As a former high school security officer and mother of three daughters, Jessica Harden has a unique perspective on keeping women and girls safe.
This summer, Harden included self-defense classes in her fitness and nutrition training activity. Like other martial arts and fitness studios across the county, Harden is in increased demand as high-profile school attacks grab the headlines.
“I’ve always loved learning real-life self-defense tactics, learning real-life useful things for women and children against bigger and stronger people,” Harden said. “We want to level the playing field so we can stay away from the threat.”
Harden launched her personal training and nutrition studio J FIT as a side business during last year’s pandemic-related shutdowns. At the end of last school year, I decided to change pace and pursue it full time, starting with a focus on individual fitness. This summer, Harden added a self-defense component to her offerings after earning certification through the COBRA Self-Defense Program, set up by a law enforcement officer with martial arts experience.
Harden says a lot of the focus in her classes is on what she calls “myth-breaking,” helping women break down preconceived notions and focus on more effective strategies.
“I know there are a lot of other women who live with a false sense of security who think they know what to do when they don’t. … Women like to say ‘I have a Mace on my keychain,’ and they feel that is what they are,” Harden said. He will keep them safe.” “Being a mother of three daughters, I always thought I knew what I should teach them to protect them if they were attacked or assaulted. Learn what I know now from my training with Cobra, I was wrong. It kind of surprised me”
Harden offers classes on child kidnapping prevention and safety and self-defense classes for teens and women, along with special classes designed for real estate agents, which she says is a particularly at-risk profession.
Harden’s lessons begin with preventative measures: “Be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk with your head down on your phone, and don’t wear earphones.” Then move on to practical self-defense methods.
Harden launched her self-defense programs this summer and has seen a spike in interest since the reported assaults at Loudoun schools made headlines this fall.
“The look of the classroom hasn’t changed, but I feel like people find it more applicable now,” Harden said.
She said raising awareness and focusing on safety are essential, even in Loudoun where crime rates are relatively low. It cites reports of assaults on the W&OD Trail in recent years, including the alleged assault of a teen jogger in October, and large numbers of sex trafficking cases in Northern Virginia.
“It’s not about instilling fear, but we can’t live in a Loudoun County bubble,” Harden said. “While crime rates are lower in this area – and that’s great – there is still crime that happens every day. We cannot allow a false sense of security to affect our judgment and awareness. … I say. [children] All the time most people are good people, but we have to live in an area where some people aren’t.”
Harden offers regular classes for teens, classes for women 14 and up, which often appeal to mothers and teenage/young girls. Harden says she’s also receiving more requests for private group classes, from teen groups to a large women’s golf team, creating opportunities for both bonding and self-defense information.
“It’s a great way for women to come together and feel that empowered and confident,” she said.
Harden also offers kidnapping prevention classes for younger children ages 5 to 12, with parents encouraged to attend. Her focus is on letting the kids know that it’s okay not to be quiet.
“One of the things I teach these kids is to use their voice and be an advocate for their safety,” she said. “It’s OK to ask for an actual space. It’s OK to tell someone to stop. It’s OK to scream.”
The methods used in her children’s classes include plenty of vocal exercises and age-appropriate self-defense techniques that are proven to be effective against larger attackers, such as a child putting himself in a car door.
Harden’s work as a school security officer with LCPS for more than a decade and raising three daughters, now aged 17 to 23, has helped her connect with the teenage population.
“I had great relationships with the students in my school. It was a great experience,” she said. “I understand everything they do and the situations they put themselves in.”
With all of her timely fitness, nutrition, and self-defense classes, Harden says, her pandemic-fighting career pivot could not have happened at a better time.
“Working with individuals individually and being able to help them with their specific needs is very rewarding,” she said.
For more information on Cobra’s self-defense and fitness classes at J FIT Training & Nutrition, go to myjfit.com.
The Martial Arts Approach in Purcellville
Self-defense for women and girls also took center stageKristi Love, who runs Justin Love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Purcellville with her husband Justin.
After hearing news of violence in Loudoun schools, Love gave a free workshop for girls at the end of October. The class filled up so quickly that I ended up doing several additional free workshops in November to absorb the interest. Lough has now launched a weekly series for women and girls.
“It was a terrible blow,” Love said. “With the events going on at Loudoun County Public Schools, it’s popping up again — and something that touches home.”
Lough offers free continuing evening classes on Wednesdays for women and girls ages 6 and up designed with moms and daughters in mind. Lough also offers regular girls-only Jiu-Jitsu lessons on Saturday mornings.
Kristi Love has trained in competitive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (known as BJJ) for nine years and has said she is often the only woman in the room at competitions. Love said BJJ is known for its focus on ground combat and surrender operations, which allow smaller people to create defensive leverage against larger opponents, and have elements that are ideal for women’s self-defense. But BJJ is also known as a sport that requires intense training, with most competitors taking eight to 10 years to earn a black belt, she said.
One area of Lough’s focus is creating classes and workshops that pull items from BJJ that can help people and are taught in a concise manner rather than requiring years of training.
“I love BJJ and all the aspects it brings into my life – from the fun way fitness to self-defense to the connections you make within the groups we have. I’ve always tried to be an advocate for women – not everyone will want to commit to the full sport the way I have” .
Her famous workshops include studying videos and watching situations that frequently occur in assaults.
“We break down the most common situations and give examples of what to do at that moment,” Love said. “A lot of seminar situations are how to escape — how to get out of a situation and get away quickly and safely.”
Lough will continue to offer one-off workshops, but will also offer a more in-depth, eight-week class for women and girls 10 years and older starting in January.
For Lough, the growing awareness of the need to train women and girls in self-defense is a significant recent headline.
“I really tried to take advantage of the people who finally understood how important that was,” Love said. “Every time we do this [a workshop]People learn a lot and feel empowered right away, which is really rewarding.”
For more information about martial arts and self defense classes at Justin Lough Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, go to purcellvillejiujitsu.com.