Seniors get kick out of defence class

It started with young people and at-risk youth.

But as Suzanne Jean developed a self-defence course with an emphasis on assertiveness and fitness, she realized there was another group who was equally at risk.

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“I heard from seniors: ‘We want to do a program like this,’” Jean says.

Recently, the classes have been ongoing through North Vancouver Volunteers for Seniors, with a regular session in West Vancouver.

Ostensibly, the classes are about learning a few defence moves and forceful blows that could come in handy in a physical confrontation, but there’s much more on offer, says Jean, who has trained in martial arts since 1975.

“Self-defence is really the hook to get people thinking about issues related to safety,” she explains.

That means focusing on basic things like ensuring your house is secure and you avoid tripping over your pet, but it’s also about helping seniors prevent the hospitalizations that frequently follow slips and trips, Jean says.

“We illustrate where balance is: it’s in the head, it’s in the inner ear,” she says.

The classes focus on posture. If someone has their eyes on the sidewalk, they’re automatically at risk of a fall, Jean says.

But the classes are also about confidence and assertiveness, about saying “No!” to a telemarketer or a fraudster, about asking your doctor a follow-up question if you’re unsure about something.

And it’s all meant to be a good time.

“The whole program is basically fun,” she says. “It looks at these deeper issues but there’s a way to release tension and to release stress and for people to share.”

While the classes are about issues facing seniors today, they also incorporate something very old fashioned, Jean says: discussion.

“In the olden days we’d all get together around the fire and talk about stuff,” she jokes.

For some seniors, talking about their feelings is still a novelty, Jean says.

“You think about that generation, they didn’t do a lot of thinking about how they felt,” she says. “They got the job done.”

Jean is currently transitioning out of her job with Hollyburn Family Services in order to spend more time developing the Fit4Defense program.

“I can actually see a measurable change in the four- or six-week program,” she says.

There’s a boost in physical and emotional confidence, a willingness to express themselves.

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