Mercer Islanders participate in an introduction to self-defense course on April 17 at Luther Burbank Park. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Mercer Islanders participate in an introduction to self-defense course on April 17 at Luther Burbank Park. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

‘You can’t just sit and wait for something and be a victim’

Following rash of anti-Asian hate crimes, Islanders offer self-defense course.

As people gathered at Luther Burbank Park to savor a recent sunny Saturday morning, one group of mothers and daughters had a serious item on their agenda.

Within minutes after their arrival on a bountiful section of grass with Lake Washington glistening in the background, they paired off and the punching and kicking began. The dozen Islanders holding red and blue body pads and wearing black hand pads put in some solid work as instructor Brandon Uttech gave pointers and offered words of encouragement.

A pair of dog-walkers strolled by and nodded their heads in approval.

Sophy Yang participated in the introductory course with her daughter Chloe, who helped organize the course in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. The Atlanta spa shootings, a high school teacher attacked in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District and a grandmother beaten in San Francisco were weighing heavily on their minds and they wanted to make a difference in their community.

Sophy said they want the girls to feel empowered.

“You can’t be a victim. Things are going to happen and you can’t just sit and wait for something and be a victim,” said Sophy, who added that Chloe and her friend Ava Yeh brainstormed to come up with the idea for a self-defense course. Yeh’s mother Monica Shih and Sophy had a hand in suggesting that the girls take action.

The class is also focused on the girls — who are eighth-graders and freshmen — being aware of their surroundings wherever they roam. It’s also important that they learn to speak up if they hear hateful comments at school, Sophy said.

“I think it was good to see everyone coming together to learn new things and find new ways to protect themselves,” Chloe said. “It was really saddening to see that innocent people were getting attacked, and we weren’t really sure who was going to be next.”

Added Sophy: “There are friends whose parents love to go out on strolls, that would actually say, ‘Please don’t go until I can come with you.’”

Sophy’s friend Marinda Chen contacted Uttech, a martial arts instructor at Puget Sound Tang Soo Do Academy in West Seattle, to run the first two-hour class on April 17 and they’re planning to offer more courses in the coming weeks. The classes are for everyone who’s interested, she added, and people may inquire about classes and suggested donations by visiting

“It was fantastic,” Sophy said of the initial gathering. “It was a good message that Brandon has to give these young girls about knowing what they’re comfortable with — whether it’s voice, or combat, or whatever it is.”

Uttech said his course reviews self-defense concepts and actions like situational awareness, avoiding an encounter, escape and responding with non-lethal force.

“My goals are: instill a sense of confidence in participants by teaching what we are all capable of doing to protect ourselves, dispelling common self-defense myths, and encouraging everyone to take responsibility for their personal safety,” said Uttech, who has volunteered his time to deliver his crucial course and message.

Yeh said that with the Chinatown attack being so close to home, they were driven to stand strong and offer the self-defense course. She previously felt scared walking outside alone, and participating in the course has given her confidence.

“I think it’s just really empowering for me and lot of young Asian American youth living here. I know there’s a lot of racism in our community right now and a lot of hate, so it just feels good to help empower others,” she said.

Shih and her family visit the International District often, and while mom shops, she lets Yeh walk around by herself. After they learned of the attack, it became clear to Shih that people need to be aware of their surroundings and be able to protect themselves.

Shih also attended the class with her daughter and said she’s proud that the girls are taking action.

“I feel like the future is our youth,” she said.

Brandon Uttech displays the proper punching and blocking techniques. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Brandon Uttech displays the proper punching and blocking techniques. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

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