Defend Yourself offers self-defense and bystander training workshops to combat AAPI hate


WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Defend Yourself is a DC-based organization that hosts workshops in self-defense and active bystander intervention. In the wake of increased attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., it’s launched for people of Asian descent and for people who want to learn how to safely intervene if they witness a verbal or physical assault.

“The kind of self-defense that we teach is about empowerment and verbal skills as much as it is about hitting, and it’s things you can learn in a short amount of time,” said Lauren Taylor, who founded Defend Yourself a few years after she took her first self-defense class. “I feel a responsibility as a white person to do whatever I can to improve both individual lives and create culture change.” 

On March 29, a 65-year-old Asian American woman was walking to church in New York City when she was brutally attacked outside of an apartment building. Two guards inside the building were caught on security video closing the door during the attack. 

While the guards have been condemned for their inaction, the victim’s daughter says a person across the street (who wasn’t caught on video) screamed to distract the attacker.

That’s what Defend Yourself calls “direct intervention”: one of three of its bystander intervention tactics. The others are “distract” and “delegate,” or seeking help from someone else.  

“If you use your voice there is a big chance that you might stop an attack at its onset, at its very beginning, before it escalates,” said Hind Essayegh, a self-defense trainer at Defend Yourself and a women’s rights advocate. Before training in self-defense, Essayegh learned martial arts. She says she was more empowered by self-defense with one class than she ever was with martial arts.

“People do talk about way more confidence and knowing what to do in a situation; having a plan,” Taylor said. “kind of in the same way as when I took my first self-defense class. They feel transformed in their ability to have choices in how they interact with the world.”

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