The sound of women's laughter may have filled 3 Rivers Martial Arts Academy on Saturday, but the tips and techniques attendees learned during the Women's Self- Defense Seminar were serious - and potentially life-saving.
Over the course of two hours, the seminar's 34 attendees learned how to respond to various physical attacks, as well as how to avoid an assault before it happens.
Instructor Clay Mayfield, 21, walked the women through Gracie jiu jitsu-based techniques that would help them escape a variety of grips, from chokes to so-called bear hugs, by using leverage and timing and taking advantage of an opponent's weak points. With repeated practice, he said, these fairly simple techniques can help people defend against a larger, stronger attacker.
Mayfield also engaged students in discussions about how to avoid being victimized, emphasizing awareness of one's surroundings and trusting one's gut feelings.
"Too often, we override our instincts. We get a funny feeling about someone but we don't want to embarrass them, so we don't trust our instincts," he said.
Mayfield, who began practicing jiu-jitsu at the age of 15, said he was inspired to hold the seminar after a close friend was sexually assaulted.
"As I started learning about sexual assault ... it surprised me how little people know about how to keep themselves safe and about the statistics of an assault," he said.
Some women, such as 20-year-old Lindsey Hawkins of Paducah, took an interest in the class because they'd already been through an experience where self-defense techniques would have proven useful. Others said that potentially dangerous situations come up all the time, and they wanted to be prepared.
Only 50 minutes into the seminar, some attendees were already feeling better equipped to deal with an assault.
"You've already learned (to pay attention to) your surroundings, how to prevent an attack, to trust your gut feelings, what to do in two or three different situations - and we've only been here about an hour," seminar attendee Ronda Gibson, 45, said during a brief break from training.
Gibson, of Kevil, signed up for the class because her son Hayes, 8, sparked her interest in Gracie jiu jitsu. And, she said, "a little bit of control in a situation is great."
Fellow attendee Wilma Parker, 46, of Brookport, Ill., agreed. She and Hawkins both take jiu jitsu classes at 3 Rivers, but came to the seminar at the academy's New Holt Road location in order to learn more about how to apply the art to real-world situations.
"You feel more confident when you go out. You feel that if you are attacked, you have some advantages," Parker said. "It's just amazing how one little move can make a world of difference."
The martial arts academy offers customized lessons, as well as a five-week women's self-defense program. For more information, call 270-564-5804.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.