Vernon Valley Karate Academy gave self-defense classes for a cause

VERNON. The dojo helped raise funds for a student in need, while teaching others about staying safe.

Vernon /
| 06 Sep 2022 | 10:47

Vernon Valley Karate Academy (VVKA) takes care of its own and others. Within the last two weeks, the academy taught two women’s self-defense classes to raise money to sponsor Kelly Grunstra in a metastatic breast cancer walk in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on September 24 and 25.

VVKA raised over $500. Grunstra attended VVKA from the time she was four or five and earned her black belt at the academy. She has been struggling with metastatic breast cancer, which spreads to more than one area of the body, for two and a half years.

Grunstra’s mother, Christine, and sister, Coriann, attended the self-defense class. Christine said that her daughter had said, “This is a death sentence,” dealing with the medicine that makes Grunstra feel horrible will killing all of the cancer in her body.

Coriann said that Metavivor, the company involved in donations, gives 100% of proceeds to the recipients instead of to administrative costs. (The website to donate toward Grunstra’s breast cancer walk, which currently has over $1,700 raised, can be found here:

Self-defense classes

During VVKA’s second self-defense class, owner and Sensei Tom Shull said the whole idea of women’s self-defense is to kick them “you know where, then poke them in the eye, and run fast.” More importantly than that, he said, is to be aware of your surroundings and deal with what is happening.

Shull read a thank you letter from a former student who took the course the previous week. The student wrote that she used the skills she had learned to save herself from a stalking situation the following week.

While at the beach one day, she noticed someone coming near her, then following her to the bathroom, and sitting in his car, with tinted windows, parked next to her car. As a result of taking the class, she had the foresight to back to the beach and asked a man who was eating lunch with his family to please walk her to her car because of her concerns. Ultimately, the other man drove off, and the woman remained safe.

The gift of fear

During his self-defense course, Shull explained that everyone is born with a self-defense technique that people totally ignore — the gift of fear. He added that one can either deal with fear or ignore it. In our society, Shull said, many ignore fear due to not wanting to be embarrassed, thinking it’s probably nothing, or not wanting to cause a problem. He said our culture is wrong, and one must deal with the gift of fear immediately and strongly.

As part of the class, Shull read a passage from a book called, “The Gift of Fear,” by Gavin de Becker. Throughout the true story, a young woman kept ignoring her concerns: her apartment building door was unlocked, a strange young man offered to help her with her groceries, she did not like the sound of his voice, she felt guilty about not trusting him, he manipulated her into helping take her groceries into her apartment, and he raped her at gunpoint. The only reason she was alive to tell the story was because after the three-hour ordeal, he got up and told her he would not hurt her. He then went to her kitchen, and fear forced her to follow quietly behind him and walk out the door to her neighbors across the hall, as he rummaged through her drawers, looking for a knife. He had already killed another one of his victims.

How to avoid dangerous situations

Shull reviewed information of how attackers say they find their victims. The number one place is in parking lots. Shull said if anyone comes within one’s physical space, the automatic boundary everyone instinctively knows, one should hold their hands out in front and shout, “Stop! Stay back!” He explained that attackers are looking for easy, quick targets, who will not fight them. Furthermore, he said, “If anyone tells you to be quiet, and they won’t hurt you, they might have well said, ‘Look, you better start screaming and fighting.’”

Additionally, attackers will not pick a woman who has objects in her hands like a flashlight or key chain, which can be used against them. The idea, he said, “is to convince them you are not worth it.”

If someone asks for one’s wallet or purse, Shull said, toss it away and run in the opposite direction.

Before getting into a parked car, look around for someone hiding in the passenger side or the back seat. If one is parked next to a big van, enter through the passenger side. Killers have been known to attack victims by pulling them into a van. Shull said, “If your brain says, ‘Oops,’ Go back in the mall, find security, and ask them to walk you to your car. Better safe than sorry.” After getting into a parked car, lock the doors and leave soon.

When using Uber, one should check to make sure the child safety lock on the back door is unlocked. If locked, move the lever, otherwise, Shull said, “You can’t get out of that car.”

What to do in case of altercations

After training students about how to avoid dangerous situations, Shull and other teachers practiced escape techniques with students, in case avoidance fails.

Shull said the most sensitive places on the male body are: the face, nose, groin, and eyes. One should hit the attacker in a place that will make them stop and then run away. He said, “Students had said in the past, ‘Oh, we couldn’t do that to somebody,’ then you could get raped.”

In order to show how vulnerable eyes can be, Shull had shown a video of special forces men from America and Peru, fighting without any rules. Immediately, one fighter stuck his fingers into the other man’s eyes, and the man writhed in pain on the ground. The fight was over.

Students broke up as partners and practiced: forcefully removing someone’s hands from one’s wrist or clothing, slamming one’s flat part of the hand into an attacker’s face and eyes, slipping under a choke hold from the rear, and kicking an attacker’s groin area with the shin of one’s leg.

Counter intuitively, instead of pulling away, Shull taught students to step forward and attack the attacker. Break the grip with the elbow coming into the attacker’s face violently. Continue to hit the attacker’s face with the base of open palms. He instructed, “Don’t be afraid to continue to hit until you can get away.”

While there currently aren’t any other charitable self-defense classes planned at the dojo, folks can learn more about Vernon Valley Karate Academy at or by calling 973-764-3104 or emailing