Monica Aguilar felt someone creep up behind her and shove her forcefully.
Already braced for the impact, Aguilar whirled around to see her roommate, third-year communications student Kelli Mleczko coming at her, arms outstretched. Aguilar had to act quickly.
Channeling the martial arts skills she had just learned, the third-year sociology student reached out to grab Mleczko’s neck and swung her knee up in self-defense.
“Good!,” their instructor said from across the room. “Now switch places and try again.”
Aguilar and Mleczko were among dozens of students who gathered in Hedrick’s fireside lounge Wednesday night for a self-defense class offered by UCLA Recreation.
Individual classes in basic self-defense are common in the dorms, but Wednesday’s event was the first in a series of classes that will take place throughout the year on the Hill, said Paul McCarthy, an organizer and instructor of the class.
The weekly class, which is free for all UCLA students, was offered in Yates Gymnasium in the Wooden Center last year, but relocated to the Hill when construction on Yates began earlier this year, McCarthy said.
The Office of Residential Life chose Hedrick Hall as the class’s new location to target the dense population of first-year students living in Hedrick Court, said Dana Pysz, assistant director for ORL.
“A lot of students are new to living on their own or new to living a big city,” Pysz said. “We want to make sure they are being as safe as possible.”
Several years ago, a similar class was offered for $30 per quarter, said McCarthy, who has been teaching martial arts on college campuses for 10 years.
But that class had a relatively low turnout, so he made the push to offer the self-defense class for free, making it easily accessible to students, he said.
“In the first few months of school, students are going to parties that might be bigger than they have seen before,” McCarthy said.
“Sexual assaults are, unfortunately, prevalent on college campuses. We want people to be able to defend themselves.”
Wednesday’s class focused as much on common sense as it did on practical skills.
Between demonstrating kicks and punches into the air, instructors offered advice on how to avoid dangerous situations altogether.
Instructors emphasized that although students might not be completely safe, they can still be careful by not engaging someone who seems aggressive, or by avoiding dimly lit areas when alone.
“Most people are going to forget the martial arts within 24 hours,” McCarthy said. “It’s the concepts and lifestyle choices that we want to stay with them.”
Many of the students came into the class not knowing what to expect and were pleasantly surprised by the extra safety tips.
“It was hard to get through the fight exercises because we’re friends and kept laughing,” Aguilar said about working with her roommate. “But the emphasis on just safety tips was nice. It was something I could use.”
As he prepares for another year of martial arts classes, McCarthy said he hopes students will make the most of the skills he and his co-instructors teach.
“If they remember one thing from this class, that’s all it takes to save a life,” McCarthy said.