The cool air drifts through the back roller door of a martial arts gym on the fringe of Adelaide’s CBD.

It’s twilight and a group of women have come to train.

“Gouge the eyes, grab the head, then escape out, up onto my hand and into my pre-conflict stance,” Sarah Jones says as she distances herself from a feigned attacker.

“This is in the case of a sexual assault.”

Women taking part in a self-defence class in Adelaide.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

They are part of a growing number of women who Ms Jones says are enquiring about self-defence classes.

“My courses are booked up three months in advance and I haven’t even advertised any of them,” she said.

“With the stabbings and murders of women, I think a lot more women are now more on edge and they feel more unsafe just being out in public.

“That’s causing them to come here to learn a bit about self-defence [and] all our courses.”

Ms Jones believed women should not have to learn to fight to keep safe — but said some feel it helps empower them.

“I think that women, they shouldn’t have to learn self-defence, but unfortunately, it’s a bit of a reality of the world we live in at the moment,” she said.

“It’s one more thing that can help them be more confident. They know what they’re doing if they do get into a situation where they do need to defend themselves.”

Learning martial arts made Nina more confident

Nina Alternetti used to work night shifts at hospitals in the city, and was fearful of being attacked.

She said walking to and from the hospital car park left her worried.

“There would be some sketchy figures hanging around, especially around EDs of most hospitals,” Ms Alternetti said.

Nina says learning self-defence has given her more confidence.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

“Some of them might be high, some of them might be going through all sorts of things.

“But when you’re a female walking alone on your shift, it can make you feel really uncomfortable walking in the dark and trying to get to work and be safe.”

Zoe Stryker says the skills she has learnt doing martial arts are transferable to everyday life.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

She said learning martial arts was initially confronting for her because she was not used to being so close to an opponent.

“It’s just because you’re on top of each other, and that is realistic if a woman is being attacked … so not letting the fear of it overcome your ability to get away is important,” she said.

She said while it “sucked” that some women felt they had to learn martial arts to stay safe, she now felt more confident in her ability to stand her ground, walk away from dangerous situations and say “no”.

“I think women are even more vigilant to how dangerous the world can be to us,” she said.

Overcoming personal challenges

Ms Jones said she had seen a rise in women reaching out and enquiring about courses, but added some women do not just do martial arts for safety reasons.

She said some are drawn to it to improve their fitness and mental health.

A life-threatening brain tumour a decade ago put her in a challenging position and she credits martial arts for helping her through it.

“I think having this support network behind me, getting out and training and having positivity around me, really helped,” she said.

Sarah Jones says martial arts helped her get through a brain tumour battle.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

‘Feel a bit more empowered’

University of South Australia social work expert Nicole Moulding said recent prominent instances of public violence against women were likely contributing to women feeling unsafe.

“With what’s been going on more recently, with huge amounts of reports of all kinds of gendered violence against women — including sexual violence, as well as murders outside the home — many women want to equip themselves as well as they can,” Professor Moulding said.

However, she said women were more likely to be harmed by someone that they knew than by strangers.

“While violence in public spaces gets a lot of attention and causes a lot of fear, it’s absolutely true that it’s in women’s own homes that they face the greatest risks, with most sexual violence being perpetrated by men that women already know or by those who they are in an intimate relationship with,” she said.

Nicole Moulding says women are more likely to experience sexual violence from someone they know.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Professor Goulding said the conversation around self-defence was not intended in any way to place the burden of responsibility on victims, and take it away from perpetrators.

“Historically there was a tendency to look at what women have and haven’t done,” she said.

But she said that self-defence training was an option that women had resorted to for decades.

“Undertaking martial arts and other forms of self-defence can really play a role in helping women feel a bit more empowered should they find themselves in a threatening situation,” she said.

“I really understand the motivations for doing that.”

‘Help encourage my kids’

Zoe Stryker began learning self-defence and loved it so much she decided to compete in the sport, even winning a national title.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to do a martial art … I loved action movies,” Ms Stryker said.

“I feel pretty powerful and it’s exciting to get the jiujitsu to work against a range of opponents.”

Zoe Stryker finds martial arts empowering.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

She said martial arts had increased her awareness and confidence — skills she has transferred to everyday life while homeschooling her two children.

“I’ve learnt about criticism and making mistakes because when you’re learning anything new your coach will criticise you and tell you there’s a better way to do the technique so that you’re more successful,” she said. 

“That criticism is not a negative thing.

“I’ve tried to help encourage my kids in that same way.”

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