By Louis Pagillo and Jedine Daley
Gene Perceval, 79 years old, looked over the materials for his presentation one last time. The face shield, pepper spray, plastic knife and pocket alarm were all in order. His plastic sheets with eyes and throat targets were ready for use. He made sure he had his wife’s leather purse. Once he knew he had everything, he adjusted his taekwondo gi, made sure his black belt was on tight enough, and turned around to face the class of 16 women.
Perceval and his son Daniel were teaching one of their many self-defense classes for women at the Shelter Rock Public Library Monday night. The class is designed to empower women and give them the means to defend themselves in the case of a mugging, assault, or kidnapping.
“It’s a little over an hour, hour and a half tops,” Perceval said. “What you learn over that hour and a half could save your life.”
Perceval has been practicing martial arts for over 60 years. He has a black belt in Judo, Aikido, Taekwondo, and Jiu-Jitsu, and traditional Okinawan style, and he incorporates several techniques from each style into the lesson. The class is designed by both him and his son.
During the class, his son Daniel takes on the role of what he referred to as the “street animal,” and Perceval acts as the woman defending herself. They playout different scenarios and explain how to avoid them. This includes how to escape being bear-hugged from behind, grabbed on the arm, or choked. After each demonstration, they put the women in the class into pairs and let them try the techniques themselves.
“I appreciate that they let us do it and go around to correct us if we need it,” Linda Kirste, an attendee of the class said. “Just by looking at it, it doesn’t really help you.”
The goal of the class is to enable women to defend themselves, while also stopping misinformation about self-defense, Daniel said. Throughout the class, he brought up real-world examples in the news of women who were attacked and didn’t know proper self-defense techniques.
“They learn so much false information that this class is trying to prevent,” Daniel said. “This is what you shouldn’t be doing because you could potentially lose your life if you do that.”
According to the United States Department of Justice, over three million women were victims of violent crimes in 2018. The same report also claims that 24 out of every 1,000 are victims of rape.
Most of the women in the class gave positive feedback to the library staff, and they plan on having the class again at a later date.
“I learned a lot of techniques,” Adriana Perez, one of the women attending the class said. “We are in danger all the time and we need to protect ourselves.”