Students, faculty exchange blows during self-defense training


Biology major Shannon Changizi and Vanessa Mariano, a business management major, practice a striking technique during the self-defense workshop at the Mashouf Center on Wednesday, Sept. 19. (Christian Urrutia/Golden Gate Xpress)

If it wasn’t for the smiles on their faces, you’d think SF State students and faculty had come to blows on Wednesday, Sept 19. But they’d actually gathered at Mashouf Wellness Center for a common cause that day — to learn self-defense.

SF State instructor Stephanie Cyr, who held the self-defense workshop, drew upon her two decades of training in taekwondo, Krav Maga and boxing to demonstrate how effective such techniques can be if individuals ever find themselves in a physical confrontation.

As the class joked around while trading defensive blows on protective pads held in front of each other, Cyr told the class to have fun, but also reminded them to take it seriously.

“If you’ve ever been in a fight like I have, it’s horrible,” said Cyr, who joined the university in 2006 after a career as an attorney. “You want to end it as quickly as possible.”

She said developing a survival mindset and constant alertness is critical to avoid becoming a victim.

“It can happen to you. Develop your situational awareness,” Cyr said. “It’s very important how you carry yourself. Follow your gut if something feels off.”

The event was held in conjunction with SF State Campus Safety Week, which informs faculty, staff and students about all the ways to prepare for emergencies, including first aid, active shooter response, how to use a fire extinguisher and safe dating habits.

The first step in defending yourself, Cyr said, is to run away — choose fighting only as a last resort.

“If you have to get physical, you run like hell and call for help,” Cyr said. “In self-defense, you’ve won if there’s no violence.”

A group of mostly female attendees showed up for the workshop, but some men joined in as well. A few were from Cyr’s KIN 158 personal defense class.

After some warm-up exercises, Cyr instructed the class to form fighting stances and mimic her movements.

She then taught the class how to perform palm-heel strikes and hammer fists while shouting warnings to their attackers.

Cyr said despite her small stature, she is “undefeated in the ring” in competitions because she uses her size to her opponent’s disadvantage.

She advised the workshop not to let their guard down by falling asleep on BART or listening to music on their headphones.

“Don’t take away one of your senses,” Cyr said. “You’re handicapping yourself. Think about your exits and be alert.”