My Experience Teaching a Self Defense Training Program to the One Body Village Girls in Vietnam

It's finally happening! After months of planning and anticipation, I'm finally doing it. My first time ever, teaching a self defense program. I have a dozen years of martial arts training and experience in various disciplines such as Judo, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, and Kendo, and this time I get to put this passion towards training others. Also my favourite job during high school was working for 2 years at Kumon, a learning center for kids teaching math and English. So I'm excited to take these two skill sets of martial arts and working with kids on a educational level and seeing how this volunteer experience go!

Also, I forgot to mention that I speak (though very poorly), Vietnamese. I don't count this as a skill set since my Vietnamese is at a basic level. I am a Canadian (born in Canada), but have a Vietnamese heritage and grew up speaking Vietnamese to my parents, and really only my parents. My fiancé (Huong) of 9.5+ years is of Vietnamese heritage as well and will be my biggest support, and her Viet is 10x better than mine. So I'm a little nervous but not too worried knowing I have her to rely on.

The participants I'm told are about 20 girls aged 5 to 16 years old, with most of them being survivors of rape and sexual abuse, human sex trafficking and some at high risk of being a victim. I'm not sure what to expect. This self defense training starts in August 2019.

Self Defence Lesson #1: Long range striking

My Personal Reflection: They're just kids

Upon arriving at the OBV shelter, I see around a couple dozen young girls running around and being very loud. I'm a little overwhelmed. I can see they're very excited for their first self defense lesson! They start speaking to me quickly (addressing me as teacher) and to my fiancé. There's many voices calling out and asking me questions all at once (I really am overwhelmed and can't count how many are talking to me). I respond to one of them that asked me something (whatever it was, I can't remember), and that's when I realized how bad my Vietnamese was. She didn't understand me, and I hear one of the other girls saying "The teacher doesn't speak Vietnamese, why are you asking questions?!". I'm able to respond to that comment in Vietnamese well enough. It's funny, my fiancé and I arrived to Saigon a couple of days prior, and met up with some of her family, and they all complimented me on my Vietnamese. I gotta say, I really do appreciate the honesty of kids, and realize how much family (or adults even) simply can't tell you a hard truth! Anyways, the lesson begins.

Not to focus this blog too much on the technical content of self defense (I could spend countless hours writing about it), this first lesson focuses on long range striking. This is effective (I'm explaining to the girls) if someone is attempting to attack you but are still at a considerable distance from you. It's a basic lesson of strikes including jab and cross punches, eye pokes, and kicks. As we're all warming up, one girl, the youngest one (and definitely the smallest one) grabs my hand pulls it towards her and tries to hug my arm. I realize she's trying to show affection and wants to receive affection from me. I pull her back towards her spot and we keep warming up.

The lesson continues and I realize that at times, it's very difficult to get them in order. Some are in the mood for playing (some girls are yelling at each other [in a teasing way]; wrestling; some sitting and conversing). The opposite occurs too at times, where I see more of the older girls have a keen focus on the lesson, and genuinely want to learn the technique for a proper strike. A lot of the activities puts a smile on their faces and creates laughter. They're simply just kids. They're finding joy and humour in whatever they do. The last part of the session is a game activity which is pretty much a modified version of dodgeball. Man! They were loud the entire time. Lesson #1 completed.

After the lesson, I get a tour of the shelter from one of the OBV employees there. I see the sleeping corridors (and think, these are pretty hard beds and wouldn't be soft enough for me to sleep well), and get shown the room where the girls can meet with a psychologist. My fiancé and I see one girl step out of that area, and I realize she must've had a session with the psychologist recently. She looks like she's a little bothered and melancholy at the same time.

My fiancé and I are travelling back to the main part of the city where we're staying (it's about an hour's drive), and I reflect with her on what we just experienced. I reflect on the youngest girl attempting to hug my arm. I reflect upon the conditions of the home, how it's mainly a concrete building, and the beds with its thin mattresses [and mosquito nets]. I reflect on how hot and uncomfortable it was for me being in the +30 degrees Celsius climate, and how I've been bitten by mosquitoes more than a handful of times. Lastly, I reflect on how there were exactly 18 girls at the OBV home, but one [girl] didn't participate and looked bothered [by something].

Self Defence Lesson 2: Short range striking

My Personal Reflection: Though the girls have one common relation with each other (being survivors), they are each individuals with very different personalities.

Day 2! The lesson is striking in close quarters/when someone is standing real close to you. This is important because when someone's in your personal space and you try to strike, your usual punches and kicks won't be as effective. The lesson focuses on upper cuts, hooks, elbow strikes, and knees.

Please note, with the lesson being short range striking, Muay Thai is the best martial arts for short range hits. I am wearing a shirt displaying the Muay Thai martial arts, and the shirt happens to be a sleeveless muscle shirt. This detail is important for the next paragraph.

The class is beginning to start up. Huong and I are conversing with some of the girls. One girl, the older (possibly oldest) girl at 16 y/o goes up to me and starts to pat my arm and inspects my "muscles". I know what you're thinking, and trust me, I had the same thought too. This was concerning since these girls are survivors of sexual abuse, and I need to keep any relationship (especially as an older male figure) professional and respectable. But I can say, this 2 seconds of worry quickly turned to relief and as I kept talking to this 16 y/o girl. Turns out, she wanted to develop these muscles for herself too. She asked about what my exercises were so that she could improve her strength. Just to quickly talk about this girl, she is the most motivated person in my self defense class. She practised all the exercises with attention, doesn't fool around, and genuinely wants to know to learn and be a stronger person. There's much more I could talk about her (she's one of my favourites at the shelter), but I'll end off saying she's definitely Tomboyish and her favourite school subject is gym/sports. I think that's enough said.

Other notes I can share about other girls. There were two girls who were fighting for who was going to open the gate for us when we entered the shelter. Both were such sweet girls and wanted to have a good impression on us. The same happened when we left as well, and they raced each other to unlock the gate and let us out. There were some of the younger girls, whose favourite activity in my lesson was the game at the end (I learned from the dodge ball game at the end of the first lesson being a big hit). There were two separate girls that came to me at the beginning of the lesson and asked "Teacher, are we playing a game today?" and "What game are we playing?".

Speaking of the game now, the game I had prepared was a Capture the Flag equivalent which split the girls into two teams, and it involved Huong to be on one team (since there was an odd number of girls). Huong's team won. It was fair and square. It wasn't a size advantage that Huong gave them (there's about 3 girls bigger and taller than Huong), so I'll give her this one.

I finished off this day getting a better understanding of the girls; individual personalities, as well as knowing the most look forwarded to activity in my lesson for the young girls is the game. I'm now motivated to make my lessons more fun, but still memorable so that the girls learn these skills in case they ever need it in the future.

Self Defence Lesson 3: Standing grappling

My Personal Reflection: My small self sacrifice is worth it for a group's lifelong gain

Day #3 is about to begin and guess what, there's already one girl (14 y/o) behind the gate ready to open the door for Huong and I. Man, do we feel special lol.

This lesson #3 deals with the scenario of someone grabbing you (where both individuals are still standing). Let's say they grabbed your hand/wrist/arm, or they wrapped their arm around you and pinned you into them, this lesson was to show a couple of ways to escape. This was one of the most effective classes. Both Huong and I test the girls, as we do an exercise where we hold their wrist, and have them escape our grasp. I can say, this was my proudest lesson yet. This one was very effective, and I'm glad cause I feel like the girls learnt something they can apply if they ever need to. I see their confidence growing after this lesson.

With a great lesson, I was glad and felt like we deserved the game we're about to play. Since we did also do foot trips (part of the escape situations when someone is holding onto you), I incorporated this aspect of foot work into the game by having a "Popping a Balloon Game" where the girls are stomping on balloons that are tied to each other's ankle, with the remaining girl with a unpopped balloon being the winner. Remember that 16 y/o girl that's very athletic and wants to gain more muscles? I'm a little biased, but I proud she won this balloon popping game (I was internally cheering for her to win). Just to be clear, I did not give any my favourites an advantage, but am simply proud.

The day ends off great, and this is best feeling I've had so far volunteering with OBV. I reflect on why I signed up to be a volunteer with OBV. I reflect back and appreciate that I can add value. At the end of the first two lessons, I remember thinking how I disliked the hot and humid weather in Saigon, and hated getting a handful of mosquito bites each time I'm at the shelter. By evaluating this great feeling I had of the girls gaining confidence in protecting themselves, I concluded that the sacrifices I was making (dealing with hot weather & mosquito bites) is minute in comparison to what these girls are benefiting.

Self Defense Lesson 4: Ground Grappling

My Personal Reflection: Adjusting My Lessons to these Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Day #4, and guess who's the first one at the gate ready to open the door for Huong and I? Yep, it's the 14 y/o sweetheart. She is definitely becoming one of my favourites.

Lesson #4 is the ground grappling. I learnt this ground grappling in Judo. This is when you and your attacker are both on the ground, and the lesson focuses on escapes for this scenario. The position I show the girls these escapes is when you're laying on your back.

There's really only one thing I want to share from what I experienced on day #4. Demonstrating these escapes was done just fine. The girls nodded and showed they understood. When they replicated these escapes themselves, with the attacker being in-between their legs (the girls' pretend attackers were other girls, of course), there were uncomfortable body language and expressions in doing these exercises. I don't think any girl went through with this exercise fully. Laying on your back with someone between your legs is not a favourable position to be in when you're trying to defend yourself, and even it probably is one of the most realistic positions + most valuable to learn, I realize that they weren't going to go through with it, and that I had to adjust my lesson. It's not that I didn't think about these girls being survivors of sexual abuse and the appropriateness of these positions, it's just that I did not realize the extent it would affect them and inhibit them from fully practising these moves.

Adapting on the fly, I changed the defence position so that the girls are lying on their side, and then executing the escape that I just taught them. This may sound like a small detail, but I think it's an important note for anyone wants to volunteer with these girls. End of day #4.