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Self-Empowerment at the Ellicottville Memorial Library

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By Louisa Benatovich

ECS Student Reporter

With the rise of the #MeToo movement that began with the exposure of Harvey Weinstein, women are asking how they better protect themselves. Currently, statistics show that 1-in-4 women will be sexually assaulted. 

Joe Backus, a certified martial arts instructor, is attempting to change that.

On Aug. 28 at the Ellicottville Memorial Library, Backus held a self-defense class, the second in a projected long line of installments. With seven in attendance, the class focused on what to do when in a “victim situation.” Multiple scenarios were reenacted, with Backus demonstrating how to escape from each. Headlocks, bear hugs, choke holds, club attacks and attacks while prostrate were addressed, all using the basic principles of martial arts.

Backus advocated for groin kicks, foot stomps and nose jabs, saying that the victim must do anything in her power to release the attacker’s hold.

“If desperate, you could even rip an ear off,” he says. “It’s just cartilage. It rips like paper. Isn’t it terrible?”

Though I seemed to be the only one that noticed the pun, Backus did get me thinking about strength. We are taught, as women, that we are weaker, smaller and, therefore, unable to best a man in physical combat. Backus showed us, a group of women of all ages, that most of the time, winning relies on physics and your knowledge of anatomy. All it takes is a quick punch to the inner elbow or the bending back of a finger, and the attacker can make a mistake.

“Don’t rely on force,” says Backus. “It’ll tire you out. Think about angles, weight. Defend yourself smoothly and quickly. When you can, run.”

Backus, who has been practicing martial arts for over 45 years, discovered his passion as a teen. Bullied in high school, he wanted to find a way to protect himself and the people he loved.

Joe didn’t find boxing, boxing found Joe. He took classes at his local recreational center, and, eventually, transitioned to martial arts. Now, he teaches weekly classes at the Cattaraugus-Little Valley Fire Hall and often conducts free seminars. After a period of dormancy, Backus is excited to reemerge and share his lifelong passion with the community.

Though the hour-long class didn’t turn me into Ronda Rousey, I now feel more confident in my body’s capabilities. I witnessed a 100-pound woman flip her 200-pound husband. Anything is possible!

I encourage all to be an advocate for your own health and safety. Stay on the lookout for more classes at the Ellicottville Memorial Library, and in the meantime, educate yourself. Self-defense is self-empowerment!

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