Aboriginal youth worker Michelle Larocque with the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre has teamed up with Arctic Combat Fitness and MMA and offered a free self defence workshop on Jan. 27.
“After hearing personal stories from friends and family members about the kinds of things that can happen out here, I felt there was a need for this kind of programming,” Larocque said.
When she was younger, Michelle says her father taught her a lot about standing up for herself and described her younger self as “a bit of a fighter” and now wants to use her position as a youth worker to pass on what she’s learned.
“There’s a lot these kids can take away,” she said. “They come in shy, no real clue what to expect but by the time they leave you can tell they feel more empowered.”
Larocque has been training in boxing with Darel Ouellette, owner and instructor at Arctic Combat Fitness and MMA and teaching self defence for the past ten years.
Ouellette, who has worked for the department of justice as a corrections officer for 27 years, says being involved in martial arts and self defence is much more than a hobby.
“A job is just a job, but teaching martial arts is my life,” said Ouellette.
Ouellette has previously been involved with youth self defence workshops out of Arctic Fitness and has helped run Be a Buddy, Not a Bully workshops in elementary schools with Edmonton’s Kamikaze Punishment Foundation.
“It’s important to work with youth, because it has the most impact,” Ouellette said. “As people get older they start to realize what kinds of things can happen out in the world, youth tend to have less of an idea.”
The classes have so far consisted of mostly young girls who often admit it was their parents who made them sign up.
During the classes Ouellette and Larouque start teaching the youth about situational awareness, personal space and knowing the difference between being passive and assertive.
After they learn how to diffuse confrontation situations, Ouellette, Larocque and assisting instructor Vibhesh Tripathi broke out training pads and began teaching fundamental blocking and striking techniques. These included palm strikes, hammer fists and breaking away from someone grabbing them.
“The techniques are basic versions of what you learn in Commando Krav Maga,” Ouellette said.
Commando Krav Maga is a renowned Israeli military self defence system which Ouellette has trained in for many years.
As the workshop went on, it was clear that the once shy youth were coming out of their shells, shouting and yelling as they stuck the training pads harder and faster with every repetition.
Finally the youth took the skills they learned in workshop and strung them together to form a more complete set of skills.
“If the youth walk away being more confident and know how to be assertive, we’ve done something positive,” Larocque said.