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College-bound women learn self defense

by Heidi Alder

What would you do if a man you didn’t know stopped you on the street to ask for directions? He doesn’t look like a criminal, but who’s to say?

“Don’t let them get close enough to touch you,” self-defense teacher Diane Ortenzio-Cooling said.

Ortenzio-Cooling has taught martial arts for 17 years. She has been involved in martial arts for 20 years and is a fifth degree blackbelt in Isshin-Ryu Karate.

She has also competed nationally and won over 80 championships. She and her husband, Toby, moved to the Carson Valley four years ago.

“We have what we call the three-strike rule,” Ortenzio-Cooling said. “The first strike is if you let someone get close enough to touch you. If he touches you, that’s strike two. And if he puts you in a choke hold, that’s strike three.”

Ortenzio-Cooling, vice president of Douglas County Search and Rescue, taught a two-hour self-defense class to women at Nevada Fitness last Sunday.

– You don’t have to be a weightlifter. “A lot of women are conditioned to think they aren’t strong enough to protect themselves against men,” Ortenzio-Cooling said. “But you don’t need to be able to bench press 300 pounds and have gigantic muscles to defend yourself.”

She taught the class members several methods to get out of a headlock or a full nelson, using simple moves and sensitive nerve endings.

Ortenzio-Cooling instructed the women “to hit to soft places and bend things where they’re not supposed to go.”

She emphasizes the point that it is each person’s responsibility to prevent an assault or rape and defend herself if necessary.

“It is not the responsibility of your college, your employer or police department to defend you,” she said.

“The cops may not get there in time,” Ortenzio-Cooling’s husband, Toby Cooling, said. “You have the responsibility to take care of yourself.”

Toby is a retired police officer from Maryland and a reserve deputy for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Ortenzio-Cooling presented many preventive methods to keep women from getting in a dangerous position.

“Trust your intuition,” she said, “if a situation makes you feel uneasy, or makes the hair on your neck stand up, then get out.”

– Try to be aware. Other suggestions include being alert and paying attention to those around you; not walking alone at night; if you walk alone, walk in well-lit areas; wear a purse over your head and across the body to free your hands for fighting; check the back seat and floor of cars before getting in; be aware of all exits in a building for quick getaways; and become more educated in martial arts and self-defense strategies.

If a confrontation occurs, Ortenzio-Cooling advises wearing a mean “game face” to mask fear and scare the attacker.

“Your voice is very strong, use it as a tool,” Ortenzio-Cooling said. “Speak with authority. You need to project that you’re large and in charge.”

She recommends screaming and yelling “Fire!” or “Call the police!” instead of “Rape!” or “Help!”

If you have to fight, Ortenzio-Cooling says to give it your all.

“You have to have commitment. When this starts, you have to have the mind set of ‘Buddy, you picked the wrong person, and I’m going to hurt you.’ If you decide to defend yourself, you have to give 110 percent,” she said. “Statistics say people who fight back live to tell about it.”

– One woman’s story. Ortenzio-Cooling provided the story of Kathleen Sullivan, who fought off an armed attacker in a nice neighborhood in San Diego at midday.

The woman wrote, “I believe the most important factor in my escaping that assault was making a decision ahead of time, what I stand for and what I stand against I was injured, but I expected that. I was cut immediately and badly, but I didn’t let that stop me.”

Ortenzio-Cooling also pointed out that statistics show attackers are usually acquaintances and not total strangers.

Everyday items that a woman carries can be used to fend off attackers.

Umbrellas, purses, compact make-up containers, books, keys and pepper spray can all be used to fight with, Ortenzio-Cooling said. But she recommends practicing with the pepper spray to insure you know how to use it.

“When that adrenaline comes, what you’ve practiced is what kicks in,” she said.

“My philosophy is: I will resort to my empty hands when I have jabbed him with my keys, hit him with my purse and beat him with my umbrella.”

– Low crime rate here, but Ortenzio-Cooling realizes that Douglas County has a very low crime rate, which is why many women do not pursue an education in self-defense.

“We live in an extraordinarily safe place,” she said, “but everyone travels.”

Nearby Reno and Las Vegas are two places this knowledge could very well come in handy.

“Now it’s not a matter of if something happens, but when something happens,” she said.

“A priority should be self-preservation,” Toby said.

“I really feel that people need to take a more proactive approach to learning self-defense,” Ortenzio-Cooling said. “I really think it should be offered in our school system.”

Ortenzio-Cooling and her husband have traveled all over the world to teach people about martial arts and self-defense.

“It’s something that I’ve discovered, and I want to share it,” Ortenzio-Cooling said.

“We chose to live here, and it’s our community give-back,” Toby said. “It’s part of living in a community.”

Ortenzio-Cooling will be teaching a more intensive self-defense class during September at Nevada Fitness on Wednesday and Friday nights.

For more information on the classes, martial arts and self-defense, call Diane Ortenzio-Cooling at 782-4550.