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Local Inspirations: Driven to teach defense

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Lisa Abbott

Lisa Abbott practices self-defense moves with"Bob" the dummy.

ELKO — Every Tuesday, Lisa Abbott drives from her home in Wells to her hometown of Elko to teach at Loyalty Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where she shares her passion: self-defense.

Abbott, who has a second-degree black belt, began focusing solely on personal self-defense after an incident that left her feeling helpless and confused.

“Somebody I trusted assaulted me … that’s when I walked away,” she said.

After 20 years in martial arts, she felt all of her training was worthless when it came to real life.

Abbot was someone “who was absolutely ready to beat anybody who jumped on me from out of the dark alley. And realizing that that’s not the scenario that happens … I thought I was stronger than that and apparently I’m not. Well, I was stronger than that, but I just didn’t have the tools.”

In order to get the tools she needed, Abbott traveled across the country to get her certification as a self-defense instructor. At Phil Messina’s Modern Warrior Defensive Tactics Institute, a training facility in New York, she was able to take her former training and apply it to real life situations.

Messina, a retired NYPD sergeant, challenged her to streamline her large catalogue of skills into a few practical golden moves.

“He started filling in the blanks that I didn’t know I was missing,” she said.

As she continued training and education, a desire to impart these lessons grew in her, a desire to see women stay safe.

“If you are a person capable of defending, and an assailant picks you, and you defend and they realize… all these people have skills to defend; we have no easy targets any more. It’s going to make a big impact. And that’s my goal, to educate.”

In 2005, Abbott began her own training venture, Subtle Warrior Self Defense LLC. She traveled teaching others to use skills that she was not given in her original journey in the martial arts, skills that she believes would have put a stop to her own assault.

Since beginning, she has searched for place to call home, a place to share her knowledge regularly. But she never found that place until a friend suggested Loyalty Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Elko, run by Seth and Trinity Rice.

“I come here because I like the atmosphere,” she said.

She had scouted other places, but none of them felt right.

“So I popped in just to see what it felt like and it felt right. The atmosphere. In fact when I have to spend a long time in Elko, this is where I go. It’s a home away from home.”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that focuses on grappling, especially groundwork. Trinity Rice explained that it’s “about a smaller person being able to manipulate joints, have control over your position, your opponent, and being able to maneuver … to be in a better position. You always want to be in a better position — that’s what Brazilian jiu-jitsu is about.”

Martial arts are taught for combat, for attacking and gaining submission from an opponent. Self-defense is being on the other side, dealing with the attack. Abbott’s focus in her classes and seminars isn’t just the physical, the moves that counter an attack, her focus is on changing the mindset, equipping her students with the skills to prevent attacks.

She teaches five elements to self-defense: prevention, avoidance, escape, de-escalation, and boundary setting. Her students learn that there is more to an assault than the moment; there are psychological, ethical and legal implications to think of as well.

In her seminars, Abbott teaches but she also has the students get up and try to defend themselves. She encourages the women to have a goal in the situation, a goal that ultimately leads them to safety.

“Lisa’s one of my favorite training partners.” Trinity Rice said. “We always have fun because while we are doing Jiu-Jitsu we are thinking about, well I’m here in this weird spot, alright what could I do here — just like we were doing with the one touch process.”

The one touch process is a training method that Abbott uses in her classes. Instead of practicing by missing the target, Abbott has her students slow down, think and practice in slow motion, lessening the danger of injury while allowing muscle memory to learn the full move.

“We started off with an eight-hour seminar,” Rice said. “We just want women to be safe here…. We’ve been growing and going through a process and fine tuning things and shortening things down and figuring out how we can make this program really great and how we can get as many women as we can into a program so that at least they’ve all got a piece of the pie of self-defense.”

Tuesday’s class at Loyalty Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is only 45 minutes.

“Women tend to learn fast,” Rice said, “because we are used to multi-tasking all the time. That gives us more time to focus on the escape side of things. Changing our mindset to escape to safety, not from danger. I’m protecting myself.”

As Abbott grows her schedule of seminars and workshops, she also encounters the struggles of small class size or lack of interest, but she has learned to keep going, working through discouragement by relying on her support system — those men and women who share her passion.

For one workshop, she had nine or so signed up. As the day approached the number kept dwindling until only two said that they might still make it.

“I’m done trying,” she said. “Because nobody wants to learn.” She then did “what everybody else does: I got on Facebook.” She posted her struggle and quickly got a message from Rory Miller. Miller is a friend and colleague that she met through a book recommendation.

“Rory calls me up and goes ‘Hey, saw your post, I am out of the country but I will call you when I get back into the states and we can talk.’ Knowing that I have a whole backup system, that’s like hey — don’t get discouraged.”

At the end of each seminar, Abbott interacts with her students, asking what they will take away with them, what they have learned.

Rice, who has attended about a half-dozen seminars, as well as the weekly classes, said her biggest take away is changing the way she thinks.

“We can’t expect someone to come in like a screaming eagle out of nowhere and save us. We are our best asset. And we have to be able to believe in that when we do get into an altercation, whether it is an attempted assault or whatever it might be. We are responsible for ourselves.”

“We can’t expect someone to come in like a screaming eagle out of nowhere and save us. We are our best asset."

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