Creative self-defence marshalled

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
When Billie Oliver and friends decided four years ago that they wanted to establish a nationally-recognised award for women's self-defence instructors, they knew there was a long haul ahead.

Last year their efforts were rewarded when the Royal Society of Arts approved a new qualification. Their women's self-defence training-the-trainers course has received special praise in Maggie Coates' new book - Recognising Good Practice in Women's Education and Training.

Ms Oliver, a member of the Bristol Women's Self-Defence Training Association, believes that young, old and disabled women should all be taught to defend themselves against violence, harassment and sexual innuendo, but felt there were yawning gaps in most classes on offer.

"The problem was so many were martial arts courses taught by men. Women who had been on them often said they felt more vulnerable afterwards, because they were not given space to explore situations and were afraid if faced with a real-life difficulty they would forget what they were supposed to do."

She says the advantage of self-defence classes for and taught by women is that women are encouraged not to rely on set moves that might be inappropriate.

"A woman with disabilities might not be able to use her arms and legs in the same way as an able-bodied person. Women who are short might not find it easy to kick and punch the same parts of the body as someone who is taller.

"We try to show women what they can do verbally as well as physically. We also teach self-esteem and how to assert yourself with adults and children," she says.

Ms Oliver became interested in women's self-defence while working for the Bristol-based Workers' Educational Association, a voluntary adult education organisation.

She joined colleague Cathy Benjamin and a friend, Karen Lloyd, a women's sports development officer for Bristol City Council. They realised there was a demand for self-defence classes taught by women and a shortage of suitably- qualified women's instructors. In 1992 they started a movement to establish a national instructors' qualification.

They got funding from Bristol City Council women's committee to develop and evaluate a pilot course leading to a national award to be accredited at level 3, equivalent to A-level. This was run in 1994.

Twenty-two women aged 25 to 45, including three with disabilities, embarked on the part-time, 10-month training and 16 got a local qualification. In May 1995, the award received RSA recognition.

Word soon spread and, says Ms Oliver, women around the country have started submitting portfolios of evidence so they will be able to teach other women to the required standard, in youth and community centres, schools, village halls, workplaces and sports centres.

"At the moment, Cathy Benjamin and I are having to fly all over the place because we are the only qualified assessors.

"The new qualification provides a way of assessing quality of provision and ensuring women know the advice they are receiving is sound and safe. There's a tremendous sense of achievement about having done this," she says.

Rosalind Turner, 37, and Liza Miles, 29, from Bristol, were among 13 women on the pilot course who went on to obtain the full, RSA qualification.

Both now teach women's self-defence part-time in and around Bristol and are hoping gradually to build up their business.

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