By Melody Birkett

“Go, hit, palm strike.”

I can feel the adrenaline rush.

“Boom, right into the eye. Eyes, nose, throat — that can cause pain,” said Kelly Corder, Kaju Arizona Studio co-owner and instructor. “Alternate strike. Hammer strike might be more effective than palm strike. Make a fist and hit.”

This may sound like a law enforcement training class but I was actually listening in on the instruction in a self-defense class for women using the martial art form Kajukenbo.

“Kajukenbo was founded in 1947 at Palama Settlement in Oahu, Hawaii,” said Kaju Arizona Studio co-owner Jennifer Corder.

It encompasses five black belts of five different disciplines: karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, kenpo and Chinese boxing, a street-style self-defense system.

“And it’s a very effective system,” Jennifer said. “The nice thing is that it works for people of all sizes, ages, abilities because it’s very practical.

“By practical, we mean it uses wrist locks and chokes and things like that that people of all sizes and abilities can still do. So you don’t have to be 25 years old and running marathons. That is not what Kajukenbo is all about. Kajukenbo is for everybody.”

The Corders instruct children as young as 5, those with disabilities, as well as the elderly including a 70-year-old who has a black belt in Kajukenbo.

“We founded Kajukenbo Arizona in 2006 out of a desire to share our passion for Kajukenbo and also because we had two young sons we wanted…to keep busy,” Jennifer said. “So we’ve had this family business for 11 years. We teach and train all together.”

While Kelly is instructing all of us on a large square mat, their two grown sons are by his side, also teaching and answering questions.

“When they’re standing in front of you, stomp on their foot,” said Kelly, referring to an attacker.

“When someone grabs your wrist, the first thing you do is stomp on their foot,” the one that’s the closest.

The instruction continues as about a dozen women and I try to learn and remember the self-defense moves.

“Stomp, grab, pull. Grab with your other hand and pull away. Then you can come back with your elbow. Your thumb is the weakest part.”

“We start with a simple, single arm grab. You’re going to stomp, you’re going to pull towards the direction of the thumb, and then come back with a hit and they’re going to run.”

The first move is critical, but as Kelly explained, it shouldn’t get to that point.

“I believe the moves are there as a safety net, but your real defense is your awareness and being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “That’s more important than anything else.”

“If you put out a vibe, ‘don’t mess with me,’ you’ll never have to use it… 90 percent of why attacks occur is you being stupid, in the wrong place at the wrong time and being distracted. If you took all that out, there wouldn’t hardly be any crime or any attacks,” Kelly said. “Guys will use your good nature and intentions against you.”

“Predators want a weak target, someone whose eyes are down, and someone who’s acting afraid. But if you look like you’re going to be a handful, they’ll move on to someone else. How you walk, hold yourself and where your eyes are is important.”

It’s a lot to remember. It’s already well into the hour and I’m feeling like I could use a few more hours of instruction to grasp all of this. I’m thinking the advanced two-hour class might be helpful.

“If someone approaches from behind and touches your shoulder, turn towards them and hit their arm and do a palm strike in the head, temple, neck, throat,” Kelly said. “If he’s grabbing you, tighten your shoulder. Hitting him in the arm might not work. Might have to go directly to the palm strike and kick in the leg.”

Kelly tried to keep the moves simple since in a panic situation, he says we probably won’t remember anything too difficult. The idea is to practice, practice, practice.

Going for the eyes is crucial, apparently.

“Eye rake is the most important because that’s going to be the stunner that’s going to put them at a confused or want-to-get-away type state,” Kelly said.

He means using all five fingers to search for an attacker’s eyes. By only using two fingers, all the attacker has to do is turn their head a little and you’ll miss. Raking gives you more of a chance of hitting the target.

Equally vulnerable are the throat, ears and nose.

“So, eyes, ears, nose, throat and then groin,” Kelly said.

I must admit, I figured the groin would be the first place I would want to kick an attacker. But as we learned in the class, it’s not as effective as you may think.

“A kick to the groin is potentially effective, but the problem is most people are expecting it,” Kelly said. “And so for me, if she’s (referring to the other instructor) trying to kick me, I just have to turn… and then you’ve wasted an opportunity to defend yourself because you’re shooting for a target that just moved.”

When it comes to using your elbow, “The elbow strike is one of the most powerful strikes you can have,” Kelly said.

The problem is you have to be super close to your attacker in order to use it.

Hitting a person in the throat is also a great way to disable them.

“In reality, 12 pounds of pressure, you’re killing somebody,” Kelly said. “Without medical attention, they’ll die. So it’s a very dangerous part of your target.”

Would you still need self-defense training if you live in a safe area?

“You need this because the world is a scary place,” Jennifer said. “It’s a sad realization.”

The trainers said that awareness, combined with confidence, is 95 percent of the self-defense game.

“If someone sees me, they would never think that I’m a 5th-degree black belt and that I will fight to the death to stay alive and to protect my family,” Jennifer said. “My shoulders are back, I make eye contact with people, I’m watching everything that’s around me.”

Cellphones are one of the biggest distractions. “We feel like we’re more connected, that people are close by, but they’re really not. So we should try not to be distracted,” she said.

Beth Felix and her daughter Jessica, 15, also attended the class.

“They taught us some really basic skills that you would be able to defend yourself with and get away. And to see my daughter who constantly has her phone in her hand and her shoulders down. I think it was very beneficial for the teenager group, as well,” she said.

Melanie Smith has attended the class three times and said she’s getting better with repeating the moves.

After each class, she reviews the steps. This time, she said, she was hoping to practice with her husband.

Does she think she could defend herself?

“I think I probably could, but I would need to get into action immediately,” Smith said.