Keeping boys in line

Lessons: A self-defense course in Howard County offers girls hands-on tips for hands-off dating.

March 26, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Debbie Ross is talking self-defense: palm meets chin, elbow hits ribs, foot clobbers shin.

And knees well, "You know what to do with your knees," she said to the girls with a grin.

Welcome to Dating 101.

Don't look for any man-haters here. Ross' husband, Art, is helping out, too -- showing teens and preteens how to get out of worst-case situations safely so they can date with self-confidence intact.

Offered by Howard County General Hospital and a self-defense outfit called Fighting Chance Inc., the 2 1/2-hour course covers a little bit of biology, a little bit of psychology, a little bit of physics and "two hours of butt-kicking," Ross said.

Yesterday, the eight girls participating in "Ready, Set, Date" learned how to deal with dangerous predicaments and simple jerks.

And despite some irrepressible giggles, they were whacking, kicking, elbowing and stomping with abandon in no time.

"It's fun," said 12-year-old Shauna Kuhn, a little out of breath from the exertion -- and the giggling -- but otherwise just fine.

Shauna, of Baltimore, was the smallest of the group, but she freed herself from wrist-grabs, bear hugs and the occasional attack from behind.

Art Ross and Andrew Czajkowski, 15, a volunteer, acted as the attackers and often used punching bags as protection.

Good thing, too: When Debbie Ross told the girls to strike, sometimes with hands, sometimes with knees, they managed to push Andrew halfway across the room.

It's all in the technique.

"Put Andrew through a wall -- I'm paying for it," Debbie Ross joked.

She taught the girls to bring one foot down hard on an attacker's foot if he grabs from behind. The men offered a prosthetic foot as a stand-in so the girls could stomp with gusto.

And they did.

Twelve-year-old Sidra Woods' three quick whacks looked particularly painful, thanks to her heavy-heeled shoes.

The class also learned a few techniques for the jerks just fooling around -- moves that hurt but don't damage. (Absolutely no knees to the groin unless you're in danger, Ross warned her charges. That can put guys in the hospital.)

Ross, a jujitsu black belt who also teaches college-level communications courses, offered some general dating tips, too.

"Most guys out there are great, but they don't come with an instruction manual," she said. "He doesn't know any more than you do."

Ross said the typical boy gets his dating information from older brothers, friends, television shows, movies -- all of which can give him a not-altogether accurate idea of how to behave or what to expect from girls.

Plus, in middle school, boys are still a year or two behind girls developmentally, she said.

"I want you, in other words, to be your own role model," Ross said.

Ross, who co-owns Fighting Chance Inc., based in Columbia, taught the dating course three times in 1994. Then it slipped off the hospital's class schedule. Last year, Nadine Pfaffman, a Howard County General Hospital health education assistant, asked to bring it back.

Last March, she sent her two daughters, now ages 13 and 15. It might be offered again next fall.

"There's really nothing else out there like it," said Pfaffman, a Crofton resident. "The reason I wanted my girls to take it is because they're reached that age -- we've got the boys calling the house."

Pfaffman worried that some young men might be a little too assertive. She wanted her daughters to go into dating with eyes open and self-defense skills to fall back on.

Most of the girls, who paid $30 to take the course, haven't started dating yet. But they left feeling more prepared.

"Now I know what to do in case of emergency," said Ashley Tolbert, 13, a Bowie resident. "I think it's very handy."

"I kind of want to practice some more," she confided with a laugh.

Pub Date: 3/26/00

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