Since the body of 30-year-old Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya was discovered in the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on Ash Wednesday in 2016, to this day, people are cautioned, especially women, to walk in groups if they must pass through the savannah at night.
Women still fear blind spots or dark, secluded areas in business places
as the murder of Shannon Banfield hasn't been forgotten. The 20-year-old bank employee's body was found at IAM and Company on Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain, on December 8, 2016.
Female passengers have become wary and fearful of PH taxis, especially when travelling at night even before the murders of 16-year-old schoolgirl Rachael Ramkissoon in San Raphael in January 2017, 18-year-old Ashanti Riley's murder in Santa Cruz in December 2020 and just recently, the murder of 23-year-old Andrea Bharatt that has shaken the people and continues to grip the nation. Vigils were held across the land for the court clerk.
The fear is palpable, citizens, not just women, are fed up with being victims of violent crimes and home invasions.
After Bharatt's murder, karate instructor Sensei Derick Williams is offering free self-defence lessons to women and girls to empower and enable them to fight back against assaults and attacks. He is also appealing to other martial arts instructors to offer their services to help women learn how to defend themselves.
If you are running or exercising by yourself in a public space, travelling or walking home alone in the dark from work and someone were to attack you, are you able to defend yourself or fight off multiple assailants?
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Williams said "We've been holding these self-defence classes for women since 2016 but in small groups in areas like Diego Martin, Laventille, and community centres.
"We could not do it last year because of the COVID-19 health and safety measures. This time, however, with public pressure and the outcry from the public over the young lady's murder that it has reached a national scale.
Karate instructor Sensei Derick Williams.
COURTESY DERICK WILLIAMS
"The response has been overwhelming. People have been calling from early in the morning and late at nights averaging 20 calls a day.
"We've had more than 250 applicants by Tuesday (February 9), some women are calling from as far as Cedros and Mayaro."
He said he had gotten some favourable responses from the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), Queen's Park Oval and the Queen's Park Savannah, and by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) facility to hold the classes, with the academy looking the most promising.
Williams, a sixth-degree black belt in Shotokan karate and a third-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and President of the T&T Karate Organisation (TTKO) said the classes are geared to women and girls from 15 years up. Some of them wanted to bring their sisters, daughters, family members or in groups.
He said classes will simulate real-life scenarios as much as possible that women will encounter in the streets or their homes, such as rape, home invasions, physical assaults and road rage.
Williams said besides showing participants how to apply kicks, punches and grappling techniques to vulnerable points on their attackers' anatomy, they will also learn to use verbal techniques, like de-escalation to defuse a situation, how to use their voice assertively, body language and poise, how to walk with confidence, head up, eyes focused, and at a steady pace.
He said people had to get reconnected with what the elders called their 'gut feeling' or instinct and obey it, like if they were feeling uncomfortable or getting 'bad vibes' from a person or entering a place or vehicle, to avoid that person or not enter that venue or taxi.
Williams said one of the most requested self-defence techniques women wanted to learn was how to counter an attack and grab from behind.
He said his instructors can give them the tools, but it was up to the individual's determination, to practice and apply what they had learned.
Williams said a person can only learn so much self-defence in a month, some martial artists study for 30-40 years and continued learning.
He said he hoped that they stayed on and became more involved in martial arts and eventually join a dojo for more training.
He said they were currently concentrating their efforts in Port-of-Spain, and depending on the success and demand for the self-defence classes from women spreads across the country, they can cater for women in Central and at SAPA in the Southland.
Williams said they were awaiting the dates when NAPA would be made available to hold classes as the venue had prior engagements. Classes would be two days a week, from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm, tentatively.
He said they were already given clearance by the T&T Police Service via letter to observe and put in place COVID-19 protocols in the self-defence classes and a police officer will also be present.
For more information contact the T&T Karate Organisation (TTKO) on Facebook or 472-2924.