If a person attacked you on a dark street, would you know how to fend them off?

On Jan. 31, 20 Fordham staffers learned some basic skills to help them do just that at the Department of Public Safety’s first self-defense class for employees.

The course, which lasted 90 minutes and took place on the Rose Hill campus, focused on Krav Maga, a martial art originally developed for the Israel Defense Forces. Hebrew for “contact combat,” the technique is derived from a combination of aikido, judo, karate, boxing, and wrestling.

Robert Fitzer, associate vice president in the Department of Public Safety, said that the University decided to offer the course free of charge to employees after receiving enthusiastic feedback from students who took one of the six classes offered to them in the fall.

A man pretends to knee another man in the groin.


“We’re not looking to teach people how to become black belts. We’re looking for something quick, to basically empower the person and get them to take an interest in their own safety,” he said.

Right now, Krav Maga is the only technique that is being offered, but Fitzer said the department may offer others as well. He said its appeal is in its emphasis on escape from an attack.

“Whereas some of the other programs are more offensive, this is pure self-defense,” he said.

At the Rose Hill class, McGinn walked participants through basic street safety protocols, such as walking in groups after dark and sticking to well-traveled streets, before turning it over to Avi Abraham, an instructor from the New York Self Defense Academy. Abraham led participants through a round of scenarios they might encounter on the streets, from being grabbed from behind to being cornered with a knife. Participants were paired with one another and took turns as the assailant and the defender.

A woman attempts to grab a man from behind.

Those on the defensive were shown how to loosen an attacker’s grip on them by screaming loudly and jerking them to the side. After striking the attackers’ faces using either the side or palm of their hand, participants were instructed to go through the motions of grabbing their attacker by the shoulder and kneeing them repeatedly in the groin.

In addition to explaining why one should never strike an attacker with a closed fist (you can hurt yourself if you don’t land a perfect hit), and why you shouldn’t back up while facing your attacker (you might fall over), Abraham repeatedly stressed that a counter-attack should never stop until the attacker is on the ground and no longer an immediate threat.

One man looks on as another man attempts to grab another man from behind.

Laura Rodriguez received an invitation to the class as a staffer in the Counseling and Psychological Services Center; she’s also a junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill. She volunteered to demonstrate the scenario with a knife.

“As the course was progressing, I found my aggression was improving, in a good way. I was getting more comfortable with my partner,” said Rodriguez, adding that the training was “empowering.”

“A lot of women go around fearful, especially at night. I saw that fear in me and a lot of other women at the course, so it was nice to kind of get together as a community and empower each other through the training.”

Rodriguez said she was encouraged by the knowledge that with the right moves, she could easily use gravity and physics to aid her. Just learning how one could use their own body weight to wriggle free from an attacker who’d grabbed her from behind was helpful, she said.

“If I didn’t know that, I probably would have been stuck in that position, not knowing what to do. But he showed us how to maneuver ourselves in such a way that it was to your own advantage,” she said.


A man puts his arm in a woman's face while she holds a knife to his throat.
Self-defense instructor Avi Abraham teaches Laura Rodriguez how to fend off an attacker by having her take on the role of the assailant.

Additional self-defense classes for staff will be offered in the future at the Rose Hill campus. Classes will also be offered at the Lincoln Center campus.


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.