WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — “How do you feel?”

“Adrenaline,” a student replied to one of the instructors at Dan’s Martial Arts Center in Woonsocket.

Instructor Dan Guernon—donning a padded suit—faced around 15 women individually. Each student had to thwart his attack, using tactics Guernon taught them over the course of a five-week self-defense program.

The classes, sponsored by Woonsocket police and funded by grants, are free. Preference is given to residents and those who work in the city.

“If someone starts approaching, they may just swing their keys like this, kind of already shows nonchalantly that you are holding something that maybe you’re not the soft target a person is looking for,” Guernon told the class.

Guernon showed the students which common items should and shouldn’t be used to fend off an attack, how to safely use pepper spray, and how to fight back.

“You never ever ever ever point [pepper spray] at something you wouldn’t be willing to ever hit,” Guernon explained. “Never use your house key or car key, you will need that [to get away] at some point in time.”

Student Kathy Goodwin told 12 News that as a woman, she’s been in situations that felt like she was in danger and she wanted to learn to protect herself.

“I want to be free to do what I want, and sometimes we’re limited because we are targets,” Goodwin said.

More than 70 people applied for the class within a few hours, according to Woonsocket Capt. Edward Cunanan, so there’s currently a waitlist. The department said a new group starts in about a month.

“Empowering people to take part in their own defense and when citizens and police work together, that’s when public safety is at its finest,” Cunanan added.

“I feel more confident now, and I feel empowered really,” Goodwin said Wednesday after the last class. “Everything keeps going through my head to be victorious. Don’t be a victim. Keep fighting.”

Guernon said all women should follow these basic safety tips:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • If you have pepper spray, practice using it safely so you’re prepared.
  • Safety in numbers: When going out to your car, have someone escort you.
  • Keys are good fighting tools, but avoid using your house or car key.

For a look inside the class, watch the full story in the video player above.