Classes We Love: Free Self Defense for Women

This free class uses evidence-based information and Israeli martial arts to teach you how to protect yourself.

Instructor Gershon Ben Keren demonstrating a defense move with his assistant, photo by Stephanie Cohn

Instructor Gershon Ben Keren demonstrating a defense move with his assistant. photos by Stephanie Cohn

A 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice surveyed 5,446 undergraduate women at two large public universities and found that that one in five of them were sexually assaulted during their time in school. Gershon Ben Keren, head instructor of Krav Maga Yashir Boston, has been fighting against this statistic for four years now by providing women with free self-defense classes.

Keren has more than 20 years of experience teaching reality-based self defense to the U.S. Army, is a third degree black belt in Krav Maga (an Israeli martial art), and has a background in criminal psychology. With all this knowledge, Keren created Situation Effective Protection System (SEPS), a self defense method that teaches participants ways they can use their natural instincts to effectively assess a risky situation. SEPS uses information, based off of studies of convicted felons, to teach participants how to outsmart their attackers by understanding their psychology.

What it is:

Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., Krav Maga Yashir Boston hosts a free self defense class open to all women. The class is broken up into two parts: The first teaches physical defense techniques based on Krav Maga, a martial arts system developed by the Israeli army. The second part of the class is a discussion that teaches ways to evaluate danger and minimize the chances of becoming a victim. Krav Maga differs from other defense methods because it utilizes the body’s natural instincts rather than fighting against it. There’s no proper technique nor coordination required. In just one 40-minute session, you’ll be equipped to defend yourself in many types of attacks, and then in the 20 minute discussion you’ll learn how to prevent those attacks from happening.

Gershon Ben Keren teaching during the physical defense part of class.

The 12 participants in the class watch as Keren demonstrates.

Know before you go:

If you are expecting to become a self defense expert from one class, think again. However, the class teaches ways that anyone, even the most uncoordinated person, can defend themselves. You’ll learn a few basic moves that will work in a wide variety of situations.

The self-defense part stays the same every class, but the discussion topic changes each week. For example, one class teaches you about potentially abusive partners, while another teaches you home and car safety. All of the discussion material is also available online.

The vibe:

The studio is in a huge warehouse-type building. It seems a little sketchy at first, but once you get into the actual studio you’ll find a huge, brightly lit, open space with exercise equipment and matted floors. It’s got an old-school gym vibe.

At first, you may be unsure of yourself, meaning you may feel the need to apologize every time you strike your partner (even though they’re wearing protective mitts). At one point, half the class must walk around with their eyes closed while the other half must grab their closed-eyed classmates to simulate an attack. The adrenaline rush from being unexpectedly grabbed, and then effectively reacting, changed the whole energy of the class, leaving an overall feeling of empowerment within the group.

The cost:

It’s alway free. The founders of SEPS saw that women were a high-risk demographic for attacks, so they believed that there should be no barrier, like, for example, a budget, to provide women with this crucial information.

Ben Keren lecturing during discussion part of class.

Keren lecturing during the discussion part of class.

What to bring:

A friend. You don’t have to, but most people do show up in pairs or small groups. It’ll ease the awkwardness you may initially feel, especially when they ask you to pick a partner who you will simulate attacks with. Also wear clothes you can move around in.

The bottom line:

This class is important for all women. Instead of the typical list of “don’ts” that you’re probably used to hearing (don’t go into alleys; don’t get rides from strangers; don’t walk with headphones in your ears, etc.), this class will teach you research-based information that’ll allow you to use your natural instincts to make safer decisions in all situations. You’ll leave this class feeling confident in your ability to assess a potentially dangerous situation, and empowered by the fact that if danger arises, you’ll know how to handle it.

Saturdays 10 a.m., to 11 a.m., 339-224-8005, Charlestown Maritime Center, 200 Terminal Street, Charlestown,