There were flyers around campus and posts on social media saying, “Wen-Do is a program designed for women by women.”

I walked into the Faculty Club last Thursday to see mats lining the floor. The first person to introduce herself was our instructor, Deb Parent. Also present with a big smile on her face was special constable Bobbi-Jo Duff, who is part of the UTM Campus Police.

This was my first self-defense course and I was slightly nervous. I thought we’d get into action right away, but the first 45 minutes were spent talking about our experiences and why we felt the need to take this course. We discussed everything from awkward touching on public transportation to times we felt uncomfortable but didn’t want to say anything. Our Wen-Do instructor promised that after the three-hour course, we’d leave feeling more confident and armed with the power to defend ourselves from attacks.

Wen-Do is a form of self-defense for women that was created in Toronto in 1964. The name of the practice translates to “women’s way”. Wen stands for women, while dō is the Japanese word for way or path. Ultimately, Wen-Do means the woman’s way of defending herself.

The practice of Wen-Do consists of three goals: awareness, avoidance, and action. The awareness goal comes from the idea that we need to be aware of both ourselves and our surroundings. We need to know that we’re at risk of being attacked simply on the basis that we’re female.

Avoidance is a skill that is most powerful when the situation calls for it. It is the opportunity to walk or run away when you have the chance.

The action is when the Wen-Do training comes into play. On mainstream media, the woman being attacked screams but doesn’t fight back. Wen-Do teaches that our strongest tool is the element of surprise. The attacker most likely believes the women will simply cry and not fight back, so when we do fight back, the attacker is going to be surprised.

Parent instructs us to “embrace our inner [empowerment]. Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere,” she says with a smile.

After our talk, we stand in a circle and breathe together, centring ourselves and trying to be present to what’s happening around us.

Parent begins to teach us self-defense moves. One of the most powerful skills we learned was to yell. Yell as loud as you possibly can before breaking into your Wen-Do moves. According to Parent, “The hardest part for 50 percent of women is learning to yell.”

After three hours of shouts and practicing with mats and partners, I know how to defend myself by breaking someone’s collarbone, kicking, stopping someone’s oxygen flow momentarily, and breaking someone’s nose. We learned how to get out of chokeholds, get an attacker’s hands away from our body, and how to establish our line of justice. Parent teaches us that some steps are considered soft Wen-Do (non-permanent) and some moves are considered hard Wen-Do (permanent, possibly life-threatening).

When I asked Parent about the extent to which we can defend ourselves with regards to the law, she said that the law gives us a lot of leeway to use our bodies in self-defense. She mentions that using sprays teaches women to rely on something other than themselves.

“A lot of women will say that they’ve never had to use Wen-Do in their lives, but the skills they learned give them a sense of entitlement, empowerment, and validation, says Parent. “Self-defense convinces us that we’re worth protecting. It is about loving ourselves despite the messages we’re fed every day.”