Eight months ago, Dana Romaniuk was running on the beach in Santa Monica when she was attacked by a homeless man hiding behind a lifeguard stand.
"I basically fought for my life. He tried to kill me, and then he committed a sexual assault because I wanted to get home alive," said Romaniuk.
She survived but was determined not to live the rest of her life in fear. A police officer told Romaniuk about the Gracie Academy Jiu-Jitsu Women Empowered class.
When she arrived, she was amazed by what she saw - smaller, weaker individuals outmaneuvering larger stronger opponents.
Flo Wong is 4 feet and 10 inches tall and weighs about 100 pounds. She has learned techniques that allow her to not only escape the grip of a man 6 feet tall, but also take him to the ground.
The Women Empowered class is based on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which Helio Gracie created from Japanese jiu-jitsu, adapting it for smaller and physically weaker individuals to defeat stronger more athletic opponents.
The art form was made famous by the Gracie family, who founded the UFC. It's all about leverage, timing and precision of technique more than speed, power or athleticism, explained Rener Gracie, who teaches at the academy.
Government statistics show one in six women will be sexually assaulted in the U.S. After hearing similar statistics, the Gracie family realized their academy had not yet served its most important purpose. That's how the Women Empowered Program was born.
The class teaches women the 15 most common ways sexual assault suspects attack the victim and how to defend against them.
"The idea is not, you know, choking him out and leaving him unconscious. The idea is getting home safe," said Eve Torres, an instructor.
The Women Empowered class is based in jui-jitsu and on information provided by law enforcement.
"They basically made us aware the sexual assaults taking place were very specific and actually quite limited in terms of the number of scenarios," said Rener Gracie.
Instinctively, many women may go for the eye gauge or groin strike to defend themselves, but the Women Empowered class places a large focus on what to do if the attacker gets you to the ground in the fight.
"We teach you how to get out from beneath your attacker," said Gracie.
"Not every woman that comes in here is a 22-year-old, in-shape woman. We've got mothers, grandmothers, daughters,'' explained Torres. "We invest into our health, we invest into our finances, so many things about our lives, but we don't always invest into our personal safety and it's so important."
Romaniuk couldn't agree more.
"It's not as much physical, as it is the knowledge of knowing what to do when. I never thought I'd be able to take somebody down. Now, I know various ways."
The Gracie Academy is holding a free self-defense seminar Saturday, July 13 at 2:30 p.m. You can get more information by visiting their website, www.gracieacademy.com.