By Laura Latzko
Tiffany Richards understands the need for self-defense classes.
While in her 20s, she endured an abusive relationship for a year and a half. For many years, she avoided the topic, but she felt the need to help others.
She founded the Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts and Healing Center in the Scottsdale Airpark area.
“When I got out of the relationship and started teaching women’s self-defense, I never talked about the relationship, because I was super embarrassed,” Richards says.
“Why would I train in martial arts and allow this to happen to me? It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started actually bringing it up. The feedback that I have received is it makes me real. It makes me one of them, and it makes them more comfortable to open up because I know what it feels like.”
Richards is hosting a self-defense workshop for 25 girls and women on February 6 at her center. It will give them knowledge and the skills to be able to defend themselves and have a powerful voice and presence.
Participants are encouraged to attend with friends or family, with whom they will work throughout the class. Individual participants will be paired together for the duration of the workshop.
Richards has more than 20 years’ experience in self-defense and is a second-degree blackbelt. She teaches self-defense workshops around the country. She has done private sessions for groups, including churches, adventure organizations and families.
Her workshops are hands-on, with the instructors not wearing big pads so that participants can feels what it’s like to strike another person.
Richards pressure tests everything on herself.
“I never want to give women information that is not valuable or that might end up hurting them in the long run,” she says. “When I work with the men who do the attacks, I have them make it as difficult as possible because that’s what’s going to happen in real life.”
Although men act as attackers during the workshops, Richards leads the class. She says this is important because many women, especially those who have experienced violence at the hands of a men, feel more comfortable with a female self-defense teacher.
She says, as a woman, she can better understand where women are coming from physically and mentally.
“Men, no matter if they teach you the physical components of self-defense, they are never going to understand what a woman feels like to feel helpless,” Richards says.
“They will never understand what it feels like to debate whether or not you are going to walk out of your house to take your dogs for a walk in the evening in the dark. You have to think about your safety. A guy doesn’t think about that kind of stuff. They will never be in our heads. They will never understand the fear that we feel.”
During the class, Richards shows participants how to get out of holds, including being grabbed from behind or taken to the ground. They also learn how to strike vulnerable areas, such as the eyes, nose, ears or throat, so that they can create a distraction and get away from their attackers.
Richards says getting to experience hitting another person and training pad can make women feel more confident.
“A lot of women have never hit anything,” Richards says. “They don’t know what to do. When you put a pad in front of them, that is when they find out how truly capable and powerful they really are.”
The class also makes participants more aware of how everyday behaviors, such as walking or sitting in a car while looking at a cellphone, can be dangerous.
The workshop will debunk myths such as how keys can be used as a weapon when held a certain way.
Richards emphasizes in class how participants should listen to their intuition.
“We are born with that instinct,” Richards says. “When we feel something in our gut, it’s probably right, and you want to pay attention to that and not talk yourself out of that feeling.”
Richards will also discuss the significance of body positioning in preventing an attack.
“You don’t want your eyes down, shoulder slouched or head down,” Richards says. “The predators are going to pick a weak victim. They aren’t going to pick someone who’s strong, who’s walking with a purpose. They aren’t going to pick someone who looks like they are going to put up a fight. They want to pick someone who’s an easy target.”
Richards says women should stop saying sorry, use their voice and even scream if the need arises.
Participants take the classes for a variety of reasons. Some individuals see a need after they or someone close to them has been assaulted, while some mothers bring their teens to make sure they know how to defend themselves.
After these workshops, participants may take private lessons or sign up for martial arts class at the center. Others may take the workshops multiple times so that they can pick up something new.
The workshop comes at a time when domestic violence has increasingly become a bigger issue, as people are at home in close proximity more often during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to statistics from the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, 1 out of every 4 women will experience sexual or physical violence or stalking by a partner.
“The UN is calling it the shadow pandemic because what’s ending up happening is there are lockdowns,” Richards says. “There’s heightened stress, increased drinking. With all of that comes domestic violence and child abuse. It’s always a good time to have a self-defense course, but especially with this pandemic and people being locked up together, this particularly is a good thing to be doing.”
Through the workshop, Richards wants to help women and girls to be ready to avoid or escape dangerous situations.
“I would never want to tell anyone that they are going to take this class and walk out experts. It gives them tools to be more prepared,” Richards says.