Personal Defense — What Women Want!
Several years ago the SIGARMS Academy hosted the annual AWSDA seminar (American Women’s Self-Defense Association). I was invited to do a presentation and while there I met Yelena Pawela and her husband Paul. We chatted briefly and Paul took a couple of snapshots of himself and Yelena with my wife and he promised to send us a copy.
Meanwhile, Y Training Inc., Yelena and Paul’s company, which offers a variety of programs from K-9 training to women’s self-defense, got really busy. And my wife and I moved again, something we seem to do with depressing regularity every several years or so. So we never got the AWSDA pictures. Imagine my surprise when, just after Christmas 2003, 1 received a phone call from Paul who had tracked us down through mutual friends.
As we chatted it became quickly apparent that Y Training Inc and Yelena had developed into a real force in training circles. In fact, they seemed to be just about everywhere. (See Combat Handguns June 2003, “Don’t Ever Assume,” by Yelena.) One thing led to another. I offered to interview her for the column, and the rest, as they say, is history. In the meantime, to bring me up to date before I talked with Yelena, Paul sent me a copy of the video they produced entitled “Russian Combat-Extreme Violence Fighting Techniques,” along with copies of articles, seminars and so forth that she has done, plus the long-awaited photos. Due to their intense schedule and my new job it was almost two months later before I was able to talk with Yelena. The day I got her on the phone she had just come from an interview with a local TV station. The following day she and Paul were leaving for Columbus, Ohio, where she had been invited as a presenter for the second year in a row, to the Arnold’s Martial Arts Classic. This is an annual fitness and martial arts extravaganza hosted by now Governor Schwarzenegger, 5-7 March 2004.
At the start of our conversation she made it clear that her first love was dogs. (In addition to her many other accomplishments Yelena has a Master’s degree in animal behavior.) The self-defense program developed as a completely separate and unexpected issue, which I will leave for her to discuss in detail in her new book. Yelena has always liked dogs, especially police dogs.
The daughter of a senior Soviet military officer, she was able to experience some unique opportunities as a child. For example, a family member was in charge of the Russian border patrol canine unit. At the tender age of 11, Yelena began to spend much of her free time with him learning everything she could about what was to become her chosen profession. And this also led to her first exposure to the martial arts, particularly sambo and jiujitsu. She became proficient at using a dog for personal protection in a society that prohibited weapons. But ever the realist, she also learned how to use a dog’s leash as an effective improvised weapon.
While Yelena knew early on that she wanted to become a K-9 trainer, her mother typically wanted something better for her only daughter. She wanted her to become a vet. And so we fast forward to Yelena’s second year of vet school. It would be here, not as a police officer, which she would later become, but as a student that she would face her first serious fight. She refers to this incident often in her literature and I wanted to learn what really happened, or at least as much of it as she was comfortable telling me.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the space to go into a lot of background to set the stage for the circumstances leading up to this incident. The short version is that Yelena’s roommate in vet school was associated with a pretty rough crowd, unbeknownst to Yelena. On a Saturday night she answered a knock on her dorm room door and found five men standing in the hallway who asked for the roommate. When Yelena told them that the roommate was not there, one of the men responded with, “You’re even better…” and they forced their way into the room. Yelena found herself standing between two beds with two men, one on each arm, holding her. A third man stood in front of her and began to unbuckle his pants.
She told me that nothing in her martial arts background had prepared her for this moment. She was standing in a confined space, seriously outnumbered, and unable to use her hands or her elbows. The only thing she could remember from her martial arts training was to “Do something!” as the two men holding her arms forced her to bend forward. She took the only course of action open to her and as the man in front of her stepped closer she bite him on the inner part of his thigh. From her awkward position she could see the leg of one of the men holding her so she kicked at his knee with all of her might (a move she had never practiced) and he went down screaming.
The man holding on to her other arm released her and pulled a knife. The last thing she remembered was kicking someone else’s knee and then they were on her and she went down. She was aware that they were beating her, but she was unable to resist. They kicked her senseless. When she came to, the men were gone and several students were trying to help her. There was blood everywhere and she can’t believe it was all coming from her face and head.
Later she learns that she had been stabbed. In addition, she had suffered a broken jaw, six broken ribs, and she had lost 80 percent of her vision. She spent three and a half months in the hospital. She underwent six surgeries to restore her vision.
When I asked Yelena what got her through both the fight and the recovery, she quickly replied, “AIDS. It was rampant throughout Russia at the time and I definitely did not wish to contract it.” Then she paused for a moment and when she spoke again, she said, “My grandmother. My grandmother survived 242 days of the siege at St. Petersburg (Leningrad). When she came out she brought 15 children with her. She instilled in me the qualities of self-reliance and self-esteem. I really believe that her inner strength made her a much stronger person than some of the men in my family.” Before we moved on to another subject Yelena left no doubt in my mind that she survived this incident with a few physical scars, but no mental ones, due in large part to the influence of her grandmother.
Based on this experience, as well as several others, she survived as a police officer. Coupled with a strong sense of self and family, Yelena is extremely serious about the training she provides for women. It is no nonsense, down and dirty, and it works. But thanks (again) to her grandmother, her focus is really on developing the student, not just the technique.
Closer to home, after reviewing the video my wife told me, “I wish I’d had THAT training years ago.” From one woman to another… What more can I say?
This article originally appeared in Combat Handguns.