Combatting danger and self-doubt

Self-defense classes have not only taught me defensive techniques. They've also boosted by self-confidence.

Two people spar in a gym
Brent and Lizzie Haney, two members of the family who owns Team Ascension in Brainerd, demonstrate American kenpo moves during a self-defense class Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — I’ve never considered myself a physically strong person.

I was an avid distance runner in high school, so I had some decent endurance, and my legs always felt fairly strong. But ask me to flex my arms, and I’ll probably tell you I already am, you just didn’t notice.

So the concept of self-defense, for me, is a little daunting, especially since my days of running several miles at a time and feeling fit are now few and far between.

But what I’ve learned so far through three weeks of classes at Team Ascension in Brainerd is that I don’t need bodybuilder strength to defend myself. I just need to know the right techniques.

And through a mix of muay thai and kenpo, I’ve begun learning just that.


Last Friday’s class included a combination of some techniques we learned in two prior sessions but also expanded on them.

Muay thai is all about using fists, elbows, knees and shins for striking an opponent. I’ve come to learn that I can do some serious damage with my elbows. Even if I don’t have jacked up biceps, elbowing someone right in the nose or the temple is probably going to do some serious damage.

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That’s probably something I could have figured out on my own if I took the time to think about it, but actually understanding how impactful a quick strike to the jaw with an elbow or a knee to the gut can be makes a difference. Just knowing that my body has that capability is a major confidence booster.

And so is knowing that I do, in fact, have the ability to knock another person off balance with American kenpo moves and essentially flip them on their back if I know the right way to go about it. It’s all about using my own body weight to my advantage, compared with a couple swift motions that an opponent hopefully doesn’t see coming.

Sara Guymon, my fellow Dispatch reporter learning the ropes of self-defense with me, can attest to the fact that knocking someone off balance is far easier than we both anticipated — even if the move is expected.We both went into the drills knowing what our end goal was. Either Sara was knocking me over, or I was doing the same to her. We knew what the outcome was. But seeing someone else do it and then accomplishing it yourself is a much different feat. Part of me wasn’t actually expecting the moves to work for me.

Sure, when my black belt instructor does it, it looks like a piece of cake. But I’m not a person who always has the best self-confidence. While I was a decent, middle-of-the-pack runner in high school, athletic endeavors don’t usually go in my favor. If you need proof, just check out my curling experience from earlier this year. Let’s just say, I’m amazed I was even able to get out of bed the next day. And I’m not sure which was bruised worse — my pride or my behind.

But I’ve digressed. My point is that I’m not good at sports, so I didn’t expect to find success with the self-defense techniques thrown at me.

Now, I’m by no means an expert after three classes, but beyond learning the moves, I’ve gained the knowledge that I’m capable of defending myself. I hope I don’t ever have to find out how this new insight plays out in the real world if I’m ever attacked, but I welcome the boost to my confidence.


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Opinion by Theresa Bourke
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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