By John McBryde
It’s the final night of the RAD: Rape-Aggression Self-Defense class at Franklin First United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn., and some 35-40 women and girls are chatting nervously as they put on protective gear.
Each one is strapping on a bright red, thickly cushioned vest, along with matching knee pads, elbow pads and helmet. They’re preparing for their final exam on what will total 12 hours from four sessions presented by the Franklin Police Department. After sitting through three three-hour classes and learning about not only the fundamentals of self-defense but also about recognizing potential danger before it happens, they’re ready for what is known as “Fight Night.” Each class member is placed in a scenario that has them using techniques they’ve learned to overpower or at least escape from “attackers” being portrayed by male members of the Franklin Police force.
Most participants would agree the activity was an ideal way to wrap up a series of classes that are considered keenly important for women of all ages.
“It was so fun, first of all, but it was real intense, too,” Carlisle Jones, Associate Director of Youth Ministries for Franklin First UMC, says of the final night. “They put you in real life situations and prepared you for not just one kind of way somebody could come after you. They had different situations. It was really good.
“We all were nervous. We would leave a scenario asking, what just happened? They filmed it, and later showed you what you did. It’s kind of crazy to know how your body just goes into action.”
Though most of the participants were members of Franklin First UMC, the summertime class was open to all from the greater community, and in fact, another one is tentatively planned for around late December 2016. Since moving to its new 107-acre campus north of downtown Franklin, First UMC is hosting several events, ministries, classes and other initiatives that welcome members and nonmembers alike.
The idea to host the RAD class came from the church’s former Associate Pastor Vona Wilson, now Chaplain of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. She had seen the class as a good fit for an initiative program, and did the planning for it with other church staff members and through the Franklin Police Department. The class filled up in no time.
“We had a phenomenal number of signups,” says Sarah Carty, the church’s Director of Adult Ministries. “We had older adults, youth and everyone in between. The class exceeded our expectations.”
Among the older adults was an elderly woman who uses a cane to help with walking. She was given one-on-one attention from an instructor who showed how she could use her cane to defend herself.
There were 10-12 teenagers and college-age students taking the class as well, something Jones wanted to make sure would happen as one of the church’s youth leaders.
“We want as many young girls and college students to take this class,” says Jones, not long out of college herself. “We helped get the word out. It was cool to have some youth and their moms there.
“I’ve been telling everybody (about the class), and I highly recommend it. I want my family members to take it. I was really proud to see our Franklin Police Department do this.”
The FPD has been offering the class for some time at its headquarters in downtown Franklin, and it occasionally conducts sessions for schools, organizations and, as it did at Franklin First, churches. They’re always free, and they fill up fast.
“There has recently been a huge spike of interest, lots of word of mouth,” says Sgt. Amy Butler, a 10-year veteran of the Franklin Police and an RAD instructor the past nine years. “The class is really growing. We could do 10 times the number of classes and we would still fill them up.
“A lot of what we talk about is not only female empowerment, but also basic safety,” Butler adds. “We talk about awareness and risk avoidance – how to be safe and how to stand up for yourself.”
And according to Jones, Butler’s instruction at the four classes at Franklin First UMC resonated.
“It’s great to know how to defend yourself if you get attacked,” Jones says, “but it’s even better to know how to live a life where you’re aware and you’re preventing yourself from getting into situations that could be dangerous.
“I originally was not going to be there on the last night (of the session), because I had plans to be out of town,” Jones adds. “But after going through the first three classes, I changed my weekend plans in order to be there. I thought it was that good.”