On Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, McGill students participated in a self-defence course at Gotac, a Montreal-based martial arts company, offered through the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS). The course aimed to teach effective methods to detect and eliminate threats and to identify, assert, and defend one’s space. The class was open to the public, and moved at the pace of each individual student to accommodate various fitness and comfort levels.
Alexandrina Delage, the course’s instructor, has a brown belt first kyu—the rank just prior to black belt—in Modern Kempo Jujitsu, and is certified in various defensive maneuvers. Delage connected with PGSS in 2014, and has helped them organize this course every year since. For PGSS Member Services Officer Jenny Ann Pura the annual course plays a vital role in equipping students with the tools to remain safe on and off-campus.
“Like our first aid classes, we hope that [students] never have to deal with those situations, but in any of those worst case scenarios, it’s best to be prepared,” Pura said. “This [course] isn’t solely about defending yourself, but to also understand how to be aware of your surroundings in order to better assess your safety as well as someone else’s anywhere you go.”
The class was split into two parts. The first section of the course, titled “Preventive to Combative Measures,” focused on using combative tactics to assess risk and ensure preparedness in the event of a threat. The second section of the course, “Escape from Holds,” included lessons on escaping both standing and ground grapples, with an aim to prepare students to confidently defend themselves.
Because martial arts training is largely dominated by male students and instructors, the PGSS course strove to create an environment in which women would feel comfortable training in the field. Delage explained that after her first year of martial arts training, she knew that she wanted to teach women self-defence.
“It became clear to me that having a space where women could train these skills and feel safe in living their fears and emotions was imperative,” Delage said.
Delage provides one-on-one coaching to each of her students, with a goal to teach efficiently and make her lessons accessible to all. She believes that being aware of the reality of violence— and having the tools to face it— is a requisite for physical and mental confidence. With regard to campus violence, Delage feels that rape culture is shockingly prevalent and too often goes unpunished. And while she acknowledges that self-defence does not tackle the root causes of this, until they are addressed, equipping students with self-defence skills is extremely important.
“We are dealing with a culture […] where abusive and violent behaviours go on throughout the years, [and] where survivors are often forced to either see their attacker on campus or leave altogether,” Delage said. “Although mandatory courses on consent have been implemented in some universities, there is a need to create more awareness as to the reality of violence [….] Violence should never be tolerated, and perpetrators need to be made accountable for their actions.”
Natalia Osorio, one of Delage’s students present at the course, started taking classes with her three years ago when she was looking for a women's martial arts class. Osorio believes that there is a long way to go before Canadian society is not disproportionately violent toward women.
“In the world we live in, basic self-defence skills are essential, especially for women,” Osorio said. “As [Delage] always says, you can only rely on yourself.”