Kiana Gutierrez at Glendale's self-defense class

Kiana Gutierrez, 16, of Glendale, practices how to get out an attacker's grip with self-defense coach Nelson Nio during the Shield Self Defense class at the Glendale Police Department on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / June 11, 2014)

When Diana Lopez heard Glendale's self-defense class for women had been postponed she became as anxious as when she initially saw a flier offering the free class.

Lopez, who has survived two abusive ex-husbands, was uncertain about taking the class, but after she summoned the courage to sign up, it was pushed back because a San Diego nonprofit complained that the city was only offering the self-defense class for women and not men as well.

"I was nervous. I thought I wouldn't be able to take it," said Lopez, who requested that identifying information other than her name, such as her looks, city of residence and job be withheld to protect her from past assailants.

The National Coalition for Men, argued that under the equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, Glendale couldn't offer the gender-exclusive training. As a result, city officials postponed the two planned classes for women and girls — originally tied to April's designation as sexual assault awareness month — so city attorneys could analyze the situation.

After being advised by legal staff, the City Council agreed to bring back the two women's classes as well as schedule one for men and boys.

On Wednesday night, Lopez and about 50 other women crowded the Glendale Police Department's community room for the first rescheduled class. For two and a half hours she and others learned about how their teeth, hands and feet could all be "weapons" from Nelson Nio, founder of Shield, a women's self-defense training course.

They learned how to escape if an attacker grabs from behind while walking down the street, pulls by the hair or pins them down on a bed.

"When you fight, you fight for your life," Nio said, encouraging the women and girls to stay focused when walking at night and to look strangers in the eye.

For Lopez, who stayed in abusive relationships for decades because she believed she needed her husbands to support her autistic daughter and she was used to mistreatment — her parents would beat her as a child — the class was a way for her to feel comfortable defending herself.

Men and boys should have the opportunity to feel prepared, too, she said.

"You just get scared and everything shuts down," Lopez said.

Catalina Lee, a Glendale resident who brought her 12-year-old daughter to the class because she wanted her to learn how to defend herself, said she was happy the city added a class for men and boys. She has a 10-year-old son who is too young for the class now — the minimum age is 12 — but if the city keeps offering the annual classes, she would sign him up for it.

"It doesn't only happen to girls. It happens to guys, too," she said, referring to violent attacks.

That was the point the National Coalition for Men made months ago when the group criticized Glendale's female-only classes.

So far, about 40 women have signed up for another women-only class on June 25 at Glendale Community College and 11 are registered for a male-only class on June 18 at the Glendale Police Department.

Jennifer Fix, a 16-year-old whose dad signed her up for the self-defense class, said she left the training feeling more self-assured.

During the class, Fix volunteered to learn a defense move in front of the class. She walked across the room and without warning, Nio, the teacher, snatched her from behind and lifted her up. She learned to kick her behind as hard as she could to loosen his grip. She was shocked by the surprise grab, but it was key for her to experience it to be prepared, she said.

"I think it's equally important for both genders," Fix added.

To reserve a class spot or for more information, call (818) 548-2000 or email women@glendaleca.gov.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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