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Asian women learn self-defense after attacks


Asian American and Pacific Islander women in New York City are learning martial arts as a means to defend themselves. This follows a rise in anti-Asian violence in the city and across the country. Debbie Truong takes us to a class in Brooklyn, where the sport Muay Thai is taught.

DEBBIE TRUONG, BYLINE: Inside a community room on a rainy day in May, Jess Ng faces seven women. She directs the women, all of whom are Asian, to practice getting away from an attacker. They learn footwork and back toward exits with their arms raised.

JESSICA NG: When we're moving back and trying to find the exit, the reason why...

TRUONG: And they yell.

NG: One.


NG: Two.


NG: Three.


NG: Four.


NG: Five.


TRUONG: Ng is a Muay Thai fighter who has fought internationally. She's also a first-generation Chinese Hong Kong American who grew up in Queens. Since August, Ng has taught more than 20 of these self-defense classes, mostly in Queens, in Manhattan's Chinatown. It's mostly Asian and Pacific Islander women who attend. Ng says many are shaken by the surge in violence against Asian people across New York City.

NG: Many people start to feel very unsafe traveling outside and on the subway, public transportation and even walking in and out of supermarkets and bodegas.

TRUONG: The fear was heightened earlier this year by the brutal killings of two Asian women weeks apart. Michelle Go was pushed to her death in front of an oncoming train in the Times Square subway station. Christina Yuna Lee was stabbed to death by a man who followed her into her apartment. Ng says she attended a community healing event for Asian and Pacific Islander women. Nearly all 30 of the women at the event say they worried about their physical safety.

NG: The entire room of API women felt that they were unable to protect themselves and fight for themselves in a situation when they're out. And that really broke my heart, and that really, really hit home for me.

TRUONG: With her background in martial arts and community organizing, Ng says she's equipped to teach others how to protect themselves.

NG: I feel like I have to take responsibility in helping and arming and empowering the community to look out for each other.

TRUONG: The goal here, first and foremost, is to teach women techniques to remove themselves from dangerous encounters. They also learn some basic hand and leg strikes.

NG: I'm aiming for under the chin, the nose or the eye socket - those three spots.

TRUONG: Forty-six-year-old Akiko Yabuki, surprises herself by how much she's able to do.

AKIKO YABUKI: The feeling is that if someone bigger than me was to come and attack me, that I would just be helpless. But the class kind of showed me that I have strength.

TRUONG: She thought about her daughter.

YABUKI: It just kind of, like, gave me more power. I need to be ready if we ever came across a situation where I had to protect her.

TRUONG: Robie Evangelista, a Filipino American, has taken self-defense classes led by men in the past. But it feels different learning from Asian American women.

ROBIE EVANGELISTA: Just seeing women in that position of strength and power, teaching other women that it's in them - you know, it's in them to be able to defend yourself.

TRUONG: Ng sees how the classes have benefitted her community.

NG: They're coming here maybe shy or a little timid or down and feeling powerless when - and then after the seminar, they just feel so powerful and so confident and so empowered.

TRUONG: Jess Ng says the rising violence against Asian people can be overwhelming, but she feels uplifted by the way the community has come together to support one another.



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Stop. That feels good.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It feels good, right?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It feels really good, yeah.

TRUONG: For NPR News, I'm Debbie Truong in Brooklyn, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.