Protect yourself: Learn hands-on self-defense in one day
From the outside, you'd never suspect women are learning life-saving techniques behind the door of the Women's Defense Company.
The gym is tucked in the front of an unassuming business park and, while it's compact, it packs a punch. With one step inside, dummy targets are revealed, lined up, ready for striking; and part of the company's motto, "Prepared to fight," is painted in red on the wall.
The team at the Women's Defense Company is on a mission to equip all women in Northeast Florida with the skills to defend themselves.
"We offer realistic self-defense courses for the average woman to take," lead instructor and founder Chris Oklevitch said. "We're looking for students that are not interested in a long career in martial arts. Most of our students want to take one class and be done."
But, Oklevitch said, one class is all it takes to learn the basics to thwart an attacker.
We'd all like to believe it would never happen to us, but, according to the Department of Justice, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.
Many of these crimes take place on college campuses. No one knows that better than Tricia Shatley, lead instructor at the Women's Defense Company. While working at the Women's Resource Center at the University of Miami from 1997 to 2004, she saw her fair share of abuse victims.
"College is supposed to be the best time of your life, but it's not if you're the victim of a crime," she said. "I got to know several students who were victims. Part of my job was to offer self-defense classes with our police force there. One day, I finally took the class. For me, it was life changing - the idea that I don't have to fear [an attack], but I can prepare for it."
After that class, there was no turning back for her. She wanted to share this empowering feeling with everyone she knew.
For Oklevitch and Shatley, the gym is a labor of love.
"We see people from every walk of life, every age group," Oklevitch said. "We have classes ranging anywhere from an hour to 12 hours, depending on what type of course. Our most popular course is our Abduction and Rape Response Tactics course."
The Abduction and Rape Response Tactics course, or A.R.R.T, is a six-hour high-intensity class designed to teach women how to replace panic with a plan, allowing for effective defense tactics and an improved outcome in the event of an attack. The course ends with a simulated attack designed to take students out of their comfort zone.
"It can be scary," Oklevitch said. "But we show them that when you want it, and you fight a little smarter, you can make it out of there."
The course is offered the last weekend of each month at the gym for women age 14 and older. Children 11 to 13 years old can attend with a parent.
"We see a lot of mothers and daughters come take it," Oklevitch said. "It's really great for students who are heading off to college."
For the younger crowd, the company holds Kidz Tough, a 60-minute interactive course for parents and children, where students learn simple and realistic skills, such as how to respond to and escape an attempted abduction.
The company also offers an active shooter seminar, corporate seminars, a real estate personal safety course, and several courses designed for on-site visits to businesses, churches, schools, colleges and private venues.
For more information about available courses, visit womensdefensecompany.com