Where to Take a Self-Defense Class

Assaults are on the rise in Arlington. Are you prepared if it happens to you?
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Participants in EvolveAll’s Arlington self-defense class on Columbia Pike (Photo by Christian Mejia)

On a sunny March morning, Damon Gabriel and Kirk Wachenheimer are looking on as four people struggle to break free of choke holds.

They don’t intervene, per se, but they do offer tips to those trying to rebuff their assailants: Grab at the wrist, not the elbow, for leverage to pull the attacker’s hand down. Twist toward the offender to break away and run.

The instruction is all part of a morning self-defense class at EvolveAll, a martial arts and fitness studio on Columbia Pike. In January, studio owner Emerson Doyle contracted with Gabriel and Wachenheimer’s company, Rising Tide Defense, to add the program to his 15-year-old gym’s roster of martial arts, yoga, tai chi and boot camp classes.

Now, “there’s more interest in the self-defense than anything else that we do,” aside from the youth program, Doyle says.

Rising crime rates may be one reason for the uptick in interest. In Arlington, “crimes against persons” (a category that includes abduction/kidnapping, rape and assault) increased by 24% from 2020 to 2021, according to the Arlington County Police Department’s 2021 Annual Report, the most recent data available.

Some crime rates trended upward even as county residents largely stayed home during the pandemic.  Aggravated assaults in Arlington rose from 150 in 2019 to 210 in 2020, to 263 in 2021.  The number of abductions increased from 25 in 2019 to an alarming 46 in 2021.

Arlington saw 127 reported forcible sex offenses in 2019.  That statistic dropped to 92 in 2020, but then rebounded to 137 in 2021.

In the City of Alexandria, aggravated assaults were up by almost 16% in 2021.

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Self-defense at EvolveAll (Photo by Christian Mejia)

One class participant, a 30-something Arlington resident, said she signed up for the EvolveAll class after being chased several times and cornered by a man on drugs in D.C. “Women have to be alert and able to defend themselves,” she said, declining to share her name because of her experiences.

Held Saturdays at 9 a.m., the hourlong class can accommodate up to 20 participants (ages 15 and older) and welcomes all abilities and fitness levels. Students can expect to learn moves such as a breakfall, which involves falling backward with your arms in a T and slapping the ground, palms-down, to disperse the force of the impact.

The goal of practicing these movements is to create “unconscious competence,” Gabriel says, making the response to a threat scenario automatic. “The whole point is to build the repetition so you can have confidence that your skills will actually work under pressure.”

In addition to physical tactics, the instructors teach communication techniques to diffuse a situation before it comes to blows. They also use role-play scenarios to demonstrate the right and wrong approaches to handling a threat. “These are base-level skills for life,” Wachenheimer says.

D.C. resident Robin Traxler, 46, says she began taking the class after she was targeted by several men in a car while walking alone in Los Angeles in December.  The men sped off when she pulled out her phone to call 911, but the incident made her realize she wanted to be prepared for a fight and not just flight.

“I was really upset [at them for] terrifying me,” Traxler says. “I need to be able to defend myself.”

Female Person On Self Defense Workout With Trainer

(Adobe stock)

More Classes to Consider

Inspired to shore up your self-defense skills? Here are a few other options in the area:

  • District Martial Arts in Ballston and Pentagon MMA off of Columbia Pike teach self-defense through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which focuses on “complete dominance over an opponent, regardless of the size difference.”
  • Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do in Arlington (in the Lee Harrison Shopping Center) offers a program for teens and adults that teaches physical fitness, martial arts philosophy and self-defense through semi-contact or light-contact sparring.
  • First Defense in McLean offers “a dynamic, full-body workout” while teaching self-defense through Krav Maga, an Israeli Defense Forces technique.
  • Virginia Okinawan Karate in Alexandria has women-only self-defense classes and a mother/daughter program for participants ages 12 and up.


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Categories: Health & Fitness