Why Not Us sponsors self-defense classes on campus

Why Not Us sponsored three self-defense classes for the Allegheny community. John Guthrie, part-time instructor of Dance and Movement Studies, taught the courses, which were offered on February 12, 19 and 25 in the Montgomery Gymnasium.

Guthrie teaches Tang Soo Do, a style of martial arts from the Korean Peninsula. In addition to being a professor at Allegheny, Guthrie is the president of Morco, a company based in Cochranton, Pennsylvania.

Guthrie said every semester, he is asked to teach a self-defense session.

“Some group, some organization, sororities, different groups on campus [ask me to teach a session], and I try to accommodate everyone,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie said though he will regularly get requests to teach a session, the interest does not always translate into action.

“It’s not unusual for me to agree to do self-defense seminars and one or two people show up,” Guthrie said. “People do not take a serious interest in self-defense, and they should.”

Guthrie said he taught the sessions in order to fill a need and encourage others to take up martial arts training.

“A good, traditional martial arts training goes far beyond kicking and punching,” Guthrie said. “It has to do with improving the individual, the individual analyzing themselves periodically, and trying to achieve greater things and sharing that knowledge with others, which is what I do here.”

Guthrie said it is important for people to realize there may not always be someone else who can help them out of a difficult situation, and they should to know how to help themselves.

“People ask me to help them, and I see the need, and in today’s society, there’s more of a need than ever for self-defense training,” Guthrie said. “And everyone thinks, as we mentioned in class, somebody’s going to come rescue them, that’s not going to happen.”

Guthrie said the three sessions built on each other, but as attendance was not consistent across all three, there was not a strong progression.

“We try to go from the simplest to a little more complex, which is difficult to do in three classes,” Guthrie said. “We start them out on simple escapes, so that they can run away, get away and try to move up into control techniques and then into breaking techniques, which would be necessary to incapacitate the attacker. But each night we’ve had new people, we’ve only had a few that repeated.”

Guthrie emphasized the importance of continued practice in self-defense.

“Coming once to any of these does not, coming to all three times does not fix anything,” Guthrie said. “I don’t want them to have a false sense of security, ‘gee, I’ve taken a couple of self defense seminars,’ it doesn’t work that way. It takes literally years of practice.”

Guthrie said he incorporates some Korean language instruction into his classes.

“They probably end up with a 150-200 word vocabulary in Korean, we’re trying to occupy mind and body, and it’s actually less clumsy to give the commands in Korean later on than it is in English,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie said while he was most familiar with Tang Soo Do, he incorporated other styles into his instruction.

“In self-defense, if it works, and if it’s simple, and if it’s something that you can teach someone in a relatively short period of time, but it has to be effective,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie said he wished Allegheny required all students to take a martial art, as it would be beneficial for their future success.

“We also teach a little etiquette, a little protocol, I think I mentioned during the day I am president of a company, manners in the business world, as in most of the rest of the world, have all but disappeared in so many different areas,” Guthrie said. “It always pays dividends.”

Guthrie said students could encounter problems really close to campus, and it would help students to learn the values that came with learning martial arts.

“If you look at the things that happen locally, especially, people used to think it was all Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Erie’s like the Wild West,” Guthrie said. “I mean, you don’t go to Erie on the east side, I wouldn’t go to Erie on the east side on a Saturday night at midnight, and walk in the bar with a shirt that says ‘fear this,’ you just don’t, you know, that comes back to common sense. We’re trying to teach them a little bit on that, but there’s all those benefits, those values that come with a traditional martial art.”

Josh Meisegeier, ’21, said he took Guthrie’s Tang Soo Do class during the day. He attended the session to learn and help others.

“Well, I take classes with Mr. Guthrie, and I love self-defense, and it’s fun to learn more, and I’m helping others out too,” Meisegeier said.

Meisegeier said the most important lesson he learned from the session was the vulnerability of the human wrist.

“You can do a lot to wrists,” Meisegeier said.

Mark Myers, ’19, said the club got the idea to hold the classes from one of its advisers.

“Gilly Ford, the Title IX coordinator, has had several students reach out to her with a desire for self-defense courses, and so, during the winter break, we explored a few avenues, in which we could find an instructor to teach such a class,” Myers said.

Why Not Us considered finding an instructor from the greater Meadville community. Eventually, they asked Guthrie to teach the classes.

“He was on campus, we knew that he was qualified, and he was pretty easy to work with and free,” Myers said.

Myers said Why Not Us offered the three sessions as a proof of concept, and the club hoped to offer a more formal course starting in the fall of 2018.

“For this semester, we’re only trying out three to gauge what the attendance was,” Myers said. “It turned out to be pretty well, so we’re hoping in the fall to implement one that runs a lot longer, and is probably going to be off a signup basis.”

Kiara Perry, ’21, said she and her friends attended the first session and decided to continue. Perry said she learned how fundamental the moves used truly were.

“The simple things you can do can really protect you,” Perry said.

Steven Heine
John Guthrie, part-time instructor of Dance and Movement Studies, demonstrates a hold on Josh Meisigeier, ‘21, during a self-defense class in Montgomery Gymnasium on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018.