The Hindu

Using stilettos for self-defence

Trainers want women to be prepared wherever they are, whatever they are wearing

- ABBY ELLIN

On a recent rainy evening, about 30 women, most wearing high heels, gathered in a rehearsal space in Manhattan, New York, to engage in a series of brisk manoeuvres: hammer fists, elbowing out of chokeholds, fierce kicks.

“The idea is to lock in muscle memory,” said the leader, Avital Zeisler, a former ballerina with posture as straight as an index finger and black tresses evoking Cher during her Sonny years.

Ms. Zeisler, 26, is an expert in hand-to-hand combat who has trained members of the military and law enforcemen­t, as well as actresses like Keri Russell, Megan Boone and Amanda Seyfried.

She is passionate about women learning to defend themselves, no matter what they are wearing on their bodies — or feet.

“The objective is to disrupt the attacker’s thought process — even just to get him to blink,” she told the assembled. “The point of training in heels is that if you’re wearing heels and targeted for an attack, you’re equipped with a few survival strategies that can save your life.”

Lydia Billings, 24, a photograph­er and a founder of End Rape Now who was attending the class, was impressed. Her best friend was raped in high school, she said, but Billings had never before studied self-defence.

“A few really simple, powerful moves can get you out of any situation,” said Ms. Billings, who was wearing a pair of pumps.

Zeisler is not the first or only person teaching such self-defence techniques.

The instructio­nal website Howcast has posted videos about using heels in self-defence. And Jennifer Cassetta, 39, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and a third-degree black belt in hapkido, began a class called ‘Stilettos and SelfDefenc­e’ in 2007. “Women feel very empowered wearing heels,” Ms. Cassetta said, “But most women can barely walk in them, let alone run. If you can’t run away, you better know how to fight off an attacker.”

Despite warnings about the perils of heels, and the havoc they can wreak on backs and ankles (“Working out in heels is really bad for your calves, and can cause tears or tendinitis,” said Rob Conenello, a sports podiatrist in Orangeburg, New York) it’s unlikely that women are going to stop wearing them anytime soon. So some concerned with safety are factoring in that reality.

Lori Hartman Gervasi, 57, a black belt trained in traditiona­l karate, says a woman “should know many options for getting out of an ordeal. Like stuffing her thumb in his eye and using those high heels to rake down his shin, then kick him in the groin.”

 ?? — PHOTO: NYT ?? Avital Zeisler, left, uses a pair of high heels to fend off an attacker in a mock session in New York.
— PHOTO: NYT Avital Zeisler, left, uses a pair of high heels to fend off an attacker in a mock session in New York.

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