Fitness studio takes a harder edge to keep women street safe


For Stacey and Rob Howard, staying fit is a way of life. So is personal safety.

Rob Howard — who holds a second-degree black belt in the martial arts mixed system style of Muay Thai, a style originating in Thailand, and Krav Maga, an Israeli style developed by that country’s military — and his wife, Stacey, recently opened I Love Kickboxing, a fitness studio in the Gooding Plaza at 12 Gooding Ave. But while the main focus of the gym is to help their members stay fit through diet and exercise, the two incorporate personal safety, particularly for women, who are too often the targets of sexual assault.

On Friday, April 4, the Howards hosted the first in what will be ongoing free seminars to teach women how to avoid becoming victims and how to defend themselves should they find themselves accosted by an attacker.

“We emphasize common sense before self defense,” Mr. Howard told the class of about 40 women who signed up for the seminar.

Leading the class was Bristol resident Paul Garcia, whose expertise includes a variety of martial arts styles, as well as counter-terrorism. As he led the group through some basic yet effective strikes, Mr. Howard explained the reality of being unprepared.

“The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle,” he said. “They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed.”

Rapists also assess a potential target by what they are doing, Mr. Howard said.

“They look for women talking on their cell phone, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered,” he said. “The thing about these men is that they are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to another location where they don’t have to worry about getting caught.”

If the common sense approach to avoid becoming a victim fails, Mr. Howard said knowing some basic self-defense moves could be enough to deter an assailant.

“If you put up any kind of fight at all, they get discouraged because it only takes a minute or two for them to realize that going after you isn’t worth it because it will be time-consuming,” Mr. Howard said.

Over the years, Mr. Howard has met several women who have enrolled in the program after they’ve encountered an assault.

“It’s got to be hard for a woman who’s been in that situation,” he said.

Knowing that, Mr. Howard said they approach the class that teaches self-defense as “a comfortable place for people to come.”

Vigilance is the best protection, Mr. Howard advised, since attacks occur even in public places such as grocery store and office building parking lots, and public restrooms.

If all else fails, he said, “Use the Nike defense. Kick the guy in the groin and run like hell.”

The Howards plan to offer the self defense classes periodically. For more information or to join a class or the gym, call 401-253-5310.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.