Survival: On-the-job Training

January 21, 1995|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

Sandy Filling had never kicked a man in the groin before.

But after a few minutes' practice, the 92-pound, 46-year-old woman was kneeing a muscular self-defense instructor in the crotch -- protected by strategically placed pads -- with gusto.

"That was so much fun," she beamed.

But it was also sad, for Ms. Filling was one of 19 employees of Servantis Systems Inc. taking a half-day self-protection course this week offered by the company after one of its salespeople was attacked in a hotel.

"Crime is escalating. . .We want to make our employees comfortable" and safe, said Aspasia Oosterwijk, vice president of the Atlanta-based software company.

As a result, Servantis has beefed up security at its Owings Mills office, and provided a half-day self-defense course in company offices and on company time for all of its 400 workers in Atlanta and 100 workers in Maryland, she said.

While police statistics indicate violent crime dropped slightly last year in Maryland and the nation, the number of crimes is still very high, and there is growing corporate concern about protecting workers from violence.

A U.S. Department of Justice survey last year found that about 1 million Americans are victimized annually by violent crime while on the job.

And in Baltimore, violence is the leading cause of workplace death, according to federal statistics released last week.

As a result, employers across the country are starting to fight back.

In California, attorney Gary Mathiason, who specializes in workplace violence cases, said all hospitals are now required by state law to provide self-defense training to emergency room workers.

And companies not affected by new laws are increasingly drafting anti-violence policies, improving security and offering additional training, he said.

"Companies are taking this seriously," Mr. Mathiason said.

The mood at the Servantis office, where space was cleared for self-defense training this week, was a bittersweet mix of seriousness and laughter, however.

After sobering the all-female class with statistics on rapes and assaults, Kerry Kollmar, a martial arts teacher from Atlanta, said their best defenses were their intuition and their feet. (Male workers were trained in an afternoon class.)

If they get a bad feeling about someone, run away, he said.

If that doesn't work, try yelling "Fire!"

Shouting something like "He's got a gun" isn't very helpful because too many people will hide to protect themselves, rather than run to protect you, he said.

And if the suspicious person keeps approaching, Mr. Kollmar advised the women to take a judo-like stance and shout in a hoarse voice: "Stop. What do you want?"

If the person demands money, throw your wallet behind the mugger and run the other way, he said.

But if the person doesn't stop, he advised the women to be prepared to fight back.

"You have to ask yourself: 'Would I be willing to see a man's body writhing in pain?' "

And when the class giggled and shouted back "Yes!" Mr. Kollmar and a burly aide donned big padded helmets so that each woman could take turns punching a man in the nose.

"That's a good shot, but you're only using one-tenth of your power," he told Ms. Filling, advising her to pivot her hips with the blow.

Then she hauled back and punched him so hard his head snapped back. "Beautiful. Feel that? I sure did."

After lessons on aiming for the especially vulnerable eyes or throat, and hitting with elbows in up-close fighting, Mr. Kollmar and his helper each munched on mints for a moment, wrapped a towel around their necks and prepared for the "highlight" of the training -- the (almost) always decisive groin kick.

'Come on, killer'

If a woman is confronted by an attacking man, she should clasp her hands behind his neck and pull down while she jerks her knee up, he said.

He straddled a big pad, and had the women practice.

They blushed furiously as Mr. Kollmar egged them on.

"Come on, killer," he said to Ms. Filling.

And if one knee in the groin is good, many are better. "Two in TC row!" he ordered, and shouted "Oomph" as she slammed into the pad.

Then in a joking falsetto, he squeaked: "Beautiful."

Feels nervous

After the session was over, Ms. Filling said she has begun to feel nervous when she leaves the software company's suburban office at night.

"I'm more frightened now than when I worked downtown" because she feels isolated, she said.

But now, Ms. Filling -- just under 5 feet tall -- said she feels safer.

"I found something I can do," she said.

"God forbid, if I have to, I could" fight back.

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