Taking it to the Street

Former Marine and a trained black belt pair up to teach Street Survival, which helps students learn how to avoid, survive dangerous situations.

April 30, 2012|By Michael Miller

When Nicole Burmaster enrolled in a self-defense class earlier this year, the first thing the instructors taught her had nothing to do with punching a bag or aiming a karate chop.

Rather, they taught her how to walk.

The staff at the Fitness Compound, a gym tucked in the corner of an office complex near Huntington Central Park, recently launched a class called Street Survival, in which students learn practical methods of defending themselves. In some cases, that means avoiding dangerous situations before they arise — for example, by walking with the head up and shoulders back and not fumbling with a cell phone or keys.

"You can't always rely on someone being there with you," said Burmaster, a stay-at-home mom from Huntington who enrolled in Street Survival along with her sister. "You can't always grab your purse or reach for your pepper spray."

For those hair-raising moments, instructors Nick Rians and Michele Mandala offer a number of specific pointers. Here's a test one might cobble together from their sessions:


Q: You hear footsteps behind you, and then two arms wrap around your neck in a chokehold. How do you break free?

A: You have a couple of seconds to loosen the attacker's grip, which can be done by stomping on feet or elbowing sides. Once the arm around the neck slackens, bite down on it hard.

Q: Suppose the person then pushes you and you fall backward. How do you land?

A: As you fall, tuck your chin into your chest to keep your head from hitting the ground. Turn your palms down to "high-five" the ground and avoid banging your elbows. Then raise your knees to keep the attacker at bay.

Q: If you then manage to knock the attacker down, in what direction do you run?

A: Diagonally, since the attacker will expect you to run straight.

Rians, a former Marine and the owner of the Fitness Compound, and Mandala, a black belt trained in hand-to-hand police combat, end each hour-long session by letting the students propose scenarios. The chokehold defense arose from a question Thursday afternoon; other times, students have suggested outlandish situations, like how to fend off 20 gun-wielding attackers at once.

In those instances, Mandala said, she and Rians handle the question logically, asking the class to imagine the circumstances that might lead to such a moment and how to avoid them.

"Between Nick's and my experience, we always know the answer," she said.

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