A mixed martial arts gym in Conception Bay South is giving back to the community by offering free self-defence classes for women.
In a clean, bright mixed martial arts studio a string of punching bags lines one wall, mirrors fill the other. The studio wall is covered with inspiring quotes and pictures of past martial artists.
When the class starts, the room will be filled with more than 60 women ready to fight.
Jason Foley, the owner of this studio, grew up in the mixed martial arts world. His father started his own club in 1978, and it’s been a family affair ever since. Jason has been running his own gym since 1999, and now he’s helping women in St. John’s and CBS learn important self-defence skills.
“At its core, self-defence is why most people begin a martial arts program,” said Foley, excusing himself to untangle his five-year-old son from his leg. “The problem is most martial arts facilities cater to the sporting aspect of martial arts … but seldom do they focus on those people who actually need what they originally came to the academy for.”
After noticing an influx of chatter on social media about sexual assault and harassment in his own town, Foley says he decided to offer free self-defence classes for women looking to learn the basics, giving back to the town that has been supporting him since his start.
“I guess with all the things that have happened in CBS and St. John’s, with regards to social media really broadcasting all the sexual harassments and assaults towards women, I decided to offer something free for them to actually have information that they can use to defend themselves with,” said Foley.
There have been a number of high-profile complaints of sexual assault in Conception Bay South in the recent years. In September 2016, for example, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary warned the public following reports that three women with special needs had been assaulted in the town.
According to Stats Canada, there were 312 sexual assault charges laid in Newfoundland in 2016. The rate per 100,000 people was about 59 charges, slightly above the national average of about 58.
Hayley Willar of CBS faces the reality of violence as part of her job; she works with at-risk youth with aggressive and violent tendencies. Because of her experiences, Willar believes it’s a good idea for all women to be trained in some sort of self-defence.
“If you are in contact with a man or a woman that’s bigger than you, it’s going to be hard to defend yourself in those types of situations,” said Willar. “If you’re open to self-defence classes, you can learn properly how to do that.”
With a few self-defence classes under her belt, Willar feels ready to take on the world.
“I definitely feel more confident,” said Willar. “I know how to get out of any hold.”