Violence against women and children in South Africa is out of control – it’s time to empower yourself

(PHOTO: Getty/Gallo)
(PHOTO: Getty/Gallo)

She used to wonder what she’d do if she was ever attacked at an ATM or if someone came at her with a knife. “I’d had a few close encounters and was constantly hearing about people being getting assaulted,” Nerinda Brain says.

“I asked myself what I’d do if it happened to me and I knew I’d freeze if I wasn’t mentally prepared for it.” But today 43-year-old Nerinda knows exactly what to do, thanks to the self-defence classes she’s been taking at Mushindo Aikido School of Samurai Martial Arts in Cape Town.

Once a week she joins a group of other women for classes in which Aikido master sensei Saud Anderson teaches them how to fight off an attacker.

For Roxy Gabriels, taking public transport and just walking around the streets was enough to convince her it was time to learn how to fend for herself.

“It’s dangerous and I need to defend myself against all the creepy-crawlies out there – and there are many,” the petite 35-year-old performing artist says.

She’s now learning how to teach self-defence so that she can pass on these useful skills to other women. Michelle Mitchell (35) has a different but all too familiar reason for signing up for self-defence classes.

“I’ve been in abusive relationships and the worst thing in the world is feeling powerless in that situation,” she admits.

“It’s not that I want to kill him – I just want to defend myself, to prevent him from having that power over me and from hurting me. “It’s shocking if someone in the streets grabs you, but if someone you love starts doing that, it’s doubly shocking – you don’t expect it, at least not at first.”

Roxy, Nerinda and Michelle are at different levels of training, but they all agree on the benefits of Saud’s classes. “I’m more vigilant and aware, not only when I’m out on the streets but everywhere,” Roxy says.

“Now I know by the way someone looks at me if they are going to do somethingI can sense if they’re going to assault me and I know how to counter that. It makes me feel safer.”

Nerinda says the beauty of self-defence training is that anyone can do it. “You don’t have to be fit or strong – you just need to be willing to empower yourself with the necessary tools. Children are doing it – I’ve seen kids of six handle themselves really well.

“Sensei shows you the technique, you do it, and it works. The movements are small but you learn what to press and how to press. It looks like nothing, but that’s the power of it.” Women need to be prepared, Michelle says.

“I want to tell anyone who’s in my situation that you don’t have to feel powerless. You can empower yourself, without going in the other direction. You don’t have to turn into a crazy woman who hates men – you just need to learn the tools to protect yourself.”

Saud Anderson started aikido at the age of 10. A few years later he took over the reins of the Mushindo Aikido School of Samurai Martial Arts when he was only 17.

Escalating incidences of rape and violence against women inspired Saud to start self-defence classes two years ago.

He initially ran them as a community project free of charge to women in Cape Town to help them become stronger and more self-confident. His motto is safety first – then defence.

“Aikido is about controlling the situation to the best of your ability, not causing damage or harm to others,” he explains.

“Get out of the way if you can.”

You don’t want to confront an aggressor unless you’re cornered. “The idea is to stop your opponent, not play with them. This is not an action movie. It’s not about ego and showing off.”

The moves look small and simple because they use an opponent’s physical strength against them and take them off balance.