Free self-defense class by local gym aims to empower women

Goal is to empower women, promote confidence

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Empowering women.

A woman who was stabbed in the heart during an attack in West Palm Beach is teaming up with a local gym to spread the word about a free class to help others protect themselves — no matter what they’re up against.

We first met Suzanne Ketchum a few months ago, just weeks after she was stabbed in the chest while riding her bicycle in downtown.

Back then, she said she forgave her attacker. And this week, she’s showing other women that they don’t have to live in fear.

“Women need to be prepared for something like this to happen," she said in an interview with WPTV on Monday. “I’m always downtown, I’m always walking around. I’m by myself a lot, so you just never know when something might happen.”

Ultima Fitness Performance in West Palm Beach is working with Ketchum to set up free self-defense classes for women.

“Once we heard what happened to Suzanne…and many other people in the community, we wanted to offer back to the community," said Ian Curran, co-founder of Ultima Fitness Performance. "Myself and my partner, Michael Platt, would like to make a difference in the community and give back. Along with Tommy Floyd of Systema Martial Arts and Jose Cortez, we’re trying to bring something different and make a difference in the community with a complimentary 8-week female only self-defense class to empower others with our knowledge and our team at Ultima Fitness Performance."

The idea for the classes first came about through a discussion Ketchum and County Commissioner Paul Ryan had with gym co-founder Michael Platt.

“With society today, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s always good to have a tool in the toolbox just to even up the playing field," said Curran.

County commissioner Ryan helped to connect Ultima with different organizations who are helping to put on the classes and will be attending some of the classes herself.

"We have had a couple of incidents that make people unsafe. And with that, they're choosing not to come downtown. So Michael Platt and I started talking about how we can make women feel more safe," she said.

She is no stranger to defense techniques, having acquired a black belt in Taekwondo while she was living on her own as a young woman in downtown Washington, D.C. She initially suggested to Platt that a class could help build confidence and empowerment among women.

“I thought it would make me feel safer in an environment downtown," she said of her experience with martial arts. "I fell in love and for the next 13 years I trained and became a black belt."

To this day, Ryan said those classes helped give her the confidence to continue to protect herself.

"It's an awareness and an understanding of the environment that you're walking into," she said. "Whenever I'm out walking in any unknown environment, I always have my keys in my hand and if I'm the slightest bit nervous, I put the keys in my hand, so I have a weapon."

"If you sense danger, listen to your instincts and determine whether or not you can fight or flight," she added.

We watched both Ryan and Ketchum practice techniques with some of the instructors. The classes will be hands-on self-defense.

"This is our town. Your town. And we can't be afraid of it," said Ryan. "In today's world of the #MeToo movement, I think women are feeling the need to feel empowered and learn tools -- there are resources all around us," she said.

“You can punch a bag all day long but once someone gets a grip of you, it’s a very different system," said Curran.

Jose Cortes, an MMA fighter, and trainer at Ultima, will be one of those instructors. He's also experienced being attacked in broad daylight on the street when a man tried to choke him from behind in downtown West Palm Beach.
 
“I had just gotten off work. I had my headphones on, I wasn’t expecting it you know," he said.

He quickly subdued the attacker using a wrist technique. He said it all boils down to confidence in yourself.

“As a fighter, you feel really confident when you learn something," he said.

Ketchum is hopeful women -- and anyone of any age -- can take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to protect themselves.

"Don't wait until something happens to somebody you know or something happens to yourself," said Ketchum. “If we are mentally and physically prepared, we can defend ourselves."

The free self-defense class is filling up pretty quick. As of Monday afternoon, they have a few slots available for their first class this Saturday.

However, there will be more classes to come and you can always get on a waitlist as well. Just call 561-659-1724. You can also visit their Facebook page for updates.

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