Jujitsu course teaches self-defense

Kristen Daley

One chosen student stands in silence between two lines of people, slightly removed from the group. He must fight the temptation to look at the reflection in the window in front of him.
Sensei Scott Cohen walks silently among those in the two lines, signaling by holding up his fingers. ‘One, two, three, four….’ Students nod in agreement, and the lone student is asked to turn around.
After taking a few steps forward, the student feels two hands gripping his neck from behind. With a few swift movements, the attacker is brought to the floor.
In any other situation, this environment would cause immense fear. Studio A in the gym, however, does not match up to a dark city alley.
In Quinnipiac’s Jujitsu course, students are placed in this situation to test their responses to a sudden attack. As intimidating as it might be, it familiarizes the participants with defense techniques that could save them from injury if they were attacked.
Sensei Cohen, the course instructor, graduated from Quinnipiac in 1995 with a BS in Health Science. The 28-year-old holds a rank of fourth degree black belt in Jukido Jujitsu, as well as a third degree black belt in Kokondo Karate.
He taught Jujitsu in the Evening Recreation program while studying at Quinnipiac.
As his lessons at Quinnipiac continue, Studio A above the gym is transformed into a dojo, or training hall, every Tuesday night from 7:15 until 8:30. Students bow when entering and leaving the dojo.
After stretching in preparation for class, students bow to each other and also to the sensei as a sign of respect. From this point forward, students practice traditional techniques of Jujitsu with partners.
One of the techniques that is emphasized in the class is Kuzushi, a technique of unbalancing an attacker.
“It’s the way of redirecting motion, and it enables a physically weaker person to defend against a bigger, stronger person,” Cohen explained.
Students are called upon throughout the class to watch demonstrations given by Cohen. Often, Cohen will choose a student from the group to assist him.
The student chosen may be taller or shorter, heavier or lighter, or stronger or weaker than the instructor. In this way, Cohen demonstrates to the class how those factors can become less important once they have learned the self-defense techniques and ways to escape from an attack.
Cohen begins his demonstration slowly, giving students an opportunity to see each movement step by step for memory. Soon after, however, the move is being executed lightning quick.
As students are taught to slap their hands on the mat after being taken down, a loud thud echoes through the room and reinforces the idea that the defense was successful.
Along with Kuzushi, two other elements to all Kokondo techniques are also taught. Shorin-ji is one of these elements, which according to Cohen, “refers to points and circles which are the dynamic methods of movement to maximise one’s own power through straight and rounded motion.”
The second, Jushin, is a center line principle.
“By dividing the body into axis, we can determine the most ideal target to strike, angle to contain, or position from which to throw,” Cohen explained.
In the class, students are also taught techniques of disarming an attacker. Fake guns and knifes are used to demonstrate how one might take the weapon away and avoid injury.
Cohen’s interest in the martial arts began at a young age. His father practiced Judo, a sport form of jujitsu, as a teenager. He brought Cohen to a self-defense class, even though he did not meet the minimum age requirement.
“Safety is always the first concern, but accidents can happen and I actually got a bloody nose at that first class,” said Cohen. “My instructor was surprised that I didn’t cry and give up, so he let me enroll and I’ve been his student ever since.”
Cohen studied Jukido Jujitsu under Shihan Paul Arel. Arel is the founder and International Director of the International Kokondo Association and Jukido International Association.
Arel’s Jujitsu training began in 1950, and since 1952 he has been a Martial Arts instructor. He founded the practice of Jukido Jujitsu in 1959, and in the late 1960’s, his knowledge and authority on Jukido Jujitsu brought him to be rewarded with the title of Shihan.
This is the third year the Jujitsu course has been available through the university’s Physical Education program.
“It’s in the Physical Education program because of the values it teaches regarding self-respect and respect of others,” said Assistant Athletic Director Rose Mary DeGrand. “It is also an incredible teaching aid regarding the techniques of self-defense.”
Although Cohen is the only instructor, the course can handle between 25 and 30 students.
“The reason this works so well is that many former students are inspired to come back and volunteer their services to help the beginning students,” said DeGrand. “Sensei Scott Cohen is directly responsible for this dedication from his former students.”
This semester, 23 students will be receiving credit for the Jujitsu class.
Senior and english education major Matt Grant is one of Cohen’s returning students.
“He is amazing,” Grant said. “I feel really lucky to have him as an instructor.”
Grant started practicing Jujitsu at Quinnipiac during his junior year. He is now at the orange belt ranking.
According to Grant, the class can be physically demanding.
“There are times when your partner will throw you many times in a row when practicing a technique,” he said. “Physically, this aspect of the art can be demanding if you take the same type of fall repeatedly.”
Mats are provided for those practicing throws to ensure safety, a priority Cohen preaches to his students.
Cohen said self-defense is the primary objective of the Jujitsu class. He explained, however, that the class also provides “a cardiovascular and isometric benefit, as well as flexibility and general wellness.”
Grant recognizes the psychological advantages that the practice of Jujitsu provides.
“It gives you confidence, that’s for sure,” said Grant.
Senior psychology major Kari Sacco is taking the Jujitsu class for the first time. She finds that partnering with students also at the white belt (beginner) rank is helpful, and said it’s in that atmosphere where she learns the most.
“It is best to work with someone at my own rank because they are at my level and may not understand things at first either,” said Sacco.
Sacco says she does not feel intimidated sharing a class with students of higher ranking.
“I congratulate them for their commitment to the sport,” she said. “I do feel I am given enough attention and that Sensei is there to correct my mistakes.”
Even the basics that a student will learn in the Jujitsu course will be advantageous if ever faced with a dangerous situation.
“Unfortunately, the potential dangers of our modern society necessitate self defense and safety awareness,” said Cohen.
Sacco sees her training in Jujitsu as a confidence builder.
“It makes me feel a little better about my ability to defend myself,” she said.
Cohen himself has seen times where an enhanced awareness of his surroundings and “common sense towards personal safety” was necessary.
“I’ve been fortunate to talk my way out of problems without having to get physical, and help diffuse situations where people were being bullied,” said Cohen.
“The few times I’ve had to physically defend myself or others, I’ve been able to avail myself of Jujitsu’s versatility by doing what is necessary to be safe, but causing very little damage to my opponents.”
Lori Sudderth, head of the Criminal Justice department, believes it is advantageous to possess knowledge of self-defense techniques. She believes it can help to make a person less vulnerable in an attack.
Sudderth gives an explanation of attacks that may be surprising to some.
“Most of the crimes against people are committed by people they know,” she said.
One of these types of attacks which threatens many people today is rape. According the Sudderth, a rape is usually planned in advanced.
“They may be thinking ‘what is the easiest way I can do this?'” she explained.
She believes individuals who have practiced a self-defense technique may have a better chance of escaping the attack.
“If you don’t have that awareness, you may just panic,” said Sudderth.
Cohen has seen a positive response from his students so far this semester.
“Everyone seems to be enjoying and benefiting from the classes,” he said. “What a student gets out of the class is usually a direct reflection of what they put into it.”
As class ends, looks of amazement shine on the students’ faces. They are watching as Darryl Yoerkie, a brown belt student who has practiced with Cohen since 1989, is defending himself against the sensei’s surprise attacks. With one swift toss, Yoerkie throws Cohen over his hip, causing him to bounce from the mat. The intensity is invigorating as the students witness the elegant power of the martial arts.