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Randolph College’s Dean of the College Teaches Self Defense Class

This article was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance on Feb. 25, 2009. It is reprinted with permission.

By Christa Desrets

He’s dean of the college, vice president for academic affairs and a specialist in political science. But on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, you’ll find Randolph College’s Dennis Stevens teaching women how to defend themselves.

“You’re in a parking lot. You’re in trouble,” he tells a group on Tuesday. “Now I want you to yell, ‘I am ready!’”

The aerobics room seems to quiver as women shout back his words.

This is Stevens’ self defense class.

“I try to give them very practical techniques that they don’t have to be experts to learn,” said Stevens, who holds a fourth-degree black belt in sogo ryu bujutsu, a form of mixed martial arts. “Lynchburg is just a wonderful community, and it’s a safe place. But bad things can happen anywhere.”

Such as in Chicago or Boston, where Stevens was bullied as a child. In high school, he took up martial arts and “was never in trouble again.”

“Eighty percent of self defense is mental,” said Stevens, 57, who has been teaching martial arts for nearly 20 years.

He tells students always to be aware of their surroundings so they can avoid dangerous situations, but also prepares them for an emergency. That’s when training helps incite a sense of calm confidence, he said.

Senior Meredith Bell seemed to exude that boldness as she kicked her heel into a punching bag that her classmate Maria Coker grasped Thursday.

Three successive kicks.

“Hiya! Hiya! Hiya!”

“I took karate before in the past, and I thought it would be really cool to try something new,” she said.

Others also were interested.

Within the first night that students were able to register for the class, it had filled.

Although the former Randolph-Macon Woman’s College now admits men, all 14 who registered were women.

They learn punches, kicks, choke holds and a number of defensive tactics that focus on pressure points.

Now in the sixth week of classes, Stevens said he’s already witnessed a “transformation” in students. The opportunity to get to know students outside of his office is another perk of the class, he said.

“That’s something I just treasure,” Stevens said.

“You guys are learning a lot — is it starting to come together?” he asked students Tuesday. Even if they don’t absorb everything, he told them, they’ll be better off if they can retain five to six defensive techniques.

Seniors Brittany Costa and Kim Nesbitt both said the class has made them feel more comfortable with the prospect of moving to a larger city.

“I’m afraid of being attacked because I’m so small,” said Costa, who may move to New York after graduating in May. “I wanted to have a way to defend myself, without a guy doing it for me.

“There are a few moves, already, that feel right.”


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