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After New Year's Eve Attack, German Women Learn Self-Defense

After New Year's Eve Attack, German Women Learn Self-Defense
David-Pierce Brill

MUNICH — Rick Henderson, a 56-year-old American, took out his mobile phone to show a blurred, 10-second clip from BBC of a young woman in France who is surrounded by men, and is being groped from all sides.

"They are like wolves," said Henderson, a self-defense trainer in Germany, adding that "women should never be victims. Never."

The women at the "Primabella" gym listened closely to Henderson, who prepared them on how to counter physical attacks from male perpetrators. Aggression should be met with aggression, said Henderson, who uses words sparingly. "The more aggressive the more success," he said. "Remember, inflict maximum pain."

A growing number of women have approached Henderson for training in the aftermath of the New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne, Germany, in which scores of women were sexually assaulted and robbed by gangs of men.

Henderson, who has been working in Munich since 1995, frequently puts up handmade posters advertising his courses as he cycles from one appointment to the next. Large, red letters on these flyers spell "WARD", Women Aggressive Reaction Defense. But it's not just individual women who make up his clientele. Henderson said his customers include groups, companies, and individuals, both men and women.

At 5 feet, 7 inches tall, Henderson is not large, but very toned. He describes himself as a "martial artist" and said that, "it is the goal of martial arts to create peace and harmony, rather than destruction."

His chosen title has much to do with his childhood. Growing up in the south of the U.S., he was often beat up because he was smaller than his classmates. He started to build himself up at the gym as a result, and later joined the Army. He even picked up kickboxing. He traveled to China, where he learned Kung Fu, a fighting style, and Qi Gong, a form of gentle exercise that includes meditation. To Henderson, martial arts are about enabling the poor and weak to defend themselves against others.

During his class in Germany, Henderson coached women to brace themselves in a low, broad stance, when they are attacked by men from behind. This position would then enable women to strike the attacker in the face by using the back of their head or their elbow, or even by spinning to smash their hipbone into the assaulter's groin. Henderson advised women to be quick in their attack and then run.

"You should not need to fight but you should know how defend yourself should the situation arise. No one has the right to grope you," he said.

Henderson said he wants to help women avoid getting into these situations in the first place. Women often do not pay attention to their surroundings because they listen to music or look at their smartphone, making them easy marks for perpetrators, he said. If a group of men are aggressively coming on to women, women should cross to the other side of the street to avoid them.

At one point, Henderson suggested that women should avoid wearing revealing clothing as it would draw unsolicited attention, a view that sisters Julia and Carolin Hölscheidt, who were attending the course, vehemently countered. No one has the right to attack women, no matter what they wear, the siblings said, but acknowledged that Henderson was preparing them for the worst.

Henderson made women practice lying on the floor and showed them how to defend themselves from an attack. They should protect their faces and block the attacker; and then the women were taught to aim for the perpetrator's testicles with well-directed kicks.

"You only have one chance and you have to hit the bullseye," Henderson said.

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