The horrific murder in Sliema last weekend has sparked a surge in demand for self-defence classes, especially from women.

Martial arts schools as well as people jolted by the crime confirmed an interest in self-defence sessions to potentially thwart any attacks in future. 

Denise Caruana said the murder was a “wake-up call” to many people.

“We tend to believe it wouldn’t happen in Malta, but it was always at the back of my mind for my daughter mainly.”

She said she asked for more information on self-defence classes for both herself and her 13-year-old daughter.

“I would like to attend mostly to feel confident and not panic in case of emergency, especially because of my daughter.”

Malta is still reeling in shock after Paulina Dembska’s lifeless body was found at Sliema’s Independence Gardens last Sunday with an autopsy report confirming she was raped and strangled. Investigators believe the aggressor did not know his victim.

Malta Self-Defence Academy founder Mark Spiteri told Times of Malta that in the past week he received e-mails and messages from prospective clients inquiring about starting off marital art classes.

“Most were from women, but I also got requests for groups of friends, and I have three families asking for private sessions.”

One father said the decision to send his 15-year-old daughter to self-defence class was reinforced after what happened to Dembska.

“We wanted to send her before it happened, but Paulina’s murder just made it more important for us,” Matthew Borg said.

His daughter will be 16 next month, an age when she will start to go out more with friends. Apart from his daughter, his wife and niece are also looking into signing up for classes.

On popular Facebook group Women for Women, many were inquiring for details on self-defence classes. Others shared their experience of how self-defence techniques helped them grow in confidence.

“I wanted to share my feelings that it was never guns, weapons or any object that made me feel safe on the streets anywhere in the whole world, rather than learning how to defend myself,” one woman wrote.

The founder for Women for Women community, Francesca Fenech Conti, said that over the past few days many women have discussed self-defence classes.

We wanted to send her before it happened, but Paulina’s murder just made it more important for us

“Many women are scared that this could happen to them or their daughters, even if they are just feeding the cats, going for an early morning walk or jog at popular populated sites.”

Spiteri said a similar increase in requests happens whenever a case of violence is reported in the media.

Malta Self-Defence Academy offers weekly classes in Dragon Kung Fu and self-defence for all ages, and the school has now set up a Women Self-Defence workshop, where women will be taught effective striking techniques and how to use everyday items as defence aids.

Spiteri’s comments were echoed by Thomas Guaty, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) Black Belt and owner of Avant-Garde Malta, the largest BJJ school on the island.

Operating for over three years, Avant-Garde also has specific classes for women.

“We know a number of our students shared our page and information, and throughout the few days we have had around nine women sending inquiries for classes,” he said.

Guaty said he was surprised that he received requests from other instructors asking to rent his gym to teach their own self-defence classes.

“I do not approve of people trying to improvise and make a profit after what happened.”

‘Not a one-time thing’

Once a month, Avant-Garde provides a free women’s self-defence class, and the first thing Guaty emphasises is the importance of discipline.

Learning BJJ or any martial arts is a whole process, and not something done overnight.

“Training once a month will not help you defend yourself. You need to be able to control the adrenaline, your emotions and the situation,” he said.

He said the popular women’s class has been running for over three months, but the demand decreased slightly due to the pandemic.

“We decided to set up this class because we understand that some women feel more comfortable learning the basics first before they start training with men.

Apart from gaining strength, Spiteri said martial arts classes help his students gain more confidence in themselves.

“In my class I have met many different people, adults who were physically abused, children who were abused sexually. I am not a psycholo­gist, but I know that sports helps to grow mentally and tackle their trauma.”

He said self-defence teaches a person how to carry themselves more confidently.

Kevin Bonanno, who has been involved in Aikido (a form of martial arts) for over 28 years and is an instructor at Aikikai Aikido Malta, said it is wrong to say only women should learn self-defence.

“When we relate to a case of femicide, we see a man who cannot control his aggression, sexual desires and frustration. Through self-defence classes, we learn how to control our emotions and the situations we are in,” he said.

“If you want to treat and heal society, both sexes need to learn self-defence.

“We insure our cars and our property, so to be able to protect yourself is just as important. It is not just about being physically strong, but also being confident and standing up for yourself.”

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