Self-Defense Workshop Held at WCCC

Photo Demonstrating the "finger spear" technique is martial artist Bill Conley of Conley's Martial Arts at a self-defense workshop held at Washington County Community College on April 27th. Conley offers self-defense, karate, and Tai Chi Chuan instruction locally with the first month free to new registrants. (Photo by Lura Jackson).

By Lura Jackson

 As part of a series of events connected with Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Washington County Community College, students were invited to participate in a self-defense workshop conducted by area martial artist Bill Conley. Conley introduced students to basic concepts of self-defense and spoke on the need for building awareness of one’s surroundings.

“The threat level for people, regardless of gender, is up from the past 10 years,” said Conley. Conley, a retired police officer and radio personality, attributes the change in society to various causes. “Discipline in public schools is down,” Conley said. “A part of society is very negative and violent. People are programmed by what they see. People are violent because of the society they live in.”

Becoming aware of potential threats around us is a good first step. “Your first defense is you – it’s your gut. If you meet someone and your gut says ‘no’, listen to your gut.” Conley explained that we are each hardwired for self-preservation and that gives us an innate sensory perception for danger.

Sometimes those around us will engage in certain behaviors that should register as red flags. If a stranger approaches us from a distance on the street and starts to ask for a cigarette or if we know what time it is, that is a sign of probing behavior. “Tell them, ‘I don’t know you’, or ‘I’m all set’ and keep your distance. If you say ‘I’m sorry, no’, you have lowered your gate and let them in,” Conley said. Don’t present a square target by facing a stranger directly, but instead keep one foot back with your side forward. Sometimes posture is all that is required to deter a threat. 

“Self-defense for a woman is very similar to self-defense for a child,” Conley explained. He clarified that children are lured into feeling safe with strangers by ingratiating behaviors. If a stranger is attempting to ingratiate themselves or to portray themselves as overly friendly and appealing, that is a red flag to be on guard.

Conley cautions to avoid certain scenarios altogether. If you are alone while driving and a car is stopped along the side of the road, pull ahead far enough to where a potential assailant can’t run up to your car too quickly for you to respond. Call 9-1-1 and let the dispatcher know the location of the car on the road. “Don’t pull over and stop or roll the window down. You can’t do that anymore,” said Conley, particularly if we do not have the skills of emergency personnel or a mechanic. 

If you find yourself in a parking garage or lot that is mostly empty, be wary of vehicles parked next to yours, especially if it is a van with sliding doors. If you do not carry a weapon, Conley advises placing your keys between your middle finger and ring finger and making a fist. That frees the thumb and index finger to open doors and carry objects while equipping you with a basic weapon that can be very effective when applied to the eyes or pressure points of an assailant. Another simplistic “weapon” that can be created in times of emergency is the finger spear. Conley explained that by extending the middle finger, then laying the index finger underneath it, and then laying the ring finger underneath the middle finger as well, you’ve made a finger spear that can be all the deterrent that is necessary if used in the right moment.

Conley cautions not to slap someone across the face. “All you’ve done is wake them up and made them more angry,” he explained. Instead, slap them on the ear lobe.

Conley provided students with a few basic moves that form the core of his 12-week self-defense class. The class is currently being offered in St. Stephen, although Conley may be bringing it to WCCC in the fall. Conley also offers a variety of martial arts courses, including white crane karate and Tai Chi Chuan. To see what is currently being offered in St. Stephen, St. George, and Baileyville, visit The first month of instruction is free to new students.