The non-profit, “Seniors Fight Back,” held three, free, self-defense, one-hour workshops for seniors (50+) at the Mission Playhouse on Sunday, November 7, at 9, 10 and 11 am.
By Cheryl Cabot
The City of San Gabriel and L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger sponsored this event, the first in the San Gabriel Valley.
Because of continued attacks on seniors, particularly Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Hong Lee, herself a victim of a racist attack, decided it was time to fight back. She co-founded “Seniors Fight Back” (SFB) and with a troop of young volunteers, holds workshops throughout Los Angeles County, teaching seniors easy, yet effective, self-defense techniques.
Ron Scolesdang, a professional MMA (Mixed Martial Art) fighter with 20+ years of self-defense experience, readily agreed to be the instructor. ‘My whole life my mission has been to help others through my vessel, which is martial arts.”
“Our first class was like 35 people and the next class was 200 people and we have continued to have 100 to 200 people per workshop.
“An hour doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a lot in terms of transformation,” Scolesdang said. “Seniors are coming here of their own accord. They are coming in early in the morning, when it’s cold, but they are coming in with purpose, to get some tools to combat these potential threats coming their way. They are feeling threatened and unsafe to go about their daily lives.
“They have no idea what they are going to learn and as they come into the class. They are timid and nervous, and worried. Afterwards, they have a sense of confidence that you can see in their posture. We make an effort to talk to every participant. Everybody gets something out of this. At the very minimum, that confidence goes a long, long way. “
Since the organization began, in January they have been paying almost $40,000 out of pocket, which speaks to their dedication to the cause, but is unsustainable. “We have applied for 501 C-3 non-profit status and as soon as that is approved, we can apply for grants to help finance the program,” Lee said.
“Seniors Fight Back” has also accumulated some supporters to help with expenses. Cities that have hosted the events have provided financial support, as well as corporate sponsors. A company called IngramMicro, donated a thousand pepper sprays. Seniors were given several items to take home along with the pepper spray, including a pocket flashlight and whistle. (Instruction in use of the pepper spray is recommended.)
“With the help of corporate sponsors and supporters,” Scholesdang said, “not only are we able to provide instruction for our participants, but we also provide some tools like whistles and 120 decibel sirens, which are very effective! The sirens are small enough to put in a purse, pocket or on a walker. If it’s pulled apart and then tossed away so the perpetrator can’t grab it, it just brings a ton of attention.
“These predators don’t want an audience. They want an easy target, so the more difficult you become for them, the less likely they are to attack.”
Scholesdang taught the participants simple, but effective, techniques. ”If you feel threatened by someone, first back away and very loudly scream ‘Stop, stop, stop you are getting too close,’ to get attention from others. Hitting hard is not necessary. We are not trying to get into an actual fight. We are just trying to create space.”
“If you are in the clinch of a predator, clap your hands loudly, put your fists down to your chest, turn your whole body with your knees bent (for better balance) then continually elbow the predator. If they are not backing away, use your knees. At the same time, make a loud noise of any kind to startle the predator and scare him away. Scream ‘help, help, help’.”
“There are good people out there,” Scholesdang continued, “they will come to help you. You just have to get their attention.”
The SFB volunteers helped all the participants demonstrate the newly learned techniques, using their elbows, knees and voice.
Three important and effective items Scholesdang wants everyone to remember are, “Situational awareness, body language and voice.”
In other words, be aware of your surroundings. Is it a safe place to be? Use your body language to show the predator you will not allow him to control you and use a loud voice to draw attention to your situation.
The event in San Gabriel was the seventh hosted by SFB. “It’s something needed by our communities,” Hong Lee said. “It’s something we want to keep up because in our culture we value our seniors. The attacks on seniors are horrific, and we need to make sure we protect our seniors the same way they protected us when we were little.”
Lee is involved in several organizations that help to combat crimes against AAPI and seniors. She is the Ambassador for L.A. vs. Hate Initiative as well as a partner with Advancing Justice L.A. and Stop Hate AAPI. The founding of Seniors Fight Back is a culmination of these partnerships.
In the future Lee hopes to do more things to connect the younger generations to seniors, possibly with food drives, donations, and anti-bullying classes for kids. She is also hoping that once they receive their non-profit status, they can raise enough money through grants and partnerships to work on “Seniors Fight Back” full time.
Currently, they host one event a month because, as Lee said, “We all work full time and this is all volunteer. In January 29, we have a class in Bellflower, and we actually have ten requests from cities, but we haven’t committed to them yet. I’m pretty sure 2022 is already booked.”
If you would like “Seniors Fight Back” to come to your city, contact your city officials and have them request an event through SeniorsFightBack.com.
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