Martial arts facility offers free self-defense classes for women

Daniele Serrano demonstrates a self-defense move on News 8's Brian Spyros

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Tracy DiGiovancarlo was just 12 years old when she went through a frightening ordeal on her way to the bus stop.

“Before I knew it, maybe 30 seconds later, he actually came from behind me, put a bag over my head and a knife to my back,” said DiGiovancarlo.

That same man then dragged her to a secluded area where she was sexually assaulted. “I totally froze which is the worst thing you can possible do.” All these years later DiGiovancarlo has equipped herself with martial arts and self-defense.

Drew and Daniele Serrano are the owners of East Coast Training Systems in Waterbury. A few years back they started a program called Escape Alive. It partners with Jane Doe No More, which offers support for victims of sexual assault.

“It happens anywhere, anytime. Doesn’t matter how old you are or where you live,” said Daniele Serrano.

“Self-defense doesn’t have to be complicated,” said Drew Serrano. “It’s just a couple quick moves. Your whole basis for learning self-defense would be to escape and that’s what we tell people.”

Escape Alive is offered to women of all ages and is free thanks to the generosity of various sponsors. There are even classes for mothers and daughters.

“We’ve had people who’ve taken the class and they come back to us. One girl was being physically grabbed by a stranger and she was able to use one of two basic moves from the class to actually escape,” said DiGiovancarlo, who is now an instructor at East Coast Training Systems.

The Escape Alive team gave some advice to News 8 that everyone can keep in mind. When fighting off an attacker, avoid the torso.

“We try to stay away from the areas that aren’t going to be effective quickly,” said Serrano. “We focus on the throat, we focus on the face, we focus on the groin. In more advanced levels we show how to do something to the knees and kidneys.”

While self-defense training is extremely invaluable, being aware of your surroundings should always be your first line of defense.

“God forbid you get into a situation where you can’t avoid it and something happens then you go into self-defense,” said Serrano.

If you would like to sign up for an Escape Alive class, just visit their website by clicking here. Keep in mind the classes are posted four to six weeks before they take place. April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. East Coast Training Systems is collecting money to donate to Jane Doe No More.

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