Martial arts school starts four-week female self-defense class

Lead instructor, Jessica Reilly demonstrates a strike with assistant instructor, Holly Acker ©Stephanie Yuvienco

By Stephanie Yuvienco and Joe Goncalves

69-year-old Nancy Fiano gets up from the mat, pushes her sleeves up and curls her knuckles as she enters into her fighting stance. Her first blow goes right up Bob’s chin, the training dummy at Modern Warrior.

“A lot of people don’t want to be aggressive, but when it comes down to you or them, you have to know what to do,” Fiano said.

Last week, the Modern Warrior, a martial arts school in Lindenhurst, started their four-week female self-defense class rotation. Fiano is one among six women taking these classes, which are designed to teach blocks, strikes, kicks, ground fighting, throws, and breaking holds for women 16 and older. The lead instructor, Jessica Reilly, has been a student at the school since 2001 and started teaching female self-defense since 2007. Women can walk into the school and register for the class that same day, paying $99 per class when signing up for the full four weeks.

Modern Warrior was created in 1981 in the garage of retired police sergeant Phil Messina, then expanded into two office spaces in Lindenhurst. The school has two spaces for classes, both equipped with mats, training dummies and simulated weapons to use as practice. In the back, there are three simulation rooms that took Messina 10 years to build. There is a home invasion room set-up like a bedroom and living room, a weather room to imitate harsh conditions that fighters can encounter and a bus/flight simulator for violent encounters while in public transportation.

“You see it in the news every day of some violent attack,” Reilly said. “It’s all about giving people awareness and the tools to fight back. You need to start visualizing these types of situations.”

Before the female self-defense classes, in 1985, Modern Warrior started offering a free Rape Prevention program. Since then, Messina has certified 400-500 rape prevention instructors and has educated about 20,000 women through the free service. There are less than a dozen martial arts institutes on the island that specialize in self-defense, and of those none offer a course built from the ground up for females.

“Our philosophy is I will win,” Messina said. “Someone once asked me, ‘aren’t you afraid of dying?’ and I said, ‘sure I’m afraid of dying, I’m just more afraid of losing.’ It’s putting your fears in the right perspective that gives you coverage.”

Suffolk County had 149 reported cases of rape in the last year, 97 more than Nassau, according to a Newsday report. There were also 1,061 reports of assault in Suffolk that same year, 52 more than Nassau. One in six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. 

Fiano’s daughter was attacked this year by a former boyfriend and is the main reason why she started attending these classes.

“Criminals get away with a lot more these day,” Robert Coffman, Suffolk County police officer, said. “People are untrained and reluctant to even get involved. I think that if more people are able to properly defend themselves and didn’t automatically consider themselves a victim then I think the crime level would certainly go down a bit.”

The threat of sexual violence is fresh in many people’s minds, with the recent allegations against actor Kevin Spacey and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein making major news across the country. Online awareness campaigns such as the #metoo movement aim to spread knowledge of the pervasiveness of sexual violence in an attempt to combat it. Modern Warrior helps turn that sociological combat into physical combat.

My daughter is smart and strong, but she still got taken in by a fast talking con man,” Fiano said. The police do what they can to get the criminals off of the streets, but the court system is bogged down and unfortunately lots of bad, evil people are set free on a daily basis.”

Women can register for self-defense lessons and start at any time until classes end on November 19th.

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I'm Joe Goncalves, a writer, photographer and videographer from Selden, NY. Currently a journalism student at Stony Brook University. My website is