Sammy Westfall

Clapping and cheering erupted from 21 students clad in full-athletic gear in the Ezra Stiles and Morse college dance studio on Wednesday night. But rather than dancing, the students were learning self defense.

Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges have been hosting weekly self-defense classes in their shared basement since Sept. 5. The classes are led by Chris Adamchek, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology research assistant and Olivia Compagna, Adamchek’s fiancee. Adamchek has practiced karate for more than two decades and has studied basic strategies for a variety of different martial arts.

The syllabus of the class includes kubotan manipulation, groundwork, locking an opponent, blocks and strikes.

In the first session, the class covered a 360-degree block — a technique that comes from the Israeli martial art krav maga — and a scoop kick. The class ended with students learning to execute a clinch, later adding a knee strike.

The second class focused on the energy of the attack, Adamchek said, as students worked on “moving around and acting in all the craziness of the moment.”

On Wednesday, after a demonstration by Adamchek and a few minutes of practicing in pairs, the students lined up to show off their new skills in a face-to-face encounter with their instructor. A student would approach from a line to meet Adamchek geared up in a chest protector, knee guards and face mask. He would slowly approach the student and begin an attack while simultaneously critiquing the student’s defense and counter attack.

Following each student’s encounter with Adamchek, the other 21 participants in the room would burst into applause. Adamchek congratulated his students at the end of the session. “I got pulled to the side, I got kneed in the face,” he said, smiling.

“I’m not super worried about how correct those blocks were — as long as you got your arm in the way of the swing or you countered the strike or tried to get control — as long as you’re at least acting,” he continued.

When he teaches karate, Adamchek’s students address him not only as “sensei Chris,” but also “renshi,” historically a samurai title that means “polished person.” The title is given to people who are “not only good at what they do, but also good at passing that information along and polishing others.”

Adamchek told the News that when he started working at Yale, he would consistently get alerts about robberies and attacks.

“It was almost every week,” he recalled.

Knowing that he had the experience, he said he thought, “I’m going to try to do my part,” and decided to start teaching students self-defense techniques to help keep the community safe.

After a few failed attempts to get a program started, Adamchek finally got in touch with someone who works at Yale Operations and set up his first self-defense class. From there, the classes began to spread. So far, he has taught classes at Trumbull, Jonathan Edwards and Davenport colleges, as well as Morse and Stiles.

“As long as you have a community with more of a sound mind and sound body, you can rest a little more assured that the community will be there for each other,” said Compagna, Adamchek’s fiance and assistant instructor. She said she hopes the class will ensure that more people have each other’s backs.

“Even if you take a crappy self-defense course, it improves your peace of mind and you’ll hold yourself better in public, which will make you less likely of a target,” Adamchek said. “And you’ll be less likely to freeze.”

Jonathan Wu ’21, who attended the class on Wednesday, told the News that the most important skill he learned was how to use simple techniques to disable or subdue an attacker, even the person is coming at you.

“At times, simply putting your hands behind someone’s neck or holding up your arms to block a blow is good enough to fend off the blow and give you enough time to get away,” Wu said.

Renee Tung ’21, another participant, said she found the class surprisingly fun, despite the “pretty serious nature of what the skills they taught us were for.”

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu