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Self-defense sessions kick personal safety into high gear

From left: Otis Velma and Anna Velma `84 have spent a decade turning self defense into its own artform.
Contributed by Zendou Mixed Martial Arts
From left: Otis Velma and Anna Velma `84 have spent a decade turning self defense into its own artform.

Otis Velma and Anne Velma `84, founders of Zendou Mixed Martial Arts in Evanston, Illinois, brought lessons on kicking ass to Grinnell in a way that is practical for everyday life. Monday, Nov. 6 through Wednesday, Nov. 8, the Otis’ provided personal safety workshops open to both students and staff. Otis is a former U.S. Marine Corps member, police officer and Zendou expert, and Anne holds a black belt and is the head instructor at their school. 

The two have been teaching publicly since 2012, Otis said. At Zendou Mixed Martial Arts, their ideology is “Right Mind and Right Action.” The point of the training is to “get smarter” in everyday situations, he said. Further, Otis underscored the importance of the difference between self-defense and personal safety — self-defense is reactive and personal safety is proactive. It is a state of mind, he said. 

They aim to teach their clients skills that will apply to real life, Otis said, and stressed that personal safety does not mean “Karate Kid”-esque high kicking or “Street Fighter” moves. He stated that he bases a lot of his teaching on situations he has witnessed as a police officer, and caters the classes to what will be most pertinent and realistic for the attendees. 

The class began with tactics for verbally and behaviorally avoiding negative situations, like making eye contact with passersby and verbally breaking off uncomfortable physical contact. It progressed to how to deal with a physical confrontation, such as kicking, checking and ways to escape being held down. 

 Otis began martial arts and zen practice when he was a child in Chicago during the 1970s. As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, he stated that he was able to travel to countries where martial arts played a more prominent role in the culture than in the United States. 

Later, he went into the workforce as a security manager and taught defensive training. Eventually, he became a police officer in Evanston, Illinois, where he served for 30 years in a plethora of roles and departments — experience that he draws on extensively in his teaching, he said. 

Anne, on the other hand, moved to California after graduating from Grinnell and fell in love with bike racing, she said. She returned to college to get her master’s degree in journalism and pursued a journalism career, but, all the while, maintained a love of sport. 

She said that she had always had an interest in martial arts, and her opportunity to pursue that interest came about in 2010 when the Evanston Police Department provided a citizen’s police academy where she attended a martial arts class taught by Otis. About a year later they ran into each other again and have been training together ever since, she said. “I started training with him every other week. And then it was every week. And then it was twice a week, and now three times a week. And then a few years later, we started teaching at our own little school,” she said.

Another element of their practice that the pair emphasized is that personal safety is not necessarily about being big and strong. One can still defend themself by being smart and strategic, even at a physical disadvantage, they said. 

“What we want is for you to eventually walk around and not feel like a victim,” Anne said. 

it’s so important to realize that you can fight back, and the more you train the less people will even bother you.

— Anne Velma `84

This is the second visit Grinnell has had from the pair, the first being last year which was motivated by the incidents of racial violence on campus,  Otis said. He said that his message to the Grinnell community is “don’t get distracted.” Even though it is easy to feel like your personal safety is out of your control, it is important to stay focused and take care of yourself, he said.

Anne’s advice to Grinnell followed a similar theme. She said, “You can really take charge of your personal safety. I think we get so brainwashed by media and movies seeing people, especially women, being helpless. And it’s so important to realize that you can fight back, and the more you train the less people will even bother you.”

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Evelyn Wilber
Evelyn Wilber, Staff Writer
Evelyn is a second year intended English and math double major from Chicago, Illinois. She enjoys reading, watching movies, listening to music, her dog Ted, and the season of winter.
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    Karin LC ZernNov 20, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    Great article! I attended the class and thought it was excellent and informative. Thank you!