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On the last day of second grade, my mother took me to a dojo for a trial judo lesson. I was an energetic kid, and she wanted me to expend some of my energy in a place that wasn’t our apartment. She also wanted me to learn how to defend myself. I didn’t care why I was doing judo––I just knew that I loved it. When I tell people that I’ve been doing judo for six years, they often ask me what to do if someone attacks them. It’s a reasonable question, and one that not enough people know the answer to. Knowing how to react in dangerous situations is something most of us are woefully lacking.
I started walking around the city alone when I was in middle school. Though sometimes I am still nervous when I’m by myself, I—and my parents—feel safer knowing I can fight or at least try to run. But crime has been rising, especially in places like the subway; subway robberies and muggings increased by 18 percent from August to September 2021. Still, like many students at Stuyvesant, I have to take public transportation to and from school, oftentimes alone and at night. As inhabitants of a volatile city, it’s vital we learn how to defend ourselves and know where to get help.
With gun violence surging, teaching students how to disarm an assailant could be life-saving. There are many forms of martial arts for students to discover. Some, such as Aikido, work with weapons. Others, like judo, use the opponent’s balance against them. Since every situation is different, students should learn a variety of martial arts. If schools incorporate basic self-defense into the health and physical education curriculum, students could be more prepared to respond to threatening situations. If we’re taught how to run, jump, and throw, we should also be taught how to break grips and throw a punch. Having martial arts instructors who have spent years mastering self-defense is the best way to ensure no one gets hurt. Students can practice with martial arts dummies and shadow practice—practicing defenses in the air.
If we learn from a young age what to do, self-defense will come naturally. Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to do judo for a year, but as soon as I started again, I remembered every throw and pin I had learned. I had practiced so much that it became muscle memory. Under pressure, we have to react quickly and effectively. And if enough school children—the so-called easy targets—learn self-defense, our city will be a lot safer.