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Athletic Profile

With a second-degree black belt and fourteen years of martial arts and self-defense experience, Vanessa Wilson can defend herself in a the case of a threatening situation.

Wilson, who has been teaching karate and women’s self-defense at Mills since 2003, took up the practices in order to feel less vulnerable while living in Oakland. She studied at Hand-to-Hand Kajukenbo Self-Defense Center under Sifu (teacher) Coleen Gragen, the Center’s founder and head instructor, as well as the previous martial arts instructor at Mills. When Gragen died in 2002, Wilson and several other black belts took over the management responsibilities of the school. Gragen’s death also vacated the teaching position at Mills. The position was offered to Wilson, who gladly accepted.

“I feel very connected to the students here and am drawn to the fact that I believe Mills supports these programs that help to empower young women,” Wilson said.

Students say they appreciate Vanessa’s classes because of the opportunities of physical growth and self-discovery.

“I was one of those people who thought Karate would be very challenging and too much for me, but it ended up helping me a lot and a lot of my fears dissipated after taking the class,” said sophomore Chaitanya Bolte.

Bolte felt benefited from the lessons she learned. “I.feel safer and stronger, like I can more likely protect myself in a difficult situation,” she said.

“I really love how [Vanessa] acknowledges that people have limits,” said Rachel Jackler, a sophomore. “She seems to understand when you’re having trouble with something.”

Wilson has heard many stories from students whose experience in her classes has helped them to use their better judgement on the street.

“[I’ve had] many.students tell me they told a stranger on the bus to stop bothering them, or were aware of the rowdiness of a group of men and avoided walking through them, or just [told] a friend that they couldn’t borrow their car anymore if they weren’t going to pay for gas,” she said.

Wilson said that if women find themselves in threatening situations, they should breathe deep in order to help them judge the circumstances at hand.

“Use breathing as a source of calmness and focus [to] assess the situation,” she said. “It’s important that we all understand that we make the best decisions with the skills we have at that moment.”