Finn Sipes ’22
Last Sunday, director of community engagement Emily Parsons hosted a self-defense class for senior girls taught by English teacher Chip Patterson. This class has been on hold for two years, its last appearance being for upper-middlers and seniors in the spring of 2019.
Patterson worked in law enforcement and as a crime reporter before coming to Mercersburg. This previous work has given him personal exposure to violence. He deems self-defense very important and necessary to helping to protect every person, especially young women.
Asked why self-defense was so important to him, Patterson said, “I think it goes back to early victims I knew. I saw what it did to them. And, it’s not true, but at the time, it seemed to me that nobody was doing anything about it. This neighborhood kid beat me up after school once, and I’ll never forget that fear. So I think it runs deep with me,” Patterson said.
His appreciation for self-defense goes beyond himself and his own experiences. “[Senior girls] are about to leave a safe, supervised environment for one that’s totally new to them. College is freedom. You’ll make your own decisions about relationships, socializing, alcohol – everything. Be informed and be ready to keep yourself safe,” said Patterson.
Parsons seconded this notion. “I just want our students to have a few skills that might keep them safe if they find themselves in a difficult situation. The Mercersburg bubble is great, but I worry that it might create a false sense of security. Hopefully, being more aware and having a few basic self-defense skills will keep our students safer.”
Self-defense techniques are never outdated and don’t just focus on crisis response. “Normally I do two sessions – a safety mindset seminar and a physical self-defense training,” Patterson noted.
He emphasized during the session that safety is not only physical, but it’s also reliant on mindset and instinct. Participants sat down for half of the session to evaluate possible dangers in public, how to listen to their instincts, and how to be aware. Patterson briefly introduced multiple case studies to discuss the idea of women being afraid to get in trouble defending themselves or hurting someone else in defense, as well as cases proving the power of intuition and trusting your gut.
While the session focused on a very serious subject matter, the students found a way to enjoy themselves and have fun while learning the skills they needed. Each student got to attack a cushioned dummy with skills they learned, training themselves how to pack a powerful punch with an elbow or knee and use their core for a more powerful defense. They also got to practice escape tactics on each other, even working on combinations to escape an attack for the best protection.
Caroline Simpson ’22 said, “My biggest takeaway from this class was learning how to get away from someone who’s trying to choke you!” Simpson was also appreciative of the opportunity to participate before leaving the Mercersburg community. “I attended the class because I feel like safety is an incredibly important life skill to have, especially when going to college.”
Patterson expressed his concern for how few people were able to come to the session this year, but both he and Parsons look forward to hopefully having a larger turnout in the future as they once again make it accessible to more members of the community.
Parsons said, “It truly wasn’t meant to be exclusive – I just wanted to target the students who will be leaving campus first. Next year, Mr. Patterson and I would like to offer more options.”
Students may be worried that the information will be repetitive, that after attending once they may not need to go again–this is not the case! “I always learn something new and I’m always amazed at how much our students really want to know more and practice these self-defense strategies. I always leave the session inspired by the strength of our students!” Parsons said.
Underclass students can look forward to these classes being available to them in the future, and now that students have permission to explore town once more, everyone should take advantage of the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills.