Empowering class for women puts aside ‘Minnesota nice’ outlook


Amie Yennie, right, demonstrates a self-defense move with martial arts student Logan Johnson at the Chatfield Yennie Martial Arts studio. Yennie recently taught a women's self-defense class at Kingsland High School through community education. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy Spring Valley Tribune
Spring Valley Tribune

“Minnesota nice” doesn’t always serve women well, according to Amie Yennie.

“In most of the classes I have taught, the most difficult thing women have the hardest time overcoming is being assertive,” said Yennie. “We have a lot of ‘Minnesota nice’ we have to put aside.”    

Among the classes Yennie teaches is a women’s martial arts self-defense class through Kingsland Community Education held last Wednesday, April 11.

“One of my questions that I ask everyone is ‘What is your biggest fear when it comes to defending yourself?’” said Yennie. “The most common answers are that women are afraid they won’t know what to do, that they will freeze, or that they won’t be able to read the situation correctly — either by overreacting or underreacting.”

She has been teaching women’s self-defense classes for a few years, often through Yennie Martial Arts, owned by her husband, which has classes in the Spring Valley Community Center.

“I have always been interested in being able to protect myself.  Mr. Shawn Yennie, who is my husband and instructor, has been amazing at helping me get to where I am today,” she said.  “Even before I joined the martial arts, he always made sure that I was safe and knew how to protect myself.  Every question that I have or scenario that I am trying to work through, he has been more than willing to assist me.” 

Once she got her black belt, she felt it necessary — and her husband encouraged her to proceed — with crafting a women’s self-defense class that is led by a female instructor to empower women to stand up for themselves in moments of distress. 

“I call it an introductory course, because even though I have had years of training, there is still more to learn.  It’s hard to cram years of training into a two- to three-hour class, so I sifted through all the training I have received and the research I did and came up with a user-friendly beginner course,” said Yennie.

Self-reliance is an important tool to employ because women are often raised with values that run counter to their own protection and preservation, she noted. 

“As a society, I think that sometimes we get too used to relying on someone else to come to our rescue but fail to prepare ourselves for if no one else is there to save us,” she said. “I’ve also had to learn a lot of things through life lessons that, thankfully, didn’t turn into life-threatening situations.”

While one might envision a self-defense class being all about muscling and mastering the throw-down techniques, there’s mental and emotional preparation involved. The class is a combination of talk time and mat time. 

“Most of our self-defense preparation comes mentally.  If you are mentally ready for defending yourself and have somewhat of a plan in place, it will cut down on your reaction time.  Sometimes a few seconds can change your entire situation,” Yennie explained. “We also go through a lot of physical drills.  I have an amazing team of female instructors and male attacker-instructors.  One of my biggest concerns that I really wanted to tackle is that we are not all created the same.  We all have different body times, sizes, strengths and weaknesses.  This class gives you a chance to find out about yourself.  I try to tailor each technique to each person who attends so they come away feeling like they have some techniques that will work for them and are easier to remember.”

The class is designed for women ages 13 and older due to sensitive subjects, such as rape, but she is working on a class for younger girls due to requests. 

“Honestly, you can’t start talking to your kids too early about awareness.  Just like fire safety, kids feel more comfortable when they know what to do,” she said. “And I like to make classes personal with a light atmosphere, even though it’s a serious topic.”    

Yennie feels that women who educate themselves on how to come away from a dangerous or questionable situation unharmed learn just as much about themselves as they do about the art of self-defense. 

“I think it is a very empowering class…women coming together and helping each other become stronger, and not having to feel ashamed or victimized for something that happened to them.  That through your ‘close call stories,’ each person is helping another person become aware of potential threats.  The most rewarding thing about the classes would be seeing someone walk in very nervous and unsure and walk out with a new feeling of confidence and empowerment,” said Yennie.

“The most surprising thing for myself and my students would be their strength…a lot of women don’t practice body strength and being assertive on a daily basis,” she said. “And a lot of these women have this awesome energy that comes out that they are just as surprised at as I am.”