Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Self-defence class promises to teach skills for ‘street life’

Self-defence class promises to teach skills for ‘street life’

Scottish-Australian instructor Bruce Robertson leads a martial arts class in Phnom Penh
Scottish-Australian instructor Bruce Robertson leads a martial arts class in Phnom Penh last week. Charlotte Pert

Self-defence class promises to teach skills for ‘street life’

Yesim Berkman Hardy never saw the person who attacked her, grabbing her from behind outside a gym on a busy street in Phnom Penh. “I was out of breath and I panicked and I couldn’t shout,” she recalled last week, at a new self- defence class in the capital.

The 39-year-old, who works at an embassy, managed to escape after she surrendered her purse. But the attack prompted her to sign up for Grace Protection, an unusual form of martial arts that incorporates psychology being taught this month at Phnom Penh Community College.

Focusing on de-escalation of conflict rather than attack, the program teaches students to resolve potentially dangerous situations without violence, or using only simple strikes if necessary. The second session, of three, takes place on Thursday night.

Scottish-Australian martial arts instructor Bruce Robertson, who developed the style himself, also teaches simple actions often forgotten in the panic of an attack.

“It basically works through principles of teaching you about yourself, and what you need to actually survive,” said Robertson.

For example, taking a deep breath allows victims to scream for help rather than freeze, he explained.

After studying in Japan for 25 years, Robertson initially developed Grace Protection to teach to street youth in the country. He then began teaching drug rehab patients, psychiatric patients and the homeless in Sydney, Australia.

The instructor later recognised the need for a program that could be taught to community outreach workers heading in to potentially dangerous situations. He began teaching psychologists, social workers, NGO workers and “anybody who’s working with anyone who might pose a risk”.

In Phnom Penh, both the US and EU embassies have recently reported a rise in petty crime, with statistics compiled by European countries showing a jump of more than 100 per cent since 2011.

One attendee of last week’s class, which attracted both expats and locals, was a former UN worker who has worked across Asia and Africa. He said he decided to learn to defend himself after hearing stories of street attacks.

“I’m not going to wait for what has happened to many to happen [to me],” he said. “Taking a self-defence course is just like learning Khmer, it’s just part of the street life, realistically.”

While demonstrating a few simple strikes and defence stances, the first session last Thursday focused on the psychology of self-protection, exploring awareness, relaxation and taking advantage of natural reactions to fear.

The following two sessions will be more physical, but Robertson stressed that self defence is “90 per cent in the mind”.

Embassy worker Berkman Hardy said she is hopeful the course will help her face any more dangerous scenarios that come her way.

“I’m not . . . expecting myself to fight or attack, I just want to be able to get out of the situation,” she said.


  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all