by Senior Airman Katrina Heikkinen
41st Missile Wing Public Affairs
11/14/2013 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Hundreds
of feet pounding the wrestling mats echoed in the Malmstrom Air Force
Base Fitness Center. A stern man instructed the students to not remove
their hand from the ground before planting their feet on the floor.
"Base!" the participants yelled as they stood in the position of combat base.
"Get low and maintain a perpendicular base," said Rener Gracie, Gracie Academy Women Empowered self-defense seminar instructor.
In an effort to reduce the frequency of sexual assaults in the U.S.
Armed Forces, the Gracie Academy created the Women Empowered Gracie
Defense Systems. The program is tailored to target sexual assault
scenarios in the military by teaching Gracie Jiu-Jitsu techniques to
nearly 100 Team Malmstrom members from Nov. 11 to 15 at the base fitness
"What makes the Gracie Defense Systems so unique is that the techniques
are effective both in stranger related sexual assaults and in
non-stranger sexual assaults," Gracie said. "Those are the most common
assaults that take place because so many people are out with their
acquaintances, coworkers and senior leaders and a lot of times the
perpetrators are people they are very familiar with."
Gracie, a third degree black belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the grandson
of Grand Master Hélio Gracie, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu creator, taught the
seminar with Eve Torres, three-time World Wrestling Divas Champion and
Gracie Academy Women Empowered self-defense instructor.
"My grandfather created this self-defense system specifically to defend
himself against larger, more athletic opponents in Brazil," Gracie said.
"After perfecting the techniques in Brazil, he taught it to my father
who brought the art to America in 1978. My father taught in his garage
in southern California for 11 years before opening the Gracie Academy
World Headquarters in Los Angeles. In 1993 my father created the
Ultimate Fighting Championship. Ironically, it was November 12, 1993.
Today marks the 20th year anniversary for UFC and we're here celebrating
with the men and women of Malmstrom Air Force Base and we couldn't be
During the seminar, the participants learned different strategies as
well as the triangle of victimization - the three components of a sexual
assault: a predator, target and an opportunity.
"We are also teaching a lot of techniques regarding the boundary setting
and the psychological aspect of sexual assault so that these men and
women know essentially how to put up the barriers that make them hard
targets," Gracie said. "Sexual predators are very particular about who
they chose because they want a target that guarantees them the result
they're looking for and [an opportunity] that prevents them from getting
After successfully completing the self-defense seminar, participants
became certified instructors to teach fellow service members on the
"This week's course is a train-the-trainer course," Gracie said. "By the
end of the week they will all be certified to teach this self-defense
program to hopefully thousands of men and women to help neutralize these
[sexual assault] threats that are becoming ever too common."
Though the techniques Gracie and Torres taught during the week proved to
be effective, he emphasized the importance of prevention and
empowerment so there is never an opportunity for a predator to attack.
"In a fight, whoever manages the distance manages the damage that can be
done," Gracie said. "We teach students how to manage the distance,
avoid getting injured in a fight and we remind them that victory during a
sexual assault isn't to beat anyone up; it's to neutralize the threat,
disengage and get home safely at the end of the day."
With nearly a foot difference in height, Torres removed the doubt from
any skeptics as she proved that minimum force can go a long way when she
demonstrated the maneuvers with Gracie.
"It's extremely important for women to learn self-defense not just for
the techniques, but for their confidence; the confidence to set
boundaries for themselves," Torres said. "I think people have a
misunderstanding of what self-defense really is and what it can be. I
think people are blown away by what they're learning and are realizing
these [techniques] can actually work against much larger, heavier and
For Staff Sgt. Sheena Smith, 341st Medical Group unit training manager,
the seminar proved to be a fun and serious learning experience.
"This seminar is making women feel more confident in what we're doing
because before, some of us wouldn't know what to do if someone tried to
attack us," Smith said. "Now we know the stance, where to put our hands
and what to verbally say."
"These self-defense techniques are great for women and men - to both
learn and share the knowledge at future seminars," Torres said. "They
are protecting our country and we're here making sure that they can