Learning the basics of self-defense

Brainerd martial arts studio Team Ascension is offering a five-week self-defense course to those of all ages.

Person gets ready to punch a punching bag
Dispatch reporter Theresa Bourke practices a punch along with reporter Sara Guymon Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, at Team Ascension in Brainerd.
Contributed / Barbara Haney
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BRAINERD — The best self-defense is the one that gets you home safely.

It might not look pretty, but if it does the trick, that’s all that matters.

I’m no expert in self-defense, but I’m slowly learning the basics thanks to Team Ascension.

The family-owned martial arts studio opened on South Sixth Street in Brainerd in February 2021. After owning a gym for a couple years in Guatemala, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Haney family back home to Minnesota. The family of eight trained virtually while in lockdown before deciding to re-open their enterprise in Brainerd.

Team Ascension offers a variety of martial arts classes, but the one I’m taking is a special five-week course called Lose the Fright, Win the Fight. Fellow Dispatch reporter Sara Guymon and I are enjoying weekly sessions with muay thai instructor Mike Olson, learning about the basics of self-defense.


Our first session Friday, Oct. 21, was all about practical muay thai techniques to help defend oneself during an attack. Muay thai is a martial art that teaches participants to use fists, elbows, knees and shins for striking. We broke a sweat while learning basic kicking and punching forms, along with throwing a few elbows and knees.

Aside from one brief kickboxing class in college, this was my first time learning any sort of defensive or martial arts skills, so it was all brand new, and let’s just say I have a lot to learn.

With the course geared at those of all ages, I’m pretty sure some of the kids learning the same moves alongside had better skills to show off at the end of the hour, but everybody’s got to start somewhere, right?

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My legs were pretty sore the next couple days after practicing movements I’d never done before, but the pain was welcome because it meant my body was learning something new and getting stronger.

Team Ascension owner Barbara Haney said the idea for the self-defense course came from knowing there are people in the community experiencing hardships like substance abuse, domestic violence and even grief who might be able to benefit from learning healthy habits and channeling their energy into something productive.

“What we want you to do is get some better habits,” Haney told me. “And if you come and you’re working out, and you feel good, maybe you develop better relationships with people instead of sitting at home, watching TV, drinking, right?”

Haney hopes to eventually partner with organizations like Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge to add an element of physical fitness to the recovery journey of those in the program and help them replace negative habits with good ones.

As I continue on with the weekly classes, I’m excited to learn more about the various benefits martial arts can offer, aside from potentially saving my life if I ever find myself in a dangerous situation.


And hopefully my muscles will get used to the movements so I can cut down on the day-after pain.

For more information on Team Ascension, visit , and follow our journey as Sara and I write weekly columns about our self-defense experiences over the next four weeks.

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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