Tiffany Hyde used to fear trips to Chicago or walks alone in parking lots.
Now the 35-year-old Lake in the Hills woman has a much different attitude.
"Instead of shying away, I look around and say, 'Just try something,' " she said with a grin as she headed into a recent Goshin JuJitsu self-defense class at the Illinois Martial Arts Academy in Lakewood.
While few women typically become involved in the male-dominated type of martial arts offered at the academy, about 40 percent of the roughly 100 students enrolled in classes at the Lakewood business are women.
The trend has caught the eye of other martial arts instructors, who have quizzed owner Chuck Masny, a Sensai and head instructor, about it.
He doesn't have a definite answer, but to him, it makes sense.
While many are drawn to the academy, which also includes classes in Kickboxing, sparring, grappling, Judo and other martial arts, for the fitness aspect of it, they soon find themselves seeking out self-defense.
"They start realizing how easy it can be to learn to defend yourself," said Masny, who originally became involved after being bullied as a child.
Small for his age, he started with karate, discovered Jujitsu after high school and has been doing it for 19 years. While he has a black belt in Gosh JuJitsu and American Karate/Kickboxing, he also learned and teaches Brazilian JiuJitsu as well as boxing, Judo and Kai.
The type of self-defense he teaches isn't about being bigger or stronger than the opponent to win.
"I'm not a very big guy, so that's a big thing for me," he said.
Often, women think of "big, beafy, meathead guys" when they think martial arts, he said.
They're intimidated, he said. He works to take all the intimidation out of it.
Through the classes, students learn to use speed, agility and detailed movements to escape and defer strikes and grabs. At a recent class, they learned how to escape a choke-hold, grabbing a wrist in a specific manner and twisting out. Some classes teach about disarming weapons, as well.
Students learn real-world self defense moves, what to do if someone tries to grab a purse, knock them down, choke them.
"I don't fit the profile of a typical Jujitsu instructor," Masny said. "I'm not that macho type of instructor."
The students, especially women, sometimes gain as much or more emotionally as they do physically, those involved say.
They begin to think, "I have the ability to defend myself," Masny said. "I perceive myself differently. You don't look like an easy target. They're not the same person anymore. They're more confident."
Students, such as Marilyn Jacobs of Lakemoor, often become involved with kickboxing before moving onto the self defense classes. Jacobs has been taking classes for about two years.
The 38-year-old also was bullied as a child in school. She now feels like she can handle any situation, she said.
"I wish they would pick on me now," she said with a smile.
Also a kick-boxer at the beginning, Holly Schaeffer moved into the self-defense basically because Masny talked her into it. And because, she said, he's always been so responsive and made everything comfortable.
"It's not this macho environment where we feel like we cannot learn," the 30-year-old said. "There's such a range of women that go there, from 15- and 16-year-olds up through late 30s. There's a good range of sizes and ages, and we all work together really well, and it's a really great environment."
Women feel empowerd by simply having options to defend themselves, those involved say. For the type of self-defense they learn, the stand-by is "technique will always win over strength."
Masny's wife Kasia also teaches some of the classes.
"When you see her on the street you wouldn't think she would be able to do what she does on the mat," said 24-year-old Shannon Walsh of Crystal Lake, a class member. "She is constantly beating the other men we have in class. It is so inspiring to watch and see what you can eventually do over time."
Those involved become close, like a family, said 17-year-old Antionia Corrado of Crystal Lake.
Learning to confront fears is liberating, she said. "I no longer let the fear of being attacked hold me back from experiencing life," she said.
What really stood out for Hyde was learning how to get someone off of her if she's ever thrown to the ground.
It's very easy for women to be overpowered, those involved say.
She became involved after watching her 10-year-old daughter take a martial arts class and learn what to do if she was knocked down.
"That's when I was like, 'I love this,' " Hyde remembered.