Cass County Democrat Missourian

Ray-Pec seniors organize self-defense class, inspired by human trafficking issue

Meredith Herrell, 15, and Abigail Zismer, 14, practice a self-defense move during a seminar at Raymore-Peculiar High School.
Meredith Herrell, 15, and Abigail Zismer, 14, practice a self-defense move during a seminar at Raymore-Peculiar High School. Special to the Democrat

Take in your surroundings, keep distance between yourself and a potential attacker and, if necessary, be prepared to crunch someone’s instep. About 34 people gathered to learn these and other self-defense tips at Raymore-Peculiar High School last week.

Self-defense seminars aren’t new, but most of them don’t have two 18-year-old high school seniors as their driving force. Kayla Hughes and Jada Yancey took the initiative to plan the class as a special project for their International Baccalaureate program.

Initially, they looked at doing something to help homeless people, but some logistical issues got in the way. After some incidents involving human trafficking made the news in the Raymore area, the girls decided to do a project that incorporated raising awareness about trafficking as well as doing something to protect people in the community.

Required elements of their project were creativity, activity and service.

“We decide on a self-defense class, because we’re going to college next year, and we thought it was a good idea for (people) to learn how to defend themselves,” Hughes said.

The $10 fee, went partly to for the class itself, offered by Overland Park-based Mindful Defense. The rest of the fee became a donation to the One by One Project, which raises awareness of human trafficking and helps fund services for women who have been sexually exploited.

Breaking away from an attacker wasn’t the only skill they learned.

“We had to get in contact with administrators around district, Mindful Defense, the One by One Project. … It was a lot of communicating with other people to make it all happen,” Hughes said.

One thing that surprised them was that the positive response to their program came mostly from female classmates and other women in the community. Most of the people who attended were female students at Raymore-Peculiar High School; only one male student participated in the program.

“A lot of guys have said they feel like they can defend themselves” without attending a self-defense program, Yancey said.

Being aware of potential threats and making sure you’re not an easy target was the main focus of the seminar. Instructor Mike DiBella also showed attendees several techniques for breaking away from an attacker but emphasized that you don’t want to be in physical contact with at attacker at all, if you can avoid it.

DiBella was impressed with how the group responded to the presentation and said that Hughes and Yancey were “extremely well-organized” in planning the whole thing.

“It was a very focused group that was serious about learning and bettering themselves,” he said.

The two have been working to plan the program since the start of last semester.

Michelle Jones of Raymore attended the program with her 14-year-old daughter, Talia.

“It made me learn to be more aware,” Jones said.

Sixteen-year-old Jaci Stratton said she planned to get some pepper spray to carry with her for self-defense. Both Riley Woodson, 15, and Abigail Zismer, 14, said the class taught them how to be more self-aware.