In Lynn Gorski’s self-defense class for girls and women, she doesn’t hold back.
Advice if her students are attacked: “Gouge their eyes out!”
If they can grab an attacker’s fingers? “Snap them like a chicken bone!”
Gorski, who was abducted as a teenager and now teaches self-defense classes through Master O’s Black Belt World in south Charlotte, wants girls and women to fight back if they are attacked. That means not being afraid to punch, kick, scream at and hit an aggressor.
“It’s got to become a natural response,” Gorski said. “Most of these women have never hit anyone, and they’ve never had the experience of fighting.”
Gorski, 69, has long teamed up with Patrick O’Donnell, a fifth-degree black belt who recently opened Master O’s Black Belt World. 17214 Lancaster Highway, Suite 301, Charlotte 28277, for self-defense classes. While Gorski instructs, O’Donnell holds large target pads that women and girls repeatedly kick, punch, elbow and knee.
“I have three sisters and I have a mother, and for me, everyone should know how to protect themselves,” said O’Donnell, 26, who lives in Matthews and is a graduate of Providence High School.
He’s made women’s and girls’ self-defense classes part of his regular offerings at his tae kwon do school, and when possible, he joins Gorski to assist with classes in the community.
What motivates Gorski
When Gorski was around 15 years old, she lived on a military base in North Carolina with her family and regularly walked about a mile to a teen club that held dances and socials.
One evening, a car was parked outside her house as she and her friend left for the teen club. The driver asked if they wanted a ride.
“We each thought the other knew him,” Gorski said. They hopped in and immediately smelled alcohol and could hear beer bottles rolling around on the floorboard.
The girls told the driver they wanted out of the car, but he said people were waiting for them to party.
“I thought, ‘I can open the door, grab my friend and push her out of the car,’” Gorski said. When she tried, she realized the driver had removed the interior door handle on her side.
At the next stop, Gorski reached out the window, opened the door from the outside and rolled out of the car with her friend.
“We didn’t tell anyone (what happened) because we would have been punished,” Gorski said. “We never thought about the fact that this guy was going to pick up someone else. If I had called the police, that guy would have been in jail.”
That memory – and the knowledge that rapists typically are repeat offenders – have motivated Gorski for years to teach women and children how to defend themselves against attacks.
“I can never make up for it, but I’m trying to help women now.”
Gorski takes no reimbursement for her expenses when she teaches self-defense classes. She sees her work as community service, and she has taught classes for Girl Scouts, private schools and other groups.
Preparation is key
Gorski’s approach is a good fit with Master O’s Black Belt World, which is built on the martial art’s original focus on self-defense rather than sport.
After years of practice with Sangrock Black Belt World, which is based in Matthews, O’Donnell was ready to start his own school. He had spent time in South Korea, where students can earn college degrees in tae kwon do, and he realized he could make a career out of it.
“I came back from Korea, and I had a different appreciation,” O’Donnell said.
Evan O’Donnell, Patrick’s father, said his son had always gravitated toward the discipline of tae kwon do. Patrick O’Donnell also was an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 174 and was in Navy JROTC at Providence High School. He wrote his high school senior paper on how to operate a tae kwon do business.
O’Donnell now offers tae kwon do classes, an after-school program and summer camps. Gorski, who is certified in Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) System of Women’s Self- Defense and radKIDS Safety and Self-Defense System in the United States and Canada, regularly leads classes there.
Most of the moves she teaches are based in martial arts. Her instruction ranges from how to knee an attacker in the groin to techniques for breaking free if pinned face down on the ground.
All of the moves call for women to be aggressive. In her classes, Gorski has students scream “no” and “stop” as they punch and kick, encouraging them to yell louder and hit harder. She teaches children ways to escape if abducted and how to say no to ruses, such as a stranger asking them to help find a lost puppy.
“So many women have never prepared themselves for an aggressive confrontation and are completely unprepared to handle it because the problem is so much more prevalent than is known,” said Melody Alexander, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill who has worked with Gorski for several years.
Alexander first took a self-defense class in high school, and she wrote her senior graduation paper about women’s self-defense. She hopes to one day implement a women’s self-defense program at UNC.
“If women learn even basic self-defense, it can significantly increase their chances of getting away in a confrontation,” she said.
Sarah Kelly, 14, recently took Gorski’s class at Master O’s Blackbelt World because she wanted to learn how to fight back. Kelly, who lives in Indian Land, said she experienced aggression on a field trip to a theater, but she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to cause a scene.
“The class was definitely helpful,” Kelly said. “It was a few things taught in detail so you know what to do.”
Gorski said she limits the moves she teaches so that students will remember them. She and O’Donnell stress that students need to keep practicing what they learn, and O’Donnell offers refresher classes several times a week.
Aggressors won’t expect a woman to turn and fight, Gorski told a recent class. Women and girls only need to hurt their attacker enough to run and get away.
“You know if someone attacks you,” she told her students, “you have what it takes.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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