Mega No Maki Self-Defense Training, by Sharon Lovering

One of the most interesting seminars offered at this year's convention was the Mega No Maki Self-Defense for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Most of the participants were blind or visually impaired, with a few sighted folks joining in.

Classes were held on several evenings. The first night, about 30 people attended and listened to instructors Stephen Nicholls and Kate DeMoss describe the program. Mega No Maki is rooted in traditional martial arts. It teaches techniques specifically adapted to the needs of blind and visually impaired people, and addresses how to target an attacker and defend yourself, what to do if you can't make a quick escape, and briefly covered the laws allowing people to protect themselves (and how they differ for the visually impaired). Nicholls, who is from the United Kingdom, was quick to remind his listeners that the laws are different in the U.S., and that each state's laws are often different in what they allow as self-defense.

Following the talk, Nicholls and DeMoss paired everyone up for a few basic exercises. "What do you do if someone touches you?" Nicholls asked. When no one answered, he told us, "You touch them back," and demonstrated the technique on DeMoss. We began to practice. My partner reached over and put her right hand on my left shoulder. I reached over with my right hand and grabbed her right hand, putting pressure on it and locking it in place. The two instructors walked around checking on each pair of people, making sure they understood how to perform the technique, correcting them and coaching.

After a few minutes, everyone seemed to have caught on. We then got to try it using right and left hands alternately, to make sure we really had the technique down. Nicholls and DeMoss walked around checking and correcting us. Once we had the technique down, Nicholls added another step to it, and after learning several more steps, we worked our way to being able to bring an opponent to his/her knees by using the joint locks and pressure points we'd learned. Many of the techniques were familiar to me from taking tae kwon do and tang soo do, but some of the applications differed slightly.

The next evening we practiced the joint locks and such that we'd learned the night before. Several new people attended, and Nicholls and DeMoss taught them the basics first, so that they could keep up with everyone. Then we got to try some new moves. Nicholls lined us up and taught us an "en garde" position. For those familiar with martial arts, it is reminiscent of a fighter's stance (one leg forward, one back, both knees bent), but the hands, instead of being balled up in fists, are open, with the front hand slightly farther away from the body. We worked on that for a few minutes. Then he approached each of us with a punch in turn, and we were to use our "en garde" position to block his punch. He said that my "en garde" position looked more karate-like, but that it would work.

After we'd all been successful at least once, we paired off and learned a simple defense drill. We stood hand to hand with our partners; one partner would punch first, the other would defend. My partner punched first; I blocked her with my left hand, pushed her punching arm out of the way with my right, pushed it a little farther away with my left, then punched her with my right so she could practice the blocks and push-aways on me. Nicholls called this "percussion," and indeed, when he and DeMoss performed it, it truly sounded like someone playing the drums. The instructors walked around and made sure we were doing the technique properly.

Time really seemed to fly while we were practicing these new techniques, and before we knew it, the session was over. Nicholls reviewed with us what we'd learned over the last two days, and reminded us that there would be another session the next evening. He also offered packets of information about the program itself, the instructors, and how to become a certified instructor. If you are interested in becoming an instructor, contact Kate DeMoss via e-mail, kate@enablingsafety.info.

Currently, the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, Calif., hosts these self-defense classes. Workshops cover: threat recognition, mental state, body posturing and tonal indication; substance abuse and threat analysis; threat response, the law, common sense in self-defense; involvements with the police and witness statements; recording an incident; how do you want people to perceive you?; and principles of aggressive behavior and physical self-defense techniques. If you're interested in taking one of these classes, call Richard Rueda at the LightHouse, (415) 694-7334 or e-mail rueda@lighthouse-sf.org. For more information about the program, visit www.enablingsafety.info.