which aimed to highlight that students can practice self-defense while avoiding physical altercations. The 30-minute Zoom lecture revealed tips to prevent assaults and confrontations, followed by a Q&A session with 17 participants.

Focusing on the idea of self-protection and assault prevention, Steve del Castillo, a kinesiology professor and group fitness instructor at the BRIC, led the discussion by confronting the “romanticized” definition of self-defense: the perception that individuals need to be attacked first before protecting themselves. Instead of practicing self-defense after an attack, he explained that self-protection and assault prevention should be prioritized from the start.

“A key thing of why not to engage, even though someone might have trained so many years in martial arts, is that there’s no guarantee that you’ll come out,” Castillo said. “But the only guarantee, with the highest percentage, is never getting there in the first place.”

To promote inclusivity, the event focused on methods participants can use to remove themselves from threatening situations rather than demonstrations showing defense techniques.

According to Castillo, many physical self-defense techniques fail to consider the victim’s capacity to use the defense equipment — whether they are OK with injuring someone or if their morality allows inflicting harm.

Castillo shared that self-defense courses are tailored to serve stereotypical groups rather than accommodating the needs of everyone. Referring to the rise in Asian hate crimes, he exemplified that elders may struggle to learn defense techniques to protect themselves from dangerous situations — something that may come easier for younger individuals.

“My friend had asked me what kind of classes her 60-year-old mother could take to defend herself,” Castillo said. “First of all, I asked her if her mom was able to do any of the physical strenuous workouts needed or had the time to get those down. Then, I gave her other options.”

The slideshow presentation revealed that situations can often escalate out of control. In these predicaments, Castillo outlined alternating methods to avoid confrontations. These methods included putting the hands up to communicate not wanting harm and using blunt impact, such as throwing a backpack to slow them down while getting out of the area.

To avoid consequences, Castillo emphasized that the best plan is to have situational awareness. Being aware of the surroundings and avoiding distractions will eliminate the act of surprise the attacker might take advantage of. He encouraged participants to remain aware of their surroundings by looking up when walking instead of being engrossed in the phone.

Event participant Samantha Gonzalez, a first-year computer science student, said she realized she needed to work on confrontations when she encountered someone trying to steal her purse and froze.

“I literally had a pepper spray in my bag ready to go and I couldn’t do it,” Gonzalez said. “I had never used it before, and it’s not like they teach you how to use it when you buy it. The workshop helped me especially realize that sometimes the better option is to run away than risk your life.”

For students like Gonzalez, the event revealed that devices, such as pepper spray and mace, do not work for all victims. Castillo shared his experience teaching self-defense courses at the BRIC where pepper spray would be deployed by the student too late, resulting in it getting knocked out of their hands and rendering them helpless. To be successful in using protection devices, students must know when the right time is to utilize them and be OK with inflicting temporary harm to the attacker without hesitation, he said.

In the Q&A segment, students asked questions regarding the importance of keeping their emotions in check to prevent situations from escalating. The key is to remain aware of the situation and maintain confidence, according to Castillo.

When students look confident by keeping their head up and walking tall, these are attributes that attackers avoid because they do not want to draw attention to themselves. Instead, they are looking for someone that appears as an easier target and seems distracted.

Angelica Salgado, a fourth-year marketing management student, said she practices exactly what Castillo taught in his workshop.

“Self-defense is actually something that I am passionate about,” Salgado said. “I strongly believe everyone has the right to defend themselves and others; but you can only defend others if you can defend yourself.”

Campus Recreation is currently offering virtual events for students on self-defense, boxing and taekwondo through pre-recorded videos and live Zoom sessions. More details can be found at

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