DEKALB -- Before DeKalb resident Kim Rodr-Luzzi began taking a kickboxing class in DeKalb, she used to walk with her keys tucked between her knuckles.
Instead of planning to use her keys in self defense, Rodr-Luzzi now is trained to throw jabs, hooks, uppercuts and even a roundhouse kick to ward off would-be attackers. The substitute teacher said she now feels she can better protect herself because she regularly attends a women's kickboxing class at United Elite Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness, 1600 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb.
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"There are things I can do now, like hang upside down from a punching bag and do sit-ups," Rodr-Luzzi said. "My body has changed quite a bit."
Many women are taking classes at local fitness centers to learn about self-defense. Some students said they initially joined for the exercise, but are now learning more about how to protect themselves.
At United Elite, up to 35 women attend a women's kickboxing class, owner Erick Villamar said. This is considerably higher than the three to five women who enrolled in the class three years ago when the MMA facility first opened, he said.
The kickboxing class helps women improve their fitness and defensive skills, including how to throw a punch, block punches and how to protect yourself when you are being attacked, Villamar said.
"If you're already in shape, it will make you stronger," Villamar said. "Also for the self-defense aspect, most women who have been with us can punch, slip out of the way and punch you two or three times before you can even react."
Rodr-Luzzi already has had a chance to use some of her skills. While substitute teaching in April at a local middle school, she said she broke up a fight between a couple of students who were pushing each other. With help from four others who dispersed the crowd, Rodr-Luzzi put her arm between the two students to get them to stop.
"I broke them up rather quickly," she said. "Before taking kickboxing, I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing that."
Other women taking self-defense classes have not had to use their skills yet. DeKalb resident Dana Miller is a second degree black belt at Bill Cho's United Taekwondo Center, 1598 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore. She enrolled at the center shortly after it opened in 2008 to keep in shape.
Miller, 43, said her doctor was amazed by her flexibility. In a potentially dangerous situation with an attacker, she would be able to grab his arm, pull away and do some knee kicks.
"I'm not the kind of person who feels in danger, but I feel more confident that I know what I could do if I needed to," Miller said.
More women should take self-defense classes in order to gain confidence and become empowered and stronger, said Agnes Rhodes, office manager at Bill Cho's.
Of the 230 students at Bill Cho's, about 90 are female, and about 30 of them are older than 18, Rhodes said.
Rhodes and her 11-year-old daughter are both black belts. Rhodes said everyone should know how to protect themselves, especially women who are sometimes victimized more than men.
"The biggest thing with self-defense is having the courage to use it," she said. "Otherwise, if you don't know how to use it, you're going to panic and you're not going to know what to do."
Learning self-defense skills at the MMA facility in DeKalb has improved Cortland resident Angela Burza's confidence. Burza, a 45-year-old mother of three, said even younger women are impressed by her repertoire of kicks and punches.
"When I say I feel confident, I feel 10 times more confident than a 20-something person," Burza said. "I'm probably in the best shape of my life. As far as my confidence, walking into a place, I'm not worried about it."