Self-defense classes focus on prevention and awareness

Lisa Yates
Chad McDaniel and John Huddle, white belts, demonstrate a "breakaway" technique.

At 8 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday night, a small group of students meet at Black Dragon Martial Arts in Prairieville to learn and practice Tactical Hapkido – a martial art that focuses primarily on self-defense.

John Huddle, one of the students, started taking the class a few months ago.

“Taking classes is something I always wanted to do,” he said. “But I wanted something practical, something I could use in the real world.”

Huddle, 34, said his job as an insurance adjuster has him traveling outside the parish and going into people’s homes.

“Some of the places I go are out in the middle of nowhere,” he said, adding he never knows who or what he will encounter in these situations.

Ken Decote, owner and chief instructor at the school, said his self-defense classes focus on prevention and awareness, teaching people how to size up a situation and decide what to do.

“At Black Dragon Martial Arts we teach Tactical Hapkido, an art that is totally self-defense oriented, easy to learn and very effective if someone is grabbed or attacked,” he said.

He said Tactical Hapkido, also known as Chon Sul Kwan, teaches special techniques for breaking an attacker’s grasp as well as other things to do to get away. He asked Huddle and Chad McDaniel, both White Belts at the school, to demonstrate some “breakaway” techniques. The video is posted online at

Decote, a licensed psychotherapist and 3rd Degree Black Belt, explained Tactical Hapkido is a set of practical and effective self-defense techniques that can be used by anyone, regardless of their age, gender or physical abilities.

“You don’t have to be Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris, you simply must be committed and determined, and understand body mechanics,” he said. “It is not like Taekwondo or Karate where power is needed; it is about understanding ‘off balances’ and body mechanics. With proper training, anyone can take down an assailant.”

He said Tactical Hapkido incorporates certain key principles, such as the principles of circular motion and non-resistance. By redirecting the attack in a circular direction, the student controls the balance and kinetic energy of the attacker. The principle of non-resistance teaches students must never meet force with force.

Ducote’s wife Kristine, a 2nd Degree Black Belt, said fear is natural. She said fear of responding when faced with a potentially dangerous situation is defeated first by training and then by practicing self-defense techniques.

“It takes training, but eventually with practice it becomes rote memory,” she said.

She is an expert in victim’s assistance and the lead instructor for the Conflict Continuum System, a nationally recognized self-defense program taught under the direction of Grandmaster Barry Rodemaker of the Tactical Hapkido Alliance. It’s a comprehensive four-hour seminar covering basic Hapkido /martial arts concepts against a multitude of common assaults.

Ducote said self-defense helps people develop a certain mindset.

“Ninety percent is mental,” she said. “Mentally you have to decide you’re going to make it out alive. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, you go in thinking: I’m not going down this way.”

She said one of the best things people take away from self-defense classes is self-confidence.

“I had low self-esteem when I first started,” she said. “When I started testing for belts, I had to stand up in a room full of people, all by myself, and go through the forms. That gave me more confidence than I had in years.”

Ducote said it is important to find a martial arts school with highly-qualified instructors who can help students achieve their training objectives. Her husband writes about this topic on his blog at

Bobby Cannon, the 2011 National Blackbelt League Men’s World Champion and owner of Gonzales Black Belt Academy, said he usually schedules self-defense classes on demand.

“We have the Equalizer Class, a women’s self-defense class that’s very easy,” he said. “It doesn’t require a high level of fitness. You just learn how to hold off the attacker until you can get away and get help.”

The focus of Cannon’s school is sports martial arts, with its competition team among the best in the country. They’ve won a number of titles, including 2010 and 2011 SKIL World Champions; 2010 and 2011 USKA World Champions; 2010 and 2011 USAMAA National Champions; and, Gulf Coast 17- Grand Champion. They’ve also been selected members of the 2012 Team USA Martial Arts Team to represent the United States in The World Martial Arts Games.

In addition to the Equalizer self-defense course for women, Cannon offers a firearms training course for protection and personal self-defense. He is a certified POST (Peace Officer Standard Training) instructor.

“We teach you how to fire a weapon, how to operate it, and how to safely keep it in your home,” he said. “We also teach you how to select the right gun for the right situation.”

Cannon’s 12-year-old son Conor is also developing a summer class to teach kids self-defense against bullying.

“It’s a place for kids to go to have somewhere to reflect,” he said.

As a law enforcement professional, Cannon said perpetrators come from all walks of life, but most are just out to make a few dollars to buy drugs.

Whereas most people get up in the morning and go to a job, Cannon said these folks head to local shopping center parking lots to target vulnerable victims. He said they often work in pairs to hunt down and distract their victims.

“They’re just looking for some quick cash,” he said. “To them you’re like an ATM.”

He said they look for easy targets and people distracted by talking on their cell phones.

“When the economy is down, crime goes up,” he said. “Most of these perpetrators are not violent. They pick the elderly and females, because they are usually less confrontational. They usually don’t target young men. If there’s a struggle, they usually just leave. That’s why it’s good to take a self-defense class.”

Related links: for photogallery and videos for Black Dragon Martial Arts for Gonzales Black Belt Academy