Empowering and Educating Women to Protect Themselves

Local courses improve self-confidence by teaching self-defense techniques

By Daniel Meyer

Dusty Bockrath, who holds a purple belt as an experienced combat competitor, serves as the primary instructor each Sunday morning at WNY Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness in Buffalo.
Dusty Bockrath, who holds a purple belt as an experienced combat competitor, serves as the primary instructor each Sunday morning at WNY Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness in Buffalo.

Violence against women is on the rise and the horrific acts can negatively impact a women’s physical, mental and emotional health.

Some local fitness centers and martial arts studios are determined to help curb the violent behavior by educating females in Western New York on how to properly defend themselves if they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation because of someone else’s violent behavior.

Specialized classes are now being offered to women of all ages. 

Instructors believe these instructional courses will help improve self-confidence by empowering women through self-defense. Using the concepts of awareness and avoidance, these self-defense techniques also help improve physical conditioning, develop self-discipline, establish the importance of setting goals and have an overall positive influence on the students.

Rise in violence against women

The World Health Organization recently estimated that globally one in every three women worldwide have or will be attacked physically in a violent fashion at least once during the course of their lifetime. The statistics locally show there have been numerous cases of domestic violence and other incidents of violent behavior toward women in Western New York, some of which has been exacerbated and exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One woman interviewed for this story, who did not want to be fully identified publicly because of the violent tendencies of her ex-husband, said the importance of women recognizing they can be a victim of physical abuse is crucial, adding the best way to prevent domestic violence and protect potential victims is through empowerment and education. 

She has taken self-defense courses at three different local facilities since filing a restraining order against her former spouse after he was charged with felony assault for attacking her in the parking lot of her employer.

“I am a survivor of repeated acts of domestic violence and one horrific case of sexual assault so I can speak first-hand the importance of self-defense and knowing how to prepare yourself physically and mentally if you are about to be or are already being attacked,” said Lynn, a single mother of three children, who asked that her last name not be published. “Violent crime against women is on the rise and I urge other females of all ages to do what you can so you don’t become a victim. Empower yourself by mastering self-defense. It could save your life.”

In an effort to educate and help protect women and their loved ones, Kate Allen is one of the self-defense class instructors who firmly believes there is no substitute for every female to possess the knowledge of how to protect herself.

“It was a life-changing class for me when I first took this type of course because I left feeling that I had what it takes and could truly defend myself,” said Allen, who is the gym manager of WNY Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness on Green Arrow Avenue in Buffalo. “These are practical and achievable techniques that are effective because they have been proven to work. You learn how to defend yourself in any possible situation.”

No experience necessary

Allen and Dusty Bockrath offer women’s self-defense classes at no charge at WNY Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness every Sunday from 11 a.m. to noon, utilizing a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu based self-defense philosophy. The instructors stress that there is no age requirement or physical fitness level needed to attend, with a typical session comprised of about 25 to 30 women and girls.

“We welcome women and girls of all ages to learn practical self-defense techniques,” said Allen. “A lot of women who are coming in lack self confidence in some form or fashion. What we tell them is you will never become invincible, but that you will develop confidence in your abilities so that you feel safe and prepared.”

Brenda Lawrence moved to Niagara Falls after escaping a toxic relationship in another state that resulted in her having suffered multiple concussions and having her jaw broken in three places. Despite being in less than ideal physical condition, she knew her new chapter in life had to include an improved self-esteem and confidence in being able to defend herself if she were to ever be assaulted again.

“I am not a runner or a weight-lifter but I am someone who needs to be prepared for a variety of self-defense scenarios based on my line of work and the amount of travel I do for my job,” said Lawrence, who has taken multiple self-defense courses since moving to Western New York. “Restoring faith in myself and having the proper mindset to live my life the way I want personally and professionally was a must. I have that now because of what I absorbed in self-defense class.”

The curriculum for each self-defense class varies depending on what venue it is offered at, but the consistent message of empowering females by presenting them with a physical and mental skill set to address any situation they may find themselves remains the same no matter where or who provides them with instruction.

“The hope is no woman ever has to use these skills,” said Allen. “I feel good knowing each woman who participates and embraces what we work on is helping play a role in improved self-confidence and preparation for a variety of self-defense situations.”

Where to Go to Attend Self-Defense Courses

Various local venues currently offer women’s self-defense courses, including:

• WNY MMA & Fitness


255 Great Arrow Ave., Buffalo


• SPAR Self Defense


4685 Transit Road, Williamsville


• Riederer’s Kenpo Self-Defense Studio


2468 Niagara Falls Blvd, Tonawanda


• Swan’s Martial Arts Academy


275 Alexander Ave., Cheektowaga


• Lake Effect Martial Arts


2106 George Urban Blvd., Dpeew


Photo: Students from a recently held self-defense class held at WNY Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness in Buffalo pose following an intense session.