Kicking Butt on Campus

CSUN Combat Sports clubs offer more than a good workout.

by Brian Shepherd

Photographs © 2016 by Raul Martinez


What makes someone a soft target for an attacker?

In the wild, predators look for weak animals to stalk and kill. It is no different when it comes to humans and violence. Assailants often surveil their victims to ensure a successful attack, and like a cheetah running up on an elephant, they may decide the best course of action is to wait for someone they’re confident they can overwhelm if their intended target looks like they may put up a fight.

What should you do if you or someone you know are confronted by an assailant?

Specifically regarding sexual assault, the National Institute of Justice states that self-protective actions reduce the chance of a rape being completed by 80 percent when compared to complying with an attacker, and resistance does not significantly increase the likelihood of serious injury.   

How do you resist and protect yourself?
Well, you need a set of skills.  And there just so happens to be three combat sports clubs on campus that are very eager and willing to teach them to you.

Where can you learn to protect yourself?

All week in Redwood Hall, room 251, some of the toughest students on campus gather at night to train and be trained in the martial arts of wrestling, boxing, and Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ).

What are those?
Wrestling and BJJ are a mix of mostly ground-based fighting and grappling, whereas boxing is stand-up, hands-only striking. Even though these groups meet for separate sessions and have starkly contrasting styles and techniques, the attitudes and traits from members of each club are extremely similar.

Who participates?

Danielle Gokina is a CSUN junior, proponent for V-Day (an activist movement to end violence against women and girls), and one of the newer jiu jitsu club members.

Gokina is very passionate about women being able to fend for themselves.  

“There are too many people who get into bad situations and don’t know how to get out, and that feeling of helplessness stays with you.” Gokina added, with a smile, the biggest change she’s seen in herself since starting to train is that, “I don't take crap from people anymore.”

Just like a chess match, combat sports uses strategy and deception to set up their opponents for a strike or a submission.

Freshman Connor Student said “Jiu jitsu is great because unless you’re tapping out [giving up], there’s really no losing position. No matter what position you’re in, you’re constantly trying to figure out the
best way to improve against your opponent.”

From a self-defense standpoint, this rationale is exceptionally important since a large portion of physical altercations end up on the ground at some point.

Giovanna Miranda, a boxer, understands the importance of size and strength, but it’s not something she fears, “A woman is never going to be stronger than a man, but we can use boxing to get in a punch or avoid getting hit.” Miranda said, and she knows what she’s talking about;  “Gio” boxes regularly against men and has the 2014 U.S. Intercollegiate Boxing Association’s 152-pound Beginner women’s championship to show for it.

From the wrestling side, Gabby Chavez reiterates this to a certain, “It kind of sucks that I’m the only girl here, but it’s helpful to toughen up. Now, I definitely feel more confident if I have to walk home alone at night.” Chavez said.

Chavez’s fellow club member, Owen Montoya, is taking advantage of a second chance at a sport he loves.

“I want this to be the best club on campus. Wrestling helps you not only physically, but it really builds confidence and makes you have a strong mentality that spills over into all areas of your life,” Montoya said.

Not being afraid can mean the difference between surviving relatively unscathed or not.

It’s for this reason Ashley Velasco doesn’t want to be treated like a girl when she’s grappling with the majority-male BJJ club.

 “Sometimes I have to go extra hard so they don’t take it easy on me.” Velasco said and went on to explain that in order for her to really know what it’s like to fight off someone much larger than herself, she needed her training partners to grapple or “roll” against her the same as they would anyone else.