Physical Activity

Free Self Defense Classes at UCLA: Protecting the Mind and Body


What if…

Imagine walking back from a late night at Powell Library. Its tenth week, and you’ve spent the past few days studying for your upcoming final. Day in and day out, you’ve labored over past midterms and practice tests, keeping yourself awake with liters of coffee and Yerba Mate tea. Eventually, you decide to throw in the towel for the night and make the long trek home to your cozy apartment. All your friends called it quits hours earlier, so it looks like you’re walking alone at 2AM with minimal light to guide your way once you exit the safe confines of UCLA’s campus. As you round a corner, two clowns jump out at you from behind the bushes and nearly scare you to death. They charge at you, and you stand there, motionless in fear, your fight or flight instincts muting each other out. Do you run? Do you attack?

Riley Woolvett, a fourth year undergraduate student here at UCLA, could relate to this hypothetical. As Riley walked home from her on-campus job one late night this Fall Quarter, she was met by two masked clowns on the corner of Gayley and Kelton. She instantly pulled out her pepper spray and ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction towards a friend’s apartment. After chasing her a few yards, the clowns ceased their ghoulish noises and retreated with snickering laughter. Although shaken, Riley was not physically hurt, and has since warned her friends and coworkers to be extra wary about walking home late at night. She also highly recommends that everyone at UCLA take the weekly free Bruin Self Defense class offered in the John Wooden Center — it could one day save your life.

Wait, FREE Self Defense Class?

That’s right! Every Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 7:00pm, the Bruin Self Defense class (BSD for short) takes place in Yates Gymnasium on second floor of the John Wooden Center. It’s free for all UCLA students, and is arguably one of the best kept secrets of this campus (maybe second to the Food Closet?). Instructors Lance Wisdom and Vincent Pham cover a plethora of basic self defense moves, including strikes and blocks, as well as self defense topics, ranging from weapons defense, car attacks and sexual assault defense. The instructors start the class by asking for student recommendations and input, and structure the day’s routine based based on the focus participants want. If no hands go up, no worries, Lance and Vincent are prepared with a lesson plan of their own.

Emily Lopez, the Martial Arts Student Coordinator, stresses the importance of knowing basic self-defense techniques. She says, “We obviously touch on the physical aspect of self defense, but we also go over the mental side. Our instructors facilitate discussion about being prepared and aware of your surroundings at all times.” Since UCLA is an open campus, it is especially important to be conscious of common crime areas in Westwood, and aware of exits and escape routes in lecture halls and public buildings. The BSD class uses on-campus scenarios to prepare students for incidents that may occur while the university is in session, but are widely applicable to other situations.

BDS is an adaptive class, and accommodates people of all genders, religions, and abilities. So, to reiterate, the Bruin Self Defense class is FREE and INCLUSIVE of all people. Can you find a reason not to go? Knowing how to protect yourself from an attack is empowering, and having control of your state of mind and body is important for a healthy and happy life. As busy UCLA students, it’s hard to commit to a martial arts instructional program that costs extra money and meets biweekly. BDS is designed to be an accessible resource for all students, without causing financial distress. The Martial Arts Program plans on extending the Bruin Self Defense platform to include safety information while travelling and “everyday carry” essentials, must have items to have in your back pocket if you were to face an assailant.

If you want more information about topics and moves covered in BSD, you can click here to visit their Facebook page. This site is also a great source of information on crimes that occur around the Westwood area, such as the dual kidnapping and car theft that occurred earlier this year.

Sign me up!

One caveat, these classes are available only to the first 40 people who show up or have reserved a spot online through the UCLA Recreation website. So just log on to the website, click on “Bruin Self Defense,” and register for the Wednesday you would like to attend. But if you’re walking by and see there’s spots available, just hop on in and sign the waiver! Make sure you’re wearing athletic attire, and bring water.

Ellie Benitez is a 3rd year undergraduate Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major and Society and Genetics minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the HCI representative for UCLA Recreation, where she is a Student Supervisor for Intramural Sports.


1 reply
  1. Stephanie Minor
    Stephanie Minor says:

    So many great points in this wonderful article! Self defense classes normally teach the physical aspects of self defense, which are vitally important, but shouldn’t outweigh the mental factors of self defense. Riley in your article was lucky that she not only had a self defense weapon, but was prepared and probably trained to use it! Those clowns were probably just playing a practical joke, but I’m glad she was ready to fight back. Free UCLA self defense classes are a great opportunity for all students! They not only will train you physically and mentally in self defense, but you’ll develop more confidence, have a higher self esteem, and develop connections with other like-minded individuals 🙂 Stay safe!


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