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Self-defense class trains for worst scenarios

February 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
What would you do if someone attacked you without provocation? What if the attacker simply wanted to inflict harm or even kill you because you were vulnerable? Do you know what you would have to do in order to survive?

In a controversial self-defense course, students not only learn how to fend off an attacker but they also learn how to maim or even kill the person.

While some people believe that's going too far, these experts say it's something that could save your life.

It is rare to find yourself face to face with a sociopath, a killer or a rapist, but it's undeniable that they are out there searching for victims. They target people who are unsuspecting, unprepared and profoundly unlucky.

At Target Focus Training, the goal is to turn the victim into the attacker. In the event you can't turn and run, they show you how to flip the switch and fight.

"We're trying to super-simplify everything for you so you don't have to practice stick fighting, knife fighting, ground fighting. All you have to do is target practice on the human machine. All you have to think about is hurting people. That's it. And it's super-simple and it takes care of everything else," Master Instructor Chris Ranck tells students in one of his classes.

Through the course of a weekend, you learn how to use your body as a weapon by attacking the most vulnerable parts of your attacker -- the groin, lower margin of the ribs, throat and eyes -- whether he is armed or not.

Bar none, the most difficult part of the course is at the very beginning, when the class is shown videos of real-life violence. The videos are not TV dramas or movies, but graphic, frightening, real-life attacks with people being stabbed, beaten, broken and even killed. The attackers don't stop when being punched or kicked, but keep going until their victim is dead or they are crippled or killed.

The videos are as effective as they are disturbing. The sobering message has these students focused and understanding that this really is life and death.

Tim Larkin, who started Target Focus, says the system was first developed when he was in the military, designed for hand-to-hand combat with Navy SEALs.

"It was solely part of the special operations community for the first part of the early '90s," said Larkin.

Twenty years later, it has evolved into an easy-to-learn system for civilians. But participants are warned of the severity of each move before training.

"By the way, if you do this to somebody, here's the result you're going to get, so it better not be because they took your parking space," Ranck tells class members.

In the class a variety of people, male and female, young and old, big and small, go through the drills, practicing breaking the body down. Some blows are designed to cripple, while some are designed to kill.

In class, every step or hit, from start to finish, is in slow motion. Safety is one of the key reasons but also these instructors swear that if the time comes when you have to use this in real-time, it works.

"There's a lot of literature in neurology about slow practice leading to fast execution," said Ranck.

The pace works for 19-year-old Erika Poynter.

"It's pretty simple actually," said Poynter. "It's just mainly knowing where the pressure points are on the body and where to hit. You don't need to be big or strong or fast or anything like that."

Poynter is petite, and admittedly fearful of someday being attacked. This course has helped her understand the mindset of a sociopath. And as a result, she has to change the way she thinks if she ever is attacked.

"Society has taught us not to make violence and create violence, but in their eyes they don't care about you. They just want to kill you. So you have to put yourself in that situation," said Poynter.

It's an attitude and method that Larkin says works, even for his smallest students.

"I had a 100-pound woman attacked at college by a 230-pound serial rapist," Larkin explained. "She was able to poke him in the eye with her thumb, knock him off the bed and ended up falling on top of him and crushing his throat."