Frightened families seek self-defence solutions

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A spate of recent attacks on schoolchildren across Melbourne has seen one self-defence gym experience a 300 per cent increase in enquiries.

Dave and Shelle Friedman have operated Krav Maga Australia, in the south-east suburb of Moorabbin, since 2018 and say they’ve seen a huge spike in phone and email requests about enrolment in teen self-defence classes since an incident involving students from a nearby state school, Glen Eira College, hit the headlines on Monday 7 September.

Random attack leaves Melbourne boy with life-altering injuries

A year nine student at the school, identified as 14-year-old Benjamin, was walking home at the end of the school day when he was confronted by a group of offenders. Less than 20 minutes earlier, other students at the school were allegedly threatened with machetes and robbed by what is believed to be the same group of people, travelling in a Volkswagen Tiguan.

Although the first group of students had allegedly been robbed of their mobile phones without sustaining any physical injuries. Benjamin was allegedly forced into the car and suffered serious injuries after coming out of the vehicle while it was moving.

Five days after the incident, his parents gave media interviews revealing their son was still in an induced coma, was still bleeding from the ear and nose, had suffered a facial fracture above his eye, and was likely to suffer a permanent brain injury as a result of the alleged assault.

A boy, also 14, has already been charged with a string of offences, including theft, armed robbery, conduct endangering life and intentionally causing serious injury. He is allegedly a known youth gang member and has been described by Victoria Police as the suspected ringleader of the attack.

Two further arrests, including a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy have also been made. The girl has been charged with multiple offences, including conduct endangering serious injury, recklessly causing serious injury in circumstances of gross violence, dangerous driving, armed robbery, robbery, theft of motor vehicle and possessing proceeds of crime, while the multiple offences the second boy has been charged with include conduct endangering life, intentionally causing serious injury and armed robbery.

Taking control of personal safety

For the Friedmans, the heightened community fear since the event at Glen Eira College has seen the increase in interest in their services coming mainly from parents who are concerned about their child’s ability to defend themselves.

“But we’ve also had the kids themselves contacting us because they are trying to take control of their own personal safety,” Mr Friedman told The Bursar.

Although the Friedmans have seen interest in self-defence education increase since they’ve operated the business, the sudden surge in the past fortnight is, they say, proof that community members are desperate for solutions to help them feel safer.

“A lot of parents are feeling that learning self-defence and personal safety should be as much of an essential skill as learning how to swim,” says Mr Friedman.

He is keen to explain that “there’s a difference between self-defence and personal safety”.

“Self-defence is an element of personal safety but not the entirety of personal safety,” he told The Bursar.

“We’ve developed what we call our ‘Live Safe’ model of personal safety, which talks about avoidance, prevention, and effective escape. The self-defence only comes into the effective escape part and that’s when someone actually has their hands on you and is trying to hurt you.”

When that happens, the self-defence training the instructors with his Krav Maga Australia gym teach techniques that empower people to defend themselves. This could include punching, kicking, grabbing an offender’s throat, headbutts, groin strikes and eye gouges – moves of physical force that help, he says, “create the time and distance we need to make an effective escape”.

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“And that word ‘effective’ becomes important,” Mr Friedman says.

But it’s what occurs before those last resorts are utilised that often matters most, the Freidmans say.

As the father of a teenage son himself, Mr Friedman says that having conversations with children about situational awareness is vital – and could be life-saving.

It’s a talk that, he says, means treading “a fine line between fearmongering and teaching him prudence, but the importance of this conversation can’t be overstated”.

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“More schools should teach self-defence”

Under the Live Safe Education banner, the Friedmans teach personal safety and self-defence in schools, as well in the corporate sector, across Victoria. Sometimes, these lessons are delivered as one-off workshops, while other schools choose to incorporate a series of classes into health and well-being, or physical education classes.

But, as the phone calls from parents and teenagers began flooding in, Shelle Friedman says she was surprised that schools themselves were not being more proactive to help students feel safer in and around the school community.

Some schools, she knows, have cited reasons for not offering self-defence to students as part of their education in life skills as a funding issue.

“But I’m calling nonsense on that,” she told The Bursar, adding that she believes funds are often there – it’s just that the way those funds are allocated needs to be considered more carefully.

“They’re choosing to spend it on bike ed, but what’s the point of that if the kids aren’t feeling safe enough to ride their bikes to school.”

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Positive choices can help

For families who feel overwhelmed and out of control, Mr Friedman says simply taking to your children is a positive first step towards improving their approach to personal safety.

“You don’t have to make them feel frightened, but it is important they understand the consequences of potentially dangerous behaviour and how to identify safer choices,” he says.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]