Fighting in the dark

Graeme Turner
Knowing how to defend yourself can be very important, especially if you have a vision impairment. I recently went to a self-defence course. The classes were held over six weeks and organised by Blind Citizens Australia. The trainer Leigh Canet taught students one at a time. Students enjoyed throwing punches at a training dummy, and practising moves to throw people to the ground. It's important to not only move right but to think right. The course gave the students confidence. I practised my moves on Leigh.
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Graeme Turner on 01/08/2012
A man practises the self-defence move of elbowing another man in the neck.

Potential attackers don't want trouble.

Thump. The life-sized dummy Bob topples back into the arms of our self-defence trainer Leigh Canet. I so enjoy slamming my elbow into Bob's chin.


This self-defence course was set up by the advocacy agency Blind Citizens Australia to offer techniques to help protect people with a vision impairment. It was conducted recently at Ross House in the city, with 90-minute sessions over six weeks.

Trainer Leigh was motivated to instruct the classes because of his mother's experience of vision loss. He sought to give something back to the community.

I suppose for me it was about helping people understand they have options, he says.

Course participant Cassey is enthusiastic about our self-defence class.

It's definitely a great experience and I'm going to feel a lot more confident going out in public now.

Need for self-defence

Leigh said studies have found potential assailants identify possible victims within seven seconds. Those who are hesitant in walking, lack coordination or do not hold eye contact are particularly vulnerable. People with a vision impairment fit into these categories.

Leigh demonstrated to students that we don't need to be martial arts experts to defend ourselves. If someone grabbed my wrist I could free myself with a turn of my hand. Even if someone lunged at me determined to choke me with two hands I could break free. One way of achieving this is to push my fingers against my attacker's throat.

When I practised this manoeuvre on Leigh, he reeled back coughing and spluttering.

Are you okay? I queried.

Size didn't matter either. Cassey was small but could still give Leigh something effective. You are taught what moves to make to deter a stronger assailant. Potential attackers don't want trouble.

Another student Karen valued the knowledge that she didn't need to be precise in a move to have an impact. I don't need to be some martial arts expert to get it exactly on this spot, she says.

Teaching people with vision impairment

Defence moves are by nature visual, so Leigh needed to be much more descriptive with our group. He worked one on one with each participant. When I moved a hand or arm to break his grip I could definitely feel the move working. It was so pleasurable to bring him to his knees. It was my Muhammed Ali moment.

Val said she enjoyed the combination of theory and practical work in the course. She learned from the experience of others but observes, Often it's about learning about yourself and your own limitations.

I hope I never have to use these techniques, added another participant Amanda.

Parting tips

Leigh emphasised the importance of a positive mental attitude. He wrapped up the course suggesting these moves wouldn't necessarily save us but every little bit helps. As a parting gift he offered a safety alarm. An ear piercing screech split the room with sound. There was always one student who needed to try it.

We said goodbye to the long suffering Bob. He was safe from our persistent beatings, but perhaps not so for anyone who comes at me in a dark alley.

Readers comments (1)

Good on you Graham we should all have the right to walk the street without feeling intimidated. I applaud anyone who trains in self defence to protect themselves and to feel more confident in threatening situations.

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