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Officer Eileen Wells, in the yellow shirt, acts as an attacker while Sgt. Denise Murphy shows the class a defensive move (Photo/Eva Chidester).
Officer Eileen Wells, in the yellow shirt, acts as an attacker while Sgt. Denise Murphy shows the class a defensive move (Photo/Eva Chidester).

How to Fight Like Your Life Depends On It: UNLV Women Learn Self-Defense

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“No, no, no!” Adriana Burnett screams as she practices getting away from an attacker while lying down. She quickly jumps to her feet and runs to the back of the line to join her classmates yelling as she runs, “Call 9-1-1. I need help.”

She is one of 15 female students, faculty and staff from all walks of life who attended a self-defense class, Girls on Guard, on Sept. 20 offered by the UNLV Department of Police Services at the police headquarters.

The yelling and evasive moves were part of what Sgt. Denise Murphy and Officer Eileen Wells were teaching during the 4 ½-hour class.

Wells, the liaison between the Jean Nidetch Women’s Center and the Department of Police Services, says that she got involved in the self-defense course through the women’s center.

“I saw the need for a self-defense course on campus but our biggest obstacle was the time constraint. The previous available courses were 12 hours long and many people cannot commit to that kind of time,” Wells said.

Murphy found the Girls on Guard course and became certified to teach it. In half a day, Girls on Guard teaches seven self-defense techniques to women.

“For the first hour we talk about mentally preparing yourself,” Murphy said. “Self-defense is 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical.”

At the beginning of the course, attendees were asked to introduce themselves and to say why they were attending. Although the class attendees were of all ages, cultures, professions and sizes, many of them were there for the same reason— peace of mind.

“A co-worker thought it sounded interesting,” Burnett, an administrative assistant in the film department, said. “You always think you’re prepared and could handle a situation, but there’s always something new to learn.”

After introductions Murphy taught six self-defense principles. The first two principles–staying aware and staying with people or going to people–were ways to prepare and defend oneself mentally prior to a possible attack.

“The most important part of self-defense is being aware,” Murphy said. “An attack is never the victim’s fault, but there are ways to stay mentally prepared.”

The remaining four principles of self-defense covered when the situation becomes physical including keeping a barrier between you and any bad guys, attracting attention, controlling his hips and hands, and using your strongest weapons against his weakest targets.

“You will win if you fight like a girl,” Murphy said.

Class attendees then took to the mat to learn seven self-defense techniques.

“Today you will learn one self-defense technique that will save your life,” Murphy said.

That life-saving technique was broken into three parts: first, the defensive position. The key is to keep one’s head from getting hit and keeping one’s strongest weapons towards the attacker’s weakest targets.

The next step was teaching the rape mount escape. The importance of this technique is to prevent penetration when victims have been shoved to the ground. Students were told to put their hands on the attackers’ shoulders, feet on the attacker’s hips and to move themselves away from the attackers. They were then instructed to kick his weakest targets and escape.

Murphy asked the class what they would do if an attacker tried to strangle them while in this prone position. Many students did not know. The next step was to learn the front strangulation escape. Students were instructed to fold their arms above the attackers’ arms and push down as hard as they could to get the attackers’ hands to release to allow themselves to breathe. They would then kick the attacker in his weakest spot and run away.

Finally, this lifesaving move required the women to learn how to block hits. Students were told to put their hands up in front of their faces and to keep their eyes on the bridge of the attacker’s nose so that they could see hits from the peripheral vision. They would block hits by raising their arms up and guarding the side of their head to avoid being knocked out.

The trick was to combine all three parts.

For the last part of the course Officer Darrell Johnson dressed in a padded suit and posed as a bad guy. Students were able to practice their defense techniques on him.

“From the beginning of the course to the end of the course you can really see their confidence growing,” Johnson said. “This class is not a save-all, but it gives individuals options.”

Johnson recommended that students have the Police Services number, 702-895-3668, on speed dial.

“When you call Metro (via 911), they have to transfer it over to our call center, so it’s quicker to have the UNLV Police Department on speed dial,” Johnson said.

Another self-defense course will be offered on Oct. 3 from 3:30-8 p.m. The course is open to all female students, faculty, staff and community members.

To sign up contact Ashlyn Gray at the Jean Nidetch Women’s Center at or contact Murphy at

The UNLV Student Wellness Center also offers a self-defense class.  For more information visit


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