The world is a nasty place, says martial arts expert Brittney Nada Thompson, and she wants women to learn to be aware of and to protect themselves from its potential dangers.

Once a month, Premier Fitness offers free self-defense classes to women.

On a recent Friday evening, Haley Stevens took a firm stance and moved her body forward as she struck a soft, padded object.

It wasn’t long before the 13-year-old, of Watson, hit the target held by Thompson, pushing her back a few steps.

That was quite an accomplishment. Thompson is well-schooled in martial arts, including taekwondo and Krav Maga, and has been teaching self-defense classes for about 10 years.

Taekwondo, developed by Korean masters during the 1940s, combines combat and self-defense techniques with sport and exercise.

Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli military and combines techniques from boxing, wrestling and other martial arts.

Thompson, who teaches control tactics and how to use pressure points to bring an opponent to the ground, has been involved with martial arts for 14 years but said she learned several self-defense techniques from her father, who was a U.S. Marine.

Her husband also is a pressure point control and tactics specialist, she said.

Thompson said her goal is to teach women to have confidence and know that they can — despite their size or the size of the attacker — overpower another person.

She said some women are skeptical about the techniques she uses and say they can use a gun if they’re faced with an attacker.

“When I ask them where’s their gun, they say it’s at home or in their car,” Thompson said. “If you learn to use your body, it’s something you can take everywhere.”

Tonya Pickett said the class deals with real-world scenarios. For example, Thompson teaches women what to do if an attacker approaches them from behind.

Pickett said she also learned how important it is to be aware of her surroundings.

On Friday, Thompson taught participants strike and grab moves that she said will ultimately become “muscle memory” for them.

For Shannon Hill, of Watson, the self-defense techniques are becoming routine now that she’s taken the class twice. Hill plans to take the class several more times because, although Thompson repeats some of the same lessons, she also offers something new at each class.

“I’ve been put into some unpredictable situations before, and if that ever happens again, I want to hopefully prevent it,” the 34-year-old Hill said.

Hill said she is growing more confident about her ability to defend herself.

“Regardless of your size and their size, if you hit the pressure points just right, it’s going to drop them,” Hill said.

The techniques work, Hill said, adding that she practiced what she learned Friday on her husband and son, and both were amazed she was able to overtake them.

Thompson said the two-hour class is a valuable investment of time for women to learn not only how to protect themselves but to gain the confidence it takes to overcome an attacker.

“I want women to remain calm in a high-stress situation,” Thompson said.

To learn more about the class, or to participate, visit watson1.