We were instructed to wear comfortable clothing and sneakers. We would be learning "hands-on" defensive tactics, the email said.
The words "comfortable clothing" and "sneakers" meant business.
The closest I'd ever come to partaking in organized, group bursts of controlled aggression was a series of BodyPump classes I took in my early 20s. I can still hear our instructor, a super tiny and in-shape woman of Latin American (or Swedish) descent, screaming at us for four more "little babies," otherwise known as bicep curls, over Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back" blaring on the loudspeaker at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m.
My peace-seeking nature didn't care for it much, but as a woman, you do these things in hopes of shedding five pounds. In my later 20s, I found yoga, which suits me much, much better.
So ... defensive tactics with Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputies? Well, I was genuinely excited to learn some techniques at my third Citizens Academy class that could potentially save my life, but I was immediately intimidated.
I envisioned walking into a padded room that reeked of sweat, with a bunch of muscled tough guys. What if I looked silly or fat or wimpy? I definitely didn't want to embarrass myself in front of them.
I was relieved to get to a nice, neat, odor-free classroom and spend the first half learning about defense training, weapons and philosophy. ("The objective of a tactic is to control the subject ... we don't want to punish them," Stanley Gams said.)
It finally came time to partner up and take turns playing "bad guy" against each other. I felt ridiculous unleashing aggression on someone with whom up to that point I'd exchanged only pleasantries. My first defensive attempts were weak and followed with apologies.
Unleashing the fury on my partner became more intense and less apologetic once the deputies brought out the foam and nylon bags, and Stanley Gams was yelling behind me (like a coach) that the "bad guy" wanted to hurt me. I felt the intensity and confidence of my strikes get higher with him behind me, and I set out to punish that bag. Although I'm sure I was still wimpy by comparison, it was darn good stress relief.
No way I'm going to be a "little baby" if I ever encounter a real bad guy.
By the way, the deputies were really nice and supportive, but, admittedly, just as intimidating in stature and appearance as I'd imagined. However, I guess that's a good thing, right?