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Divas in Defense class teaches women how to defend themselves — and avoid trouble

Phillips, left, and McGinnis demonstrated a defensive move during the Divas in Defense course, part of Central Baptist Hospital's Healthworx program.
Phillips, left, and McGinnis demonstrated a defensive move during the Divas in Defense course, part of Central Baptist Hospital's Healthworx program.

Lipstick in place: Check.

Gymwear accented in pink: Check.

Kick-butt attitude and willingness to play dirty. Check and check.

Perky and personable, Kim McGinnis and Renee Phillips are on a mission to make sure women in Central Kentucky know how to protect themselves.

That includes doing whatever it takes to get away from an attacker.

"You can pull their ears off," said McGinnis, tugging on her own ears by way of demonstration.

"Definitely — it's all cartilage," said Phillips, yanking both her hands down with a deft, quick pull. Phillips likes to point out that someone who is out to commit assault won't be playing by the rules, so women shouldn't be afraid to exert maximum effort to get away.

The Divas In Defense class, which debuted in Lexington last week, is focused on helping woman avoid potentially dangerous situations and teaching the tools to escape potential attackers.

"We felt like it was something that we needed to offer to the community," said McGinnis, who first learned about the program while visiting her sister in Atlanta. She then pitched the idea to Central Baptist Hospital officials. The women are labor and delivery nurses there.

"We have an extremely wide variety of classes offered at Healthworx, and self-defense for women is a natural fit," said hospital spokeswoman Ruth Ann Childers. "I sent my daughter, who is off to college in the fall, to a series of self-defense classes at Healthworx, and we both feel much better about her knowing the information, even though we hope she never has to use it. Of course, now she wants me to go, too."

Six women — two sets of mothers and daughters and two friends — came out for the first class at Healthworx in Lexington Green off Nicholasville Road. The class is sponsored by Central Baptist. Both women have taught before — McGinnis has led spinning classes, Phillips gets her Zumba on — but never self-defense.

The hospital paid for the duo to attend a two-day class in Atlanta to learn the program. The road trip reaffirmed their dedication to helping other women learn to defend themselves. Ultimately, they'd like to offer a six-week boot camp that focuses on hard-core defense techniques.

But they are starting slowly.

The first 90-minute class offered tips on how to avoid trouble and hands-on defense techniques. (OK, elbows, knees and feet also were involved.)

One of the first tips, one that resonated with Heather Kimberling, was to yell not "help!" but rather "my baby!"

McGinnis explained that people hearing "help!" might not want to get involved with what might be a squabble, but "my baby!" taps a more primal instinct that will spur people to action.

"It just makes a lot of sense," Kimberling said.

The divas also talked about simple changes that can keep women out of potentially dangerous situations. For example, McGinnis said that talking on your cell phone while walking to your car in a parking lot can distract you and lull you into a false sense of safety. Chatting with a friend can make it difficult to hear an approaching assailant.

Phillips' "ah-ha" moment during diva training was when the instructor asked what she did with her kids when coming out of the grocery store. She said she puts her 3-year-old and her 7-year-old in her truck, cranks up the air or heat and turns on the DVD player before loading the groceries into the vehicle.

Wrong, her trainer said.

In that situation, an attacker can take the car and the kids. Plus, she said, the children can be an extra pair of eyes and ears if they remain by her side in the parking lot while groceries are loaded.

"I don't do that anymore," Phillips told the class.

Most women have some built-in reluctance to overcome, McGinnis said. With a little encouragement, they can find their power, Phillips said.

For example, a few minutes into class, Phillips yelled out "defensive stance!" The women were supposed to thrust their hands in front of their chest and yell. The first few times, the response was weak.

But by the end of 90 minutes, the Lexington divas-in-training had learned their lessons: They assumed the defensive stance on demand, yelled "my baby!" with enough conviction to probably stop a bystander and became comfortable with a few jabs.

Martha Sizemore wasn't sure at the beginning of class whether she'd even participate.

"I think I'll watch," she said.

She'd been encouraged by her daughter, Rebekkah Cohelia, to come. At the end of class, she was jabbing to the throat, grabbing her daughter in a mock chokehold and promising to practice at home.

Phillips said that's the progress she likes to see.

"Everyone should know they have the potential to do this," she said.

Cohelia was convinced. "Everyone should know how defend herself," she said.

And the training might not be used only on strangers.

"I think her brothers are in trouble," Sibel Gullo said jokingly of her daughter, JoJo, 14, who seemed to have mastered her defensive lessons.

"Yeah, definitely," JoJo said with a brace-filled smile.

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