In the HPD Academy Training gym, a group of ten women stretched their shoulders, reached high, then swung their arms in big, swooping circles.
Their instructor reminded them to breathe, her voice echoing up into the rafters. They inhaled and exhaled in anticipation of the night ahead of them. In the still, humid air, bleach cleaner failed to mask the smell of sweat and wet sneakers. Somewhere in an adjoining weight room, a forgotten box fan hummed a tired rhythm.
Inside this tan brick, 1980s-style gym – complete with a hand-painted mural of downtown Houston and a few solos riding on patrol – these women stood ready to find their voices and their physical power.
“We’re still waiting on our guys to get here. They’re scared of y’all today,” Sergeant Carrie Farquhar jokes, referring to the male instructors who will later play the role of aggressors in simulated attacks.
The group of women smiled and laughed, a little uneasy knowing what’s ahead. It’s demo day. They were prepped to go full contact with their aggressors and practice what they’ve learned over the past week.
In four evenings in one week, Farquhar and Officer Tracie Mathews-Segura taught basic self-defense techniques to women in the Houston-area through a program called R.A.D – Rape Aggression Defense Systems. R.A.D is a “comprehensive course for women that begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and avoidance, while progressing to the basics of hands-on defense training.” The course was free and open to women fourteen years of age or older.
Mathews-Segura, a certified R.A.D instructor since 2007, brought the program to HPD after she joined as a lateral officer. Farquhar has been helping Mathews-Segura teach the class since it started in June.
Mathews-Segura describes the program as, “Basic self-defense techniques meant to be simple. It’s not martial arts. I’ve never had a student not be able to pick up a move.”
The pair reinforced this simplicity with their patient and determined teaching style. They coached every detail of protective stances, strikes, kicks and disarming elbow throws with passion and a sense of humor.
“I don’t care how old you are or what shape you’re in,” Mathews-Segura said, “you can roll faster than you can stand up. And I don’t care how you get up, as long as it’s not like this:”
She turned her back to the students encircling her and jutted her butt up in the air.
“Don’t turn your back!”
Hers and Farquhar’s practical humor helped to reinforce the life-saving techniques that are the bread and butter of the course.
Throughout the course, students learned cautious and warning stances. They understood how to properly punch, kick, and hammer fist strike. They came away with a few surprising defensive tricks like the one Mathews-Segura learned from a student in a previous class – “move your dorm room bed away from the wall, so you can roll your aggressor in between the bed and the wall and run out the opposite way.”
To finish out the course, they practiced how to get away when they’re pinned down or grabbed from behind by an aggressor, and when to block and strike. All counteracting moves are designed to protect women from as much strain and exposure to danger as possible.
“You’re able to plan all of this so you have the element of surprise in your favor,” Farquhar stated, reiterating the quick thinking and determination underlying the principles of the course.
When it was time for demos, Mathews-Segura and Farquhar showed the students how to suit up in protective gear. Then they faced their aggressors. Two males, Officer Leevan Lewis and Officer Paul Irving, suited up in full-body, noisy foam protective gear.
All four instructors took the women through circuits of simulated attacks. The “aggressors” taunted the students, mimicking a real-life attack. Adrenaline and excitement pulsed frenetic energy into the women’s return blows. Mathews-Segura and Farquhar cheered them on as they landed punches and kicks that pushed back Lewis and Irving.
“Turn around! Kick him! Go! Go!” They yelled.
When the demos were finished, Lewis and Irving unsuited and sat away from the group of women to take a breath.
“One of them hit me hard. I got a headache,” Lewis said, laughing and rubbing his forehead.
Mathews-Segura recorded the women’s demos, so they could review them at the end of class. They laughed and cheered at their demos as the adrenaline left their bodies and they eased into celebrating what they had learned.
Student Cindy Springgate said she wished they offered the course sooner. “It’s great that they’re doing this,” she said. “Some of these girls are in high school or going to college. That’s the best time for them to learn so they can build on it later.”
Another student, Alyson Morales, emphasized that using her voice was an important lesson she picked up in the course. “Be loud,” she said, “Don’t hide. Don’t keep it inside you. Find your power.”
The instructors and would-be aggressors believe it’s important to offer this training to the community and want to empower women to learn about self-defense.
“I want to empower women to believe in themselves,” Farquhar stressed. “I want them to understand safety and not become victims.
“There’s a Henry Ford quote that I like, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you are right!’ That’s really what this is about. We’re giving them tools to believe in themselves.”
The course wasn’t just an opportunity for women to learn basic self-defense. Mathews-Segura stressed it was a way for them to form bonds that last well after the course is done.
“One of the best things to see while teaching this program has nothing to do with me. It’s watching a room full of strangers empower each other and make friendships that will grow after the twelve hours I have them in one room.”
As they closed out the last day of class, one of the students asked the Badge and Gun to make the message of this course clear, “Make sure you tell them women can have a voice.”
To register for the course or find out more information about the R.A.D program, email Officer Mathews-Segura at firstname.lastname@example.org.