Library offers program in self-defense for college freshmen

Even the most confident of incoming college freshmen must recognize that there are dangers and temptations that await them when they arrive on campus in a few weeks. To that end, the Wilton Library is offering a class to prepare for the future.

S.A.S.S. (Safety, Awareness, and Street Smarts) will be taught by Michael Robin, a certified self-defense instructor who also works in the children’s department at the library. The girls’ class is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 6, while the boys get their turn on Aug. 8. Each class is 90 minutes long and begins at 5. Registration is suggested.

“This program was one that I was invited to do,” Mr. Robin said. “I had done a staff training in the aftermath of some events in the news.  There’s been a renewed focus on safety.”

Library management was so pleased with the results of that training that he was asked to teach teenagers, specifically focusing on those getting ready to go to college.

Mr. Robin said his teaching style will reflect a fun approach, especially considering his students will be high school graduates in the middle of summer.

“Young people reflect your energy,” he said. “If you’re a parent trying to talk about safety, they’re not going to listen to a word you say and if they do, they’re going to push back against it.

“You can talk about self-protection, and have a good time. You can walk out feeling empowered. I think there’s a popular misconception that you must not talk to kids about this topic because it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

He believes that presenting the information in the proper way, by dispelling misconceptions, makes for the best experience.

“Nobody is walking out of a 90-minute session at the library ready for anything,” he said. “I hope to change the nature of the conversation a little bit. Self-defense and self-protection are associated very strongly with the martial arts. That’s fine, but it’s a tiny little piece of the pie.”

To that end, he looks to educate in those martial arts, but most of all, he wants students to learn to project confidence and, as a result, prevent the same students from being seen as a target.

Interested in the martial arts when he was younger, he wanted to learn more than just the pure physical aspects of them.

“I was continually being told that what I was learning was self-defense,” he said. “And as I stood there getting pummeled, by men who were usually twice my size, and congratulating myself for staying conscious, it appeared strange to me that their idea of safety was my idea of getting beat up.

“It takes some looking, but there are people who teach true self-defense. They seek to employ things like role play and fold that into the physical work. Then the body can function and can access it, even when your mind is completely off-line, as it often is when you’re full of adrenaline.”

To teach that, Mr. Robin will empower the students by not just talking about it, but having them get up and do it. This will not necessarily replicate a dangerous situation, but by having students up in front of a room full of their peers, a certain amount of tension will be created.

As students head off to college, they’ll encounter a new sense of freedom, but that also comes with a lot of danger. Mr. Robin comes from Scarsdale, N.Y., a town not too different from Wilton.

“Wilton is one of the safest communities by many measures,” he said. One of the best policed, where the various institutions — public and private — are working together to make it the safest possible place. Does that mean there are no safety challenges facing teens in this town? By no means.

“Statistics bear out that the first semester at college is a particularly vulnerable time. The availability of drugs and alcohol for new college students are a safety concern on its own. But the choices you will then make when you go out to that party knit together. It invites possible predators and opportunists.

“In some way, the most challenging idea for young people, particularly females, is the overwhelming likelihood that a safety challenge will come from someone familiar to the student. Not a stranger jumping out of the bushes or some bad man twisting his mustache.”

All of these aspects will be examined in the lecture that he will present in August, including the concept of “stranger danger” which can then be transitioned into addressing other concerns, such as the friend who has had too much to drink at a party.

“It almost sneaks up on you,” he said. “You take the skills you were using in clear-cut, black and white safety challenges, and you find many of the communication tools, such as the body language, applies.”

A graduate of Cornell University, he saw events that he uses today in his teaching, such as the fellow student who morphs from being the model person in a one-on-one setting into one who makes unrecognizable choices when with a group.

“That’s diffusion of responsibility,” he said.

It can take small things to recognize the circumstances, and change them such as taking the conversation into another room.

“You can be the active agent who changes the context and make yourself safe,” he said.

Mr. Robin will address what a self-defense success story is. While the idea of the physical confrontation makes for headlines, there are varying degrees of success. In his technique, simply leaving the situation is a success as well.

“The best one of all is the one that you don’t even know happened,” he said. “A predator looked at you and decided that you were a bad choice.

“If a predator wants to stay in the predation business, they have to be good at victim selection.”

The old idea of not looking at someone who makes a person feel uncomfortable is not the best advice, according to Mr. Robin. Simply letting that potential predator know that they’re being seen is the best approach. In fact, he sees that as being essential to projecting confidence.

Yet, what exactly is confidence? Is it bravado? Is it purely being accessible and friendly? Those are concepts that Mr. Robin will explore.

“I feel like this material is good for all ages and genders,” he said. “My hope is that this is a big success. I hope the folks here are inspired to try it again.

“I think it’s an important subject. It gives me great pleasure to contribute however I can.”

Information and registration: 203-762-3950 or