Halfway into the Self-Defense for Trail Runners class, martial arts expert and instructor Jimmy Smith, after shoving a student into a bush as part of a mock attack, found his face full of dirt and pine needles. He reeled backward, and Bend resident Julie Krooswyk laughed as she sprinted away.
Smith coughed and grinned while he shook the debris out of his hair.
“Man, you really got it in there good,” Smith said, jerking his head to the side in an attempt to dislodge debris from his ear canal. “That’s definitely going to be a part of your go-to self-defense strategy.”
Along with his usual kickboxing and self-defense programs, Smith, in conjunction with FootZone Bend, offers Self-Defense for Trail Runners at his studio. Smith, 43, said he wanted to offer a 90-minute, $20 class that teaches trail runners to be aware of their surroundings and use objects found on the trail — such as sticks, rocks and fist-fulls of dirt — to exploit an attacker’s universal pain points. He emphasizes a few simple techniques that don’t take years to master.
“Whether you’re 5 or 95, you can use these techniques,” which target the eyes and throat, he said.
Smith made clear to the class that self-defense measures are appropriate when a person feels threatened. Any intrusion into an individual’s personal space is grounds for action. Smith is aware that most joggers targeted for sexual assault are women, but he teaches techniques for how to ward off an attack regardless of a person’s motive. Before he demonstrates a hold or grab on a student, he asks permission. It’s a way to impart power, which is central to his instruction.
“You hear in the news about how after a car wreck, moms will have super-human strength when it comes to rescuing their kids,” he said. “You have to have the same mindset about rescuing yourself. If you’re hesitant, like, ‘Oh, I have to be nice,’ things won’t turn out well.”
Smith guided his quarterly class, which ranges from a couple to 30 attendees, in a number of ways to escape a bear hug or being pinned against a wall. He also teaches methods to counter and evade attackers operating as a pair. Early into the class, Central Oregon resident Kori Barnum showed an aptitude for the tray-serving technique, which involves joining one’s fingers like a bird beak and jabbing them several times into the base of attacker’s neck where the throat meets the sternum. To demonstrate its debilitating effect, Smith instructed Barnum to extend her “tray” at him as he walked toward her. When his throat made contact with her fingers, he began to gag.
“I haven’t found anyone who can handle a throat shot,” said Smith, who regularly trains fighters by holding focus mitts and kicking shields during practices. In a number of escape techniques — whether the would-be victim is being held from behind by a pony tail or wringing an arm out of a wrist-grab — the tray technique can be used to repulse an attacker’s advance.
Barnum got serious about signing up for Smith’s class when she heard about Kelly Herron, a Seattle runner who fended off an attacker last March by using the self-defense techniques she had learned three weeks prior. Attacked by a man in a public bathroom halfway through a 10-mile run, Herron targeted the hard bones and soft fleshy parts of his face — just as she had learned.
“I just started hitting the side of his head,” she told ABC News. Herron freed herself and locked the attacker, who is a registered sex offender, in the bathroom with help of a passerby’s carabiner. Of her minor injuries, Herron wrote on Instagram: “My face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact.”
Barnum knows well about the reality of sexual assault. She is a scientist who processes sex crime evidence.
Both Barnum and Krooswyk have said they have felt uncomfortable on runs. They’re not alone. According to a Runner’s World Survey, 43 percent of women have experienced some form of harassment while running. Thirty percent said they have been followed by a person in a vehicle, on bicycle or on foot and 18 percent have been propositioned.
Asked about self-defense tools, 21 percent surveyed said they carry pepper spray at least sometimes and 1 percent carry a loaded gun. Smith doesn’t advocate against tools such as these, but he encourages those who carry them to practice using them, particularly pepper spray canisters. Not all canisters’ trajectories are the same.
Krooswyk, who moved to Bend this year, has occasionally carried spray. She said although athletes are “told to run light, at the same time you want to have the safety.” Central Oregon’s natural beauty can give those outdoors a false sense of comfort, she added. Sometimes, on group hikes with her husband, Krooswyk can still feel vulnerable.
“The group we usually hike with are strong hikers,” Krooswyk said, adding that on long elevation gains, she often finds herself last in line. “You never know who you’re going to encounter. If I’m going to be the caboose of the train, I want to be responsible for my safety.”
Smith spoke to his class about particular cell phone apps, such as Life360, which let users’ friends and family track their locations. He also recommended carrying items such as whistles and hand-held alarms that can make shrill sounds that may deter an attack.
“Draw as much attention and noise as you can,” Smith said. “Bad guys doing bad things don’t want to be seen, they don’t want to be heard and they don’t want to be in that place for very long.”
Smith, who is muscular and soft spoken, said he learned the value of self-defense while growing up in foster care in rough parts of Los Angeles.
“Just about everything that could happen to me has happened to me,” Smith told his students. “I’ve been jumped, beat up, stabbed at and shot at.”
As a youth, self-defense and martial arts gave Smith something positive to “tag onto,” which built his confidence and self-reliance. He has studied kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts under legendary coach and Hollywood fight choreographer Art Camacho.
He began mentoring students in his garage studio when he moved his family to Bend in 2004. Smith opened his gym at its current 3,000-square-foot location in southeast Bend in 2012. While the injuries from attacks have physically healed, Smith said teaching others to protect themselves has a therapeutic result on his psychological wounds.
“It closes one stitch at a time,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org