Nurse turned black belt teaches students to go for the jugular EAST COLUMBIA

November 03, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The mere thought of inflicting pain in such an intentionally ghastly way made the dozen Johns Hopkins University women cringe and groan with discomfort.

A thumb gouge to the eyes? Squishing the eyeballs with sudden and forceful pressure? Could I really bring myself to do that?

You can and you better if ever you're in a threatening situation when your life could depend on it, Long Reach village resident Sharon Sirkis told the students at her self-protection seminar.

Ms. Sirkis, 36, a black belt in karate who owns a karate studio in Anne Arundel County, also runs Have Black Belt/Will Travel, a business that takes her to private homes, businesses and campuses to teach women basic self-defense and to increase their self-confidence.

Ms. Sirkis' seminars feature a lexicon of self-defense for women who often believe they would be powerless to fight back in an instance of sexual assault.

There's the head butt to the face, the chicken peck to the eyes, the heel palm to the ears, and, when necessary, the "old twist and shout" maneuver meant to incapacitate a man where it hurts most -- not the type of knowledge that's imparted in college classrooms or corporate conference rooms.

The first part of the two-part seminar has psychological overtones. It is intended to inform women how they can avoid "victim behavior," such as walking with the head down, break down attitudes causing them to believe that they are helpless and instill confidence to express anger and assert themselves when threatened.

In the second part, she demonstrates basic moves intended to stun a man with a blow to a vulnerable spot with an elbow, knee, foot or other body part. "What I'm showing is something you can do and get away, not beat him to a pulp," said Ms. Sirkis as the Johns Hopkins students practiced the moves. "It's a myth that you have to be strong. You don't need a whole lot of strength if you hit vulnerable targets."

She also discusses actions to take under different scenarios -- including situations with and without weapons -- and stresses that no one answer fits all circumstances. Thinking through potentially dangerous situations beforehand and using one's wits are important elements in escaping, she said.

Students at the seminar last month said that they had encountered potentially threatening situations during their years in Baltimore. Several had been followed to their sorority house or harassed on the street or at bars. Ms. Sirkis' seminar boosted their confidence, they said.

"I'm 95 pounds and I thought I couldn't deter someone who's 200 pounds. Now I don't feel like I could kill him, but I can take measures to deter an attack," said senior Prachi Shah.

Senior Yasmine Mortsakis said the seminar taught her that she "has a right to fight back. Even if you're not carrying anything, you still have a lot of weapons."

Ms. Sirkis is a registered nurse who became interested in learning about self-defense while working at University Hospital in Baltimore in 1979. Although she was never attacked, she said she felt apprehensive about walking to a dimly lighted parking garage at night after work. She began studying karate, earned her black belt in 1984 and opened her own studio in 1985.

She left nursing about six years ago to focus on teaching karate and conducting seminars. The nursing skills have helped her in seminars, she said. "I have a way of putting myself in people's shoes," she said.

She says she gives seminars for only women because women "can relate to a female point of view," especially concerning sexual assault.

"I'm giving them the option to fight back," said Ms. Sirkis, who is 5 feet 2 1/2 inches with a medium build. "If I say one thing that helps women from being raped or assaulted, I've done my job.

"I kind of go out on a limb sometimes to say you're important, you're number one, this is your safety, look out for you."

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