By Rhonda Dredge
Intrepid locals have prepared themselves for the worst at a free defence workshop run by the Fitness and Martials Arts Center in Collins St.
The centre put up a billboard in the street soon after the knife attack in Bourke St killed beloved Pellegrinis personality Sisto Malaspina and injured two others.
Issues of character loom large in Melbourne’s psyche and within two days, the workshop was booked out.
Some 35 people turned up to test out their mettle, most in their 20s and 30s with a teenager or two, and went through the paces of fending off a knife attack.
“I want to educate people in how to react,” said head instructor Josh Karst. He says self defence is a skill everyone can benefit from.
The moves he teaches come from Krav Maga, a Hebrew word for contact combat, a method developed by the Israeli army for hand-to-hand combat.
“It’s not a martial art. It’s a fighting system,” Mr Karst said.
In the workshop, people worked in pairs with one carrying a padded shield and a rubber knife. Victims were shown how to create space between themselves and the attacker.
“I’m not teaching them how to disarm an attacker. I’m teaching people spatial awareness so they are aware of what’s happening.”
Mr Karst has analysed video of the Bourke St tragedy and all of the knife movements were downward or “ice pick” attacks.
“We work on different attacks,” he explained.
“If you’ve got a handbag or backpack then you can throw it at an attacker to cause a distraction so you can run. Effective defensive tools include a push kick. A leg is longer than an arm, creating space between you and an attacker.”
Rubber knives are used in the workshop “to make it real” and participants are encouraged to wield them forcefully. The ends break off at impact.
Adopting a fighting stance is also important so that if you are moving backwards from an attacker you don’t trip over something.
“You need to keep space between your feet. You use a fighting stance and step back.”
The centre is doing a promotion for police, offering a 50 per cent reduction in gym membership to officers.
“The thing I’m concerned about is using a baton as a defensive tool while walking back,” Mr Karst said of the footage.
Some commentators are critical of the workshop, claiming that even simulated combat can cause emotional problems.
“I had a call from someone saying that it was too soon and that I’m trying to make money but what if there is an attack next week? It’s never too soon,” he said.