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Wing Chun! Muddy learns the art of self-defence

Having the knowledge to protect yourself can boost your confidence and help you to calmly navigate tricky situations. We spoke to Soo Yoga's Kristina Rihanoff about why she and partner Ben Cohen think we should all learn the art of self-defence.

Wing Chun Self Defence courses Soo Yoga Northampton

The news lately has been grim and women are tired of having to pre-emptively avoid risky situations. It’s absolutely true that no one other than the attacker is ever to blame to a violent attack, but knowing that isn’t enough to stop it happening. So what can we do to equip ourselves with the tools and knowledge to be as safe and prepared as possible?

Soo Yoga in Northampton, the studio owned by ex Strictly pro dancer Kristina Rihanoff and husband, former England rugby player Ben Cohen, have just kicked off their new self-defence courses for kids, teens and adults, taught by pro martial artist Matt Wood using the Wing Chun technique. This is a Chinese set of principals dating back over 300 years and created by a woman, Ng Mui. Loving her work. It’s all about confidence, discipline and getting yourself into good physical and emotional condition, so it’s not just a case of learning to fend off an attacker, but also about life skills like persistence and patience.

Wing Chun Self defence course soo yoga northampton
Matt Wood teaching the art of Wing Chun

Wing Chun practitioners include Robert Downey Jr., Jason Statham, Nicholas Cage and Christian Bale, who trained in the discipline for his role as Batman, so we’re talking superhero level skills here, but this isn’t just for Hollywood stars and the new 8-week courses at Soo Yoga are a positive step towards making self-defence more accessible to all ages. Kristina gave us the lowdown on why she thinks we should all be learning this key skill.

What made you decide to launch self-defence classes?

It’s something that’s been brewing for a while, but the recent news stories, including those about Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, have clarfied the need to enable children and teenagers, as well as adults, to defend themselves against potential attackers. It’s so important that we equip our kids with that knowledge. I’d like to see schools offering self-defence as part of the curriculum, but it’s very lacking.

Do you feel safe going out at night?

I would never feel comfortable walking out and about on my own at night. I’m scared and and worried to place myself in a vulnerable position. It’s definitely become even more of a pressing issue in light of recent events. We’ve got three girls in our family, Ben’s older girls are 14 and they are at that age where they want to go out and explore more. We really want them to be prepared. 

Wing Chun Self defence course soo yoga northampton

How can learning self-defence help?

Of course, you can never be 100%, there are no guarantees, but at least you can do something as a parent to equip your kids with some knowledge and skills. Having self-defence skills isn’t just about fighting off attackers, it’s also about understanding risks. Some of the key elements of Wing Chun are self-discipline, self-awareness and learning to deal with your own emotions such as anger or fear.

But don’t martial arts just promote violence?

Not at all, it’s not about learning how to punch someone. It’s about, when you feel scared or vulnerable, knowing what action you should you be taking. Mental preparation and training is as important as physical. 

Wing Chun Self defence course soo yoga northampton

How do you introduce the idea of self-defence to younger kids?

Self defence for a child is very different to the self-defence we would teach to a teenager or an adult, so we’ve separated the courses we’re offering to reflect that. No matter what, an adult will always have the physical upper hand, so it’s more about evading and avoiding situations and of course we keep things age appropriate. You have to explain that not all adults have good intentions. It’s horrible that we have to teach our children this, but that’s what will protect them. You have to find the right way to speak to them without frightening them.

Your partner Ben Cohen has personal experience of how self-defence can be critical, having lost his Dad to an assailant in 2000. He’s also the founder of the Stand Up Foundation to combat bullying. Is there a personal mission here on his part?

Ben’s experience with his Dad’s tragic death has had a huge influence on what we’re trying to achieve. It’s very much from a personal point of view in that respect. The Stand Up Foundation is all about promoting kindness and raising funds and awareness to combat the long term, damaging effects of bullying. The yoga we teach here and the self defence is all connected to those same ideals – teaching that emotional and psychological strength is of equal importance to physical strength.

The 8-week Wing Chun Self Defence courses with Matt Wood, for kids, teens and adults, are taking place at Soo Yoga on Sunday mornings.

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