By Phyl Newbeck
Paula Lee of South Burlington is passionate about self-defense. In the hope of passing that passion on to others, she and her business partner, Gerald McCan, have opened the Self Defense Institute, Ltd. in Williston.
Lee earned a black belt in Shotokan karate in 1998 and became a certified instructor in the R.A.D. (rape aggression defense) program in 2006, teaching both basic and advanced self-defense. She has taught self-defense for the Shelburne Parks and Recreation Program, assisted local police departments in teaching R.A.D. classes, and worked with the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association.
After a stint in the Air Force as a military policeman, McCan spent 22 years with the New York City Police Department working in various capacities including teaching self-defense to battered and abused women and as a firearms trainer. He is hoping to establish roots in Vermont.
The Self Defense Institute offers classes for men and women in self-defense and firearms training and safety. Lee and McCan are also prepared to provide individualized instruction and personal training, but McCan notes that a class environment is more cost-effective for clients. The two are also willing to provide classes on specific self-defense scenarios, including the legal ramifications of certain actions. Currently, biweekly classes seem to work best for their customers.
The duo has already provided instruction to more than 100 people. While they work on improving their new space, they teach at the Hilton Hotel in South Burlington.
“It’s a neutral venue,” McCan explained. “Many of our clients are new to firearms and some have never owned one. They can be a little bit intimidated in traditional sportsman settings and don’t necessarily like looking at a trophy buck. The Hilton and our new space are both neutral classroom environments.”
Lee took martial arts lessons as a child but eventually lost interest. Her two sons decided they wanted to be ninjas so she signed the three of them up for a family martial arts program.
“They hated it, but I loved it,” she said. “I developed teaching skills and love having the opportunity to help people and empower them to develop their own competence and learn what to do in a risky situation. A big part of that is developing awareness skills and avoiding those situations.”
Lee teaches basic handgun instruction and safety, but stresses that McCan has more background in that field. McCan said he likes to go beyond the traditional National Rifle Association syllabus to talk about other areas of self-defense.
“A firearm is like a rock,” he said. “It’s neither good nor evil.”
He recalled a woman who told him she worried about statistics showing that owners of firearms are likely to have those weapons used against them. McCan said he didn’t disagree.
“Buying a piano doesn’t make you a pianist,” he said by way of analogy. “You are more likely to get hurt with your own firearm unless you’ve got the self-confidence to fire it in a safe and informed fashion.”
Both Lee and McCan stress that part of what they teach is a particular mindset of confidence and empowerment.
“It starts with the mind,” said McCan. “Nobody has the right to make anyone do anything they don’t wish to do and we’re teaching the confidence to recognize that.”
McCan added that while firearm proficiency is important, it’s only part of the self-defense package.
“The firearm is the last card in the deck,” he said. “All self-defense starts from awareness, attitude, alertness and how you perceive your environment. The firearm is the tool of last resort but if you need it, you want to have the confidence and skill to use it.”
The Self Defense Institute is located at 528 Essex Road, Williston. To learn more, call 735-6314.