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Self Defense 101: A local blackbelt’s guide to fending off attackers 

LYNNWOOD, Wash., January 27, 2023—It may come as no surprise to readers that assaults and attempted kidnappings have haunted news headlines within our region lately. From the attempted kidnap turned carjacking in Lake Stevens to a man attempting to kidnap a barista through a cafe window in Federal Way, these frightening incidents have, no doubt, raised concerns of safety for women in our region, or victims of assault in general. 

To learn more about what victims of these heinous acts could do to ward off attacks and increase their chances of escape, the Lynnwood Times reached out to Lynnwood-based blackbelt and Taekwondo Master Joe Witworth of NW Black Belt Academy Lynnwood located at 2027 196th St SW Suite A104. 

Master Joe Witworth (left) with student at the Washington State Governor’s Cup. SOURCE: NW Black Belt Academy Lynnwood.

Master Joe Whitworth was originally born in South Korea where he lived in an orphanage until the age of 10 before being adopted by his American, English-speaking family. Growing up as a foreigner, Whitworth was constantly bullied by other kids which prompted his initial interest in Martial arts. Over 20 years later he opened his own dojang in Lynnwood, NW Blackbelt Academy, where he focuses on the basics and pushes his students to their best, whether it is in class or in a competition ring. He currently is a 5th degree black belt with 25 years of experience in teaching martial arts. 

LT: What would you say to women, or anyone really, who may have an interest in taking up a self defense course?

MJ: What I would say is taking a self-defense course versus taking some sort of martial arts for a long time are two different things. You can’t become an expert in self-defense because you took a two hour course. A lot of times martial arts practitioners, because of their training, are usually aware of their situation – their instincts become sharper. So they’re more likely to stay out of trouble or know what’s coming. If people take up martial arts, it doesn’t have to be taekwondo, then they’ll develop confidence and become aware of where they are and who they are and I think that would help a lot but there’s other things you can do besides that. Number one is just being aware, being aware of your surroundings. 

LT: What does that look like? How can someone increase their scope of awareness?

MJ: Just understand where you are, pay attention to your surroundings and what neighborhood you’re in. Look for well-lit streets and constantly scan your surroundings. Look where you’re going, try to get to your destination as soon as you can, and always understand that situations can happen anywhere. It’s a little stressful to live your life that way but it can save your life. 

LT: As a seasoned martial arts expert with over 25 years of experience, what would you say are the top three, must know, taekwondo moves for personal self-defense? 

MJ: If you’re in danger you have to act quickly. If you have to strike, I would say look for vital points like eyes, throat, and maybe the groin area – in that order. 

LT: What about grappling or grabbing? How does one get out of a situation like that?

MJ: Grappling and grabbing aren’t really common in taekwondo but if you’re being chased or grabbed, the best thing to do is fall to the ground. Fall to the ground and try to keep control by keeping [the offender] close to you instead of giving them the leverage to hit you. In a rape situation that’s not the most practical thing but in a kidnapping situation, drop to the ground, grab onto their legs or something else, and use your deadweight to make yourself as hard as you can to pick up. This goes for kids too. And this just gives you time to let other people around know what’s going on so that they can help or get help. 

LT: What would you suggest for people who find themselves being followed by a potential attacker? 

MJ: If you’re being followed in a car I would say drive to the closest police station right away or a well-lit, populated area where people can help you or there are a lot of witnesses. If you’re walking look confident, walk straight to your car [or public transportation], and keep your eyes up. Make sure you know where you’re going, keep your keys between your fingers, and look confident. People are less likely to attack someone who looks like they know what they’re doing. 

LT: What would you suggest women, or anyone in general, carry with them for self defense?

MJ: I’d say pepper spray, a stun gun…stun gun’s are a little more dangerous, especially if you have kids because you don’t want them accidentally using it. Keys…anything that’s hard can be a weapon. Also understanding where to strike and having a preplanned escape route. You don’t want to run away and find yourself in a much darker alley.

LT: Alright Master Joe, well thank you very much. 

MJ: Thank you. 

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