Seniors: Do You Know Self-Defense?

How a senior self-defense class is giving people confidence in the face of danger

Written by Kinsey Gidick

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a staggering statistic: Between 2002 and 2016, assaults against men age 60 and older increased by 75 percent. For women of the same age, assaults increased by 35 percent.

“Seniors are perceived as being weaker, which is why they’re often targeted,” says Reggie Westbrook, a seventh-degree black belt Shaolin Kempo Karate master and instructor of a senior self-defense class at the Waring Senior Center. Muscle loss and a decrease in reaction speed are, to a certain degree, inevitable with aging. However, strength isn’t needed to outwit an attacker, Westbrook says.

In the class—which is open to locals age 50 and older—Westbrook teaches students how to use Tai Chi, the Chinese martial arts practice, to block a hit. “All the movements in Tai Chi are self-defense moves. I teach students how to apply them in an emergency situation, such as a home invasion or physical assault,” he says. Participants also learn effective kicks (go for the shins first, he suggests) and smart strikes, such as using the palm and fingernails in a claw-like move. “How does a five-pound cat beat a 50-pound dog? They take their claws to its face,” Westbrook says. “These are practical things; kicking to the groin, knee or shin will slow the attacker down so you can get away.”

And age is not an issue. Westbrook has an 84-year-old student who’s been attending his classes for six years. “The most important part of self-defense is to project an air of confidence,” says Westbrook. “By teaching you the fundamentals of how to defend yourself, that’s what this class is all about.”

Common Sense Defense

Carrying yourself with confidence can go a long way toward minimizing your chances of being assaulted in the first place. In fact, according to a 2017 NBC News article, it can take a seasoned criminal less than seven seconds to choose his or her next victim. Westbrook (pictured here, on right) shares these ways to avoid being targeted:

  1. Mind your stride. Walk with your chin up, shoulders back, eyes forward and at an even pace.
  2. Choose well-lit, populated spaces. When parking your car, walking or jogging at night, seek out spots bathed in light and avoid deserted areas.
  3. Stay alert to your surroundings. That means not staring down at your phone or listening to loud music through headphones. Every few seconds, take a scan of what’s around you. “When you learn to stay relaxed, focused and mentally aware, you can make better choices to protect yourself,” says Westbrook.
  4. Consider carrying an alarm or self-protection device. Pepper spray, mace, a whistle, a personal alarm device or even your car key (press the alarm button!) can deter a criminal and raise awareness to those nearby should an assault occur.


Self-Defense for Seniors is taught at the Waring Senior Center in West Ashley (2001 Henry Tecklenburg Dr.). Class are $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Visit to find upcoming class dates.

RESEARCH NEWS: You Snooze, You Win 

New research points to a potential perk of the midday nap

In our fast-paced culture, an afternoon siesta may seem like a luxury … or perhaps even a waste of time. However, for those with hypertension, or high blood pressure, a midday nap could be a potential lifesaver, suggests a new study out of Greece. Researchers at Asklepieion General Hospital in Voula, Greece, studied a group of 212 people with an average age of 62 and average blood pressure of 129.9 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Participants were sorted into two groups: one that took an afternoon nap and another that did not. Regardless of the group, each participant wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitoring device for 24 hours. After accounting for possible confounding factors, such as medication intake, age and gender, researchers saw a 5.3 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure among the napping group, with no blood pressure reduction observed among those who didn’t break for a snooze. The study points out that blood pressure medication and other lifestyle changes like cutting sodium lead to a similar reduction in blood pressure as these results, and that just a 2 mmHg drop in blood pressure can cut a person’s risk for a cardiovascular event by up to 10 percent.

Photographs by MaryKat Hoeser (top & middle) & LightField Studios/shutterstock (bottom)