We Tried Self-Defense At Gracie Barra

Local business owner, Rob Warner from Gracie Barra, was kind enough to let two of our favorite local ladies, Katie Smyth and Hannah Kiddoo, in on a four-week self-defense training session. What they got out of it was much more than just a few new moves.

Katie Smyth

This January, I was challenged to attend and reflect on four Women’s Self-Defense classes at the new Gracie Barra gym here in Jefferson City. What follows is a journal of my experience. 

Class No. 1

When I arrived on my first Saturday, I had NO clue what I was getting myself into. I figured it would be similar to the hundreds of classes I’ve taken at my local gym. That I would catch on quickly, burn some calories and leave feeling refreshed


It didn’t take long to realize the folly in my expectations. What was my first clue? The first thing we did was attack each other. 

Up close. Uncomfortable. And I definitely wasn’t good at it. 

At first, I felt intimidated because my partner, Coach Kirsten, is considerably more experienced than me--and a heck of a lot stronger.  Though, after a few demonstrations and practices of each maneuver, I became more comfortable with exerting aggression toward my Coach K—and she continued to reassure me and remind me of the steps when I froze and couldn’t remember. 

At the end of class, Coach Rob suited up in full pads and pretended to be an actual attacker. No script, no specific move, we were just to use what we learned to pin him into submission. During the faux-attack, I found it very difficult to think and remember what I was supposed to do. It struck me how it must take months—even years—to get to the point of automatically executing the maneuvers we learned, especially in a dangerous situation. 

I’m realizing that I don’t like to think about the possibility of being attacked. However, as a woman and a mom who is newly single and living alone, I know it’s important that I do. I’m so glad to have this opportunity for empowerment, and I’m looking forward to the weeks to come. 

Class No. 2

During today’s class, we focused on what to do if someone were to grab us from behind. 

We had an un-even number in class today, so I had two partners instead of just one, and they were both MUCH smaller than me. At first, I felt leery of squeezing too hard because I didn’t want to hurt them. I quickly detected the fault in this thinking:

I’m not doing my younger, smaller female partners any favors by being “nice and gentle”. This is real life, and I want her to know what it would feel like to have someone stronger than her trying to attack. I want her to know she’s okay and that she can use her brain and the techniques we’re learning to get out of the situation alive. 

And I would want her to do the same for me.

I am also noticing that my instinct is to do the exact opposite of what would be most effective. When I feel the urge to turn away, it’s the moment I need to lean in. And when I want to close my eyes, that’s when I need to keep them open. I am thankful to learn these things about myself and to have the opportunity to practice because it definitely isn’t second nature… yet. 

Class No. 3

My 6-year-old daughter came to class with me today, and at first, I was worried about her watching as her mom encountered some potentially violent maneuvers---or that she would get bored and whine. 

#momlife #letsbereal

Though she had plenty to keep her occupied (iPad… coloring books…), I noticed that she was watching the class instead… fascinated. She didn’t seem to be bothered at all when the intensity increased. Which made me wonder if maybe seeing me “fight” with my partner might be good for her. To know her mother is strong and can protect herself and her family if necessary. I see how it not only can help her to feel safer with me, but it can also empower her to defend herself if necessary. 

Today’s moves focused on using our legs to choke hold the attacker if we were lying on our backs. A technique I can imagine being especially necessary for a woman. 

I have strong legs, and so I thought the class would be a breeze for me. Boy was I wrong. 

As I learned from my younger, smaller, female partner—it really isn’t how strong you are. It’s how well you execute the technique. If you try to muscle your partner into submission without following the steps, you will waste precious time, tire out, and probably lose the fight. 

Another huge takeaway for me was how I would literally stop breathing during a maneuver. Coach Rob kept encouraging me to breathe…and it makes sense…. More oxygen = greater mental clarity… but even so, my instinct was to hold my breath and it was incredibly difficult to reverse.

I left the class today slightly frustrated yet motivated to practice and come back stronger next time.


Class No. 4

Today’s objective? 

Learning what to do if someone attacks you from the front. 

The technique? 

Move close to the attacker, leverage their weight and flip them over onto the ground. 

The beginning of this move reminded me of dance choreography, only I kept forgetting key steps of the move. When I got the sequence right, flipping my partner was super easy. However, I rarely got it right and ended up making myself SUPER sore trying to muscle through it. 

Next, the attackers were given foam balls to punch us in the head while we were lying on our backs. The objective was to get control of the attacker’s hands, flip them over using our legs, and pin them into submission. Having already made myself sore, it was so hard to use the technique and I REALLY wanted to give up. 

How I adapted, though, surprised me. 

I ended up defaulting to the triangle choke hold (a move we learned last week) without even thinking about it. Even after just one week of practice, my brain already recalled a life-saving technique in a stressful situation. A definite win!

In our final attack simulation, Coach Rob suited up and attacked each of us one by one. I was amazed watching the other women—who are so much smaller than Rob—use the techniques we learned to pin him onto the ground and into submission. Over and over I’m reminded that it’s not about strength and brawn… it’s about strategic technique. 

Final Reflection

My experience in the Gracie Barra Women’s Self-Defense class was uncomfortable and eye-opening. I realized where I’m vulnerable, but I also learned some moves that could literally save my life in the future. And if I’m honest, I can admit that I have already experienced situations in my life where these techniques would’ve been immensely helpful. 

When you’re being attacked—or forced against your will--the scariest thing is simply not knowing what to do. It’s a victim mindset, and it leaves you at the mercy of your attacker. But when you have the assurance that you do know what to do—you can confidently fight back and keep moving until you’re safe. You’re not a victim anymore, you’re a survivor. 

If you are a woman who wants to have this peace of mind, I highly recommend Gracie Barra’s Women’s Self-Defense—no matter what age or stage you are in life. You will leave feeling aware and empowered. Two things we all deserve. 

Hannah Kiddo

I was a little intimidated going into my first session, but I was excited to hone my basic knowledge of self defense moves. After a brief warm-up (jumping jacks, pushups, and squats), we hit the mat. I really appreciated that our instructor took time to explain each move in great detail. He didn’t just demonstrate the actions. Instead, he also offered scenarios in which we could use them and even answered questions about general “what if’s…”

Then, it was time to practice the moves for ourselves. We were partnered up with others in our group and it quickly became apparent that self-defense is much more about skill than size. I found myself being taken down and held in a chokehold by a participant who was still in elementary school. At the same time, I was able to bring down opponents who were taller than me by simply knowing where to place my hands, feet, and joints. Spoiler alert: pressure points are a very real thing.

After learning some key defense methods, it was time to grapple with our instructor. He came barreling out of the changing room wearing a padded suit and with an intensity that made me fired up; I was ready to fend him off with my new moves. We battled it out and I was able to practice my new knowledge in a more realistic situation. It was a real eye-opener, and I appreciated the opportunity.

The next week, we learned more strategies for escaping less-than-ideal situations. I especially enjoyed the girl power anthems that were blaring out of the background speakers. Let’s just say that Beyoncé can make you feel really fierce. Once again, we learned about the various ways our bodies can be manipulated to inflict pain and offer a chance to fight back. It also drove home and important point about self-defense in general: repetition and practice our essential to maintaining your knowledge and abilities. Thankfully, the classes allowed us to repeat our motions over and over. When I left after our hour session, I had a few more movements in my self-defense arsenal.

Overall, the self-defense courses were fun and empowering. Our instructor was skilled, helpful, and thoughtful about the techniques women in particular would need to manage a bad situation. Jefferson city is largely a safe place to live, but you never know when something could go awry. It’s important to be armed with resources — just in case. With that in mind, I recommend that everyone take advantage of Jefferson City’s courses to feel more confident and comfortable.


Whether you are taking the class to learn to protect yourself or just to get a great workout in, you won’t be sorry you tried it.

Gracie Barra Jefferson City Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Self Defense

1850 State Highway C, Suite A

Jefferson City, MO 65109


Pin this image:

This post was brought to you by Friend of the Blog: