Self-Defense for Seniors: Safety Tips from a 6th Degree Blackbelt

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Are you concerned for your safety when looking for your car in a shopping center parking lot? Do you recall declining an invitation to an evening event because it was at an unfamiliar location?

Everyone deserves to feel secure, no matter their age or if they use assistive devices, such as a cane, walker or wheelchair. Taking this a step further: Age and physical challenges don’t have to prevent you from learning how to protect yourself. That’s the motivational mindset of Jill Potter, RN, ACSM-CEP, AACVPR, CRP, Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse, Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC).

Potter – a 6th degree blackbelt in two different martial arts styles – became interested in teaching self-defense to older adults while working with clients in YRMC’s Adult Fitness Program.

“People shared their scary experiences with me,” says Potter. “I built on those stories – how they reacted to the situations and how they were affected – to develop strategies older adults can use to stay safe.”

Prevention is Paramount

Being prepared can help you avoid dicey situations, like a robbery in the parking lot of a store, bank, restaurant, or other locations. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93 percent of all crimes against people over age 65 are property crimes such as burglary and theft.

To avoid becoming a statistic, Potter recommends that you:

  • Use the buddy system by running errands with another person, if possible.
  • Remain hyper-aware of your surroundings as you enter or exit a store, restaurant, or even your home. Criminals look for people who are distracted for the element of surprise.
  • Make a mental note, physical note or take a cell phone photo of where you parked before heading to your destination. This will allow you to head confidently to your vehicle.
  • Stay off your cell phone, get your keys ready, and head with self-assurance to your car.
  • Ask the store or restaurant manager to have an employee accompany you to your vehicle if you are the least bit uncomfortable.

If you’re uncomfortable about a vehicle that’s parked close to you, go back to the store or office building and ask for assistance. Some people will enter their vehicle from the passenger side if a stranger is sitting in the passenger side of the car parked next to them.

Criminal Intent

What happens if you are approached by a criminal?

“First, your safety is more important than your purse, wallet, watch or jewelry,” Potter says. “On the other hand, criminals count on older people to be docile. That can work to your advantage by making a scene.”

Making a scene means mustering a guttural shout from deep within your belly and yelling, “Let me go. I don’t know you!”

Other strategies that Potter recommends – with appropriate instruction from an expert – include:

  • Holding your keys in a defensive mode.
  • Keeping your dominant arm relatively free of grocery bags and other items.
  • Using what you have – even a cane or walker – to keep someone at a distance.

“The key is awareness, awareness, awareness,” Potter emphasizes.

Self-Defense for Seniors Class

Potter teaches all of the above and more during “Self-Defense for Seniors,” an in-person class sponsored by YRMC Preventive Medicine and Wellness held four-to-six times a year. The class is on hold during the pandemic, but watch the YRMC HealthConnect calendar and subscribe to YRMC HealthConnect to register when the class is available again.