PORT ALLEN — The Port Allen Neighborhood Watch isn’t taking a bite out of crime; it’s jamming it in the eye and kicking it in the shin.
And it’s using the art of self-defense as a recruiting tool to get more folks, far and near, to take a more active role in their community.
“We really wanted to do something for the people of the city and also get the neighborhood watch program out there,” said Liz Holmes, who heads the Port Allen Neighborhood Watch group. “We really just wanted to reach out to more people.”
It all started more than 10 years ago, when Holmes approached local martial arts instructor Troy Maranto about teaching a self-defense class for the neighborhood watch group around the time murders committed by serial killer Derrick Todd Lee had the entire region on edge.
Maranto, who teaches the classes free for the group, is a former police officer and military veteran who owns The Martial Way Aikido School of Self Defense in Addis.
Maranto says the art of self-defense is really about people applying things they may already know but don’t realize they can use to help fend off a would-be attacker.
“When you quit fighting, that’s when you get hurt,” Maranto said. “It’s better to put up a fight than to just stand there and take it.”
Holmes said the key is to learn effective ways to fight against an attacker and get into a position to run away.
“He teaches us to try not to be a hero,” she said.
While violent crime rates aren’t soaring in Port Allen, the city does have problems with crime, like most other communities.
According to data from the city’s Police Department, there were 201 reported thefts in 2014 and 32 reported assaults. Last year, Port Allen police also responded to 27 residential burglaries and 55 battery complaints.
Holmes said the self-defense classes he conducts are geared toward not only helping residents defend themselves but also fellowship. The classes also give local residents an opportunity to report suspicious activity.
Maranto held a class last week after a prolonged hiatus due to Holmes’ ongoing battle with cancer.
But Holmes has kicked the program back into gear. Although she isn’t strong enough to participate, she’s expanded the program to attract attendees living outside the city limits.
Last week, Joycelyn Spriggs was among nearly 20 senior citizens, young adults and even public officials who showed up to have Maranto teach them how to use kubatons — self-defense key chain weapons made of high-impact plastic.
“I wanted to learn how to protect myself, because even though I’m married, I’m at home by myself most of the time,” said Spriggs, a Brusly native who now lives in Prairieville.
That day, Maranto used a little comic relief and a few of his students from his martial arts school to demonstrate the dangers attendees could face doing everyday things such as grocery shopping.
Many of the attendees were quick learners, such as Port Allen resident Loretta Isaac. She was the first to volunteer when Maranto was teaching the group how to slap a would-be attacker when approached.
“I’m good at this! I’m a mother!” Isaac joked.
Holmes said the group most likely will host its next self-defense class some time in October.
Anyone interested can contact Holmes at (225) 338-1916.
After a few lessons, Maranto said, his students will be able to throw attackers around and get away before the person has a chance to regain their composure.
“People don’t realize martial arts is crafted for small people,” he said. “It’s proven a 70-pound woman can throw a 300-pound man with the right technique.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.