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updated: 6/13/2014 6:04 AM

Dad puts self-defense on daughter's college checklist

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  • Shannon Wittel of Palatine practices a backhand punch during a women's self-defense class at J.P. Wood Martial Arts America in Palatine.

       Shannon Wittel of Palatine practices a backhand punch during a women's self-defense class at J.P. Wood Martial Arts America in Palatine.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Taylor Delapa of Palatine winces at a punch during a women's self-defense class at J.P. Wood Martial Arts America.

       Taylor Delapa of Palatine winces at a punch during a women's self-defense class at J.P. Wood Martial Arts America.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Rachel Wittel of Palatine shows her might during a women's self-defense class.

       Rachel Wittel of Palatine shows her might during a women's self-defense class.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Shannon Wittel, of Palatine, left, and Lauren Priebe of Palatine, right, practice backhand punches.

       Shannon Wittel, of Palatine, left, and Lauren Priebe of Palatine, right, practice backhand punches.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Instructor Jan Wood performs an escape move on Taylor Delapa of Palatine.

       Instructor Jan Wood performs an escape move on Taylor Delapa of Palatine.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Tracy Bourgon of Palatine practices using her hands as "knives" during a women's self-defense class.

       Tracy Bourgon of Palatine practices using her hands as "knives" during a women's self-defense class.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Instructor Jan Wood shows her might over Tracy Bourgon of Palatine during a women's self-defense class.

       Instructor Jan Wood shows her might over Tracy Bourgon of Palatine during a women's self-defense class.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • The J.P. Wood Martial Arts America facility is located along a Northwest Highway strip mall in Palatine.

       The J.P. Wood Martial Arts America facility is located along a Northwest Highway strip mall in Palatine.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Instructor Jan Wood demonstrates a kick with student Rachel Wittel of Palatine.

       Instructor Jan Wood demonstrates a kick with student Rachel Wittel of Palatine.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Taylor Delapa of Palatine practices using her hands as "knives" during a women's self-defense class.

       Taylor Delapa of Palatine practices using her hands as "knives" during a women's self-defense class.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Instructor Jan Wood shares her enthusiasm for using various body limbs as weapons for self-defense.

       Instructor Jan Wood shares her enthusiasm for using various body limbs as weapons for self-defense.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Tracy Bourgon of Palatine practices a backhand punch.

       Tracy Bourgon of Palatine practices a backhand punch.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Instructor Jan Wood leads lessons in blocking aggression during a women's self-defense class at J.P. Wood Martial Arts America in Palatine.

       Instructor Jan Wood leads lessons in blocking aggression during a women's self-defense class at J.P. Wood Martial Arts America in Palatine.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
By Jean Murphy

Taylor Delapa of Hoffman Estates says her dad, John, is a "worrier."

John himself admits, "I'm a very safety/security-conscious individual -- especially when it comes to my family -- and I know that the world can be a dangerous place."

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Regardless, Delapa was concerned when his oldest daughter, Morgan, was ready to graduate from Fremd High School two years ago and move on to Illinois State University.

"During my oldest daughter's senior year in high school, the thought occurred to me that she should receive some basic self-defense instruction before she's off to college," he explained. "Certainly, college campuses are for the most part, safe, but there are instances of date rape, muggings and other criminal incidents as news reports attest.

"I felt that 18-year-old college females are vulnerable in this new environment, especially being away from mom and dad for the first time," Delapa continued. "These freshmen have also found 'freedom' from parental supervision and quite naturally are excited, adventurous and wanting to experiment.

"My daughters and their friends grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago leading to, I think, a false sense of security when away at school and in a totally different environment for the first time," he added. "Quite frankly, I don't know why a parent wouldn't want their college-bound daughter to attend a seminar on this subject matter."

So Delapa did some research and found Jan Wood at J.P. Wood Martial Arts in Palatine and worked closely with her to develop a two-hour self-defense seminar for Morgan and her friends. Then this year, he asked Wood to conduct the seminar again for his younger daughter, Taylor, and her friends.

"After Morgan went through the seminar, I worried less when she was away at school because I knew that I had at least tried to give her the tools she needed to deal with her new environment," Delapa said.

"When I first suggested it to Morgan, I got the standard, 'Oh, Dad!' response. But once I explained my rationale, she decided it would be a good idea, especially if she could do it with her friends. And Jan made it a good experience. She was very candid and honest and also made it fun for the girls," he said.

Wood taught them how to behave at parties (like not leaving a drink unattended), how to walk safely at night, how to react if someone grabs them and so forth.

"The whole country is in wake-up mode when it comes to campus assaults so I think that it is important for parents to provide this training for their girls. Trouble on campus is certainly not unique to girls. Boys can get in trouble, too, especially with all of the alcohol on college campuses. But I just think that guys are naturally more aggressive and they will instinctively fight. Many girls need to be taught these skills," Delapa said.

The seminar Wood and Delapa put together covers common sense information, reinforces common sense precautions/staying safe tips, how to do a "reality check" to an overly aggressive date/friend (date rape is the most common threat girls face in college), how and where to kick/strike, how to release, how not to be a victim, etc. There is also physical work with verbal instruction and a question-and-answer session.

"It's much more than martial arts and self-defense," he said.

"Parents are not invited because she gets "real" during the session and talks about these potential threats (and responses) quite candidly with the girls. I loved hearing that," Delapa added. "The parents of my daughters' friends have expressed their thanks to me for getting this effort going, too."

Wood, who is a 6th degree Chief Master instructor in Tae Kwondo, said that her goal with these self-defense seminars is to teach young women to avoid dangerous situations and to successfully defend themselves.

"I tell them to listen to their inner voices and to lock their doors, not walk alone and not walk distracted like while texting or talking on the phone," she said. "I basically remind them about and reinforce what they already know because most attacks occur on women between the ages of 15 and 30 because they are the ones who are out late at night and maybe not in terribly safe areas, so there are more opportunities for danger."

Wood teaches the young women the basics, including:

• Breathe and be confident

• communicate and take control.

• Shout and act strong.

•Don't aggravate or insult the attacker because it will further incite them.

• Execute all action necessary to stop the attack.

• Evaluate, exit and escape.

She further tells them not to be self-conscious or afraid to say "no" and teaches them how and where to strike an attacker and when to release that person.

"Using their natural weapons of elbows, feet and the sides of their hands, I teach them the places to strike an attacker for the best effect -- groin, ears/eyes, nose, throat/neck and finally, shins and legs -- and then I have them practice the various strikes. There is the palm of the hand to the nose, a finger to the eye, punch to the throat or ribs and a stomp on the foot. I also teach them to differentiate between a violent attack and an attack from a friend who has had too much to drink and needs a reality or 'back off' strike," Wood said.

"My aim is to empower the girls and teach them that self-defense is all about body physics and mechanics. You may not be able to out-power an attacker, but you can outmaneuver, outsmart and out-manipulate them," she explained.

"We also talk about date rape drugs and not leaving your drink unattended or letting someone else get one for you, the use of whistles and pepper spray and even watching your alcohol intake so that you don't let your guard down," Wood added.

Delapa's younger daughter, Taylor, and her friends also took the course in late May, prior to graduation.

"Personally, I wasn't worried about going off to college before the class," Taylor said, "but my dad convinced me to go and the class did make me much more aware of the need for self-defense skills. While I thought that I could fend for myself, during the class I did learn all kinds of tricks about where and how to hit so that you have time to run away.

"I also learned to put my car keys between my fingers when I am walking to my car at night so that I can use them as a weapon if necessary and other simple moves to make, depending on the situation. It was really a fun evening since I did it with my friends and now I will definitely feel more confident about walking around on campus," she continued.

Taylor will attend the University of Iowa in the fall.

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