As a group of women gathered at the DeWitt Community Center, Andy Friederichsen congratulated them on taking their first step toward taking their personal safety into their own hands.

The Tae Kwon Do instructor at the DeWitt Fitness Center, together with his wife and fellow instructor, Tracey, led what was the first in a series of self-defense class for women ages 12 and up.

The classes, created by DeWitt Parks and Recreation, are being held Tuesday evenings in January.

The purpose is to help women prepare and learn the basic skills necessary for self-protection. They are being taught how to be more aware of their surroundings, and learning self-defense moves in case of an attack.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Lake said all 22 spots available for the class were been filled, and some consideration is being given to adding another class at a later date.

“We’re sold out, and we’re very happy about that,” Lake related. “Obviously, it’s an important service we can provide. Lots of different communities use it in lots of different ways. I’m just glad we can make it available and people are taking advantage of it.”

The Friederichsens are trained by Chung Kim’s Black Belt Academy, and have experience working in various correctional facilities which requires defensive tactics and verbal resolution training.

Andy, who works for the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, shared his own story as to what motivated him to study the martial arts.

“I was down in St. Louis with my then-girlfriend and her kid,” he said. “We were getting out of the car when out of nowhere, a guy came up, put his arm around me and asked, ‘Can I get some money from ya?’ I was terrified. That could have been an awful situation. Ever since, I have learned more about personal defense.”

Andy noted anyone can be a victim, just like anyone could be a potential attacker. 

The key is heightened awareness, and to knowledge that there are plenty of things an individual can do to keep herself safe in any given situation, he says.

“You have to keep in mind,” Andy explained to the class, “where are you heading? Who will be with you? Places like the mall, sporting events, social gatherings, and even at family gatherings … things can happen.”

He also advised members of the class, while in public places, to be conscientious about where all doors and exits are located. They also should observe anyone who looks out of place and key in on body movement, facial expressions and how they are dressed.

Andy said if someone approaches with an aggressive posture causing a threatening feeling, make as much noise and attract as much attention as possible.

He also advised the group to put away their cell phones and other electronics when in public. Anything that can distract them from a possible threatening situation.

“Consumption of intoxicants, like alcohol or drugs,” Andy explained. “When you have no capacity to defend yourself … that’s when you’re most vulnerable.”

At the class’ first gathering on Jan. 8, Andy and Tracey began by teaching a few basic physical maneuvers to employ, including how to make a proper fist.

One thing people need to keep in mind, Andy noted, is that should a person have to defend herself physically, it’s probably going to hurt.

There also may be blood.

“But you have to ask yourself, is my life in danger? If the answer is ‘yes,’ that’s when you need to take it to the next step. It’s a conscious choice.”

Andy also went over the various “weapons” women are born with that they can use in case of an attack.

These include their hands, teeth, their voices, knees and even the palms of their hands.

“If you disable your attacker, they can’t hurt you anymore,” he related. “You’re important to someone … you need to make sure you can get home to them.”

With each class, participants will review what they learned in the previous session and move on to practicing new defense strategies.

Zeimet sisters Taylor, 18; Alyssa, 16; and Abby, 14, joined their mom, Tracy, for the class.

They registered under the advisement of their dad and husband, Sgt. Shawn Zeimet with the DeWitt Police Department.

After the first class was over, the family agreed it was worthwhile.

“It was good,” Alyssa said with a smile. “It was fun.”

“Why not keep yourself safe?” Tracy asked. “It was fun.”