TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Amid the cacophony of dull, padded thuds and sharp-sounding snaps, a voice rings out.
“Be sure to really lean those elbows into those pads,” it yells. “A solid elbow to someone’s solar plexus can drop ‘em like a sack of potatoes.”
As Tech. Sgt. Emanuel Espino-Mata, 60th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist, paces the mat from pad partners to pad partners, he stops to fine-tune each woman’s technique. From foot position to breathing, each soft thud soon turned into a mighty pop.
“I think a lot of it comes down to confidence,” he said. “We have a lot of relative newcomers here and with repetition, they get more comfortable throwing those punches or those kicks. It’s a muscle memory thing.”
Espino-Mata was asked to lead the combatives portion of a women’s self-defense course held May 6, 2021, at Travis Air Force Base, California.
The course, the brainchild of Airman 1st Class Tiffany Fishburn, 60th Air Mobility Wing religious affairs Airman, was held to teach women the fundamentals of self-protection and in Fishburn’s words, “reclaim their power.”
“With there, unfortunately, being the amount of sexual assaults as there have been in the military, I more so wanted to give women the chance to fight back,” she said. “Being a sexual assault survivor myself, I also feel there’s a certain amount of yourself that gets lost from that trauma, so it’s nice to feel that you’ve regained that control and that power that might’ve been stolen from you.”
For Fishburn, the creation of the course filled a void left too-long empty.
“We haven’t had anything like this at Travis for a while,” she said. “Thankfully, the base makes it easy for Airmen to give their initiatives legs and get them going. All I really had to do was contact the Ravens office with the 60th SFS and secure a location for the training. After that, I contacted my own unit’s first sergeant who was kind enough to spread word around to get us a good amount of volunteers who wanted to participate.”
When asked if he’d lead the training, Espino-Mata, who has over 20 years of experience in martial arts from Muay Thai to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, said he jumped at the opportunity.
“It doesn’t take a wild imagination to understand the benefits of learning combative fundamentals,” he said. “More than getting into specific techniques and getting real into the weeds, I wanted to help these women establish a base. That way, if they decide to push forward with more learning, they can build off of it. That meant going over techniques that can cause the most amount of reliable damage and the correct execution of those techniques.”
“I hope that all these volunteers walked away from this training feeling like they can at least put some distance between themselves and, God forbid, an attacker,” he added.
With the success of this initial training, Fishburn hopes to make the combatives course a regular fixture at Travis AFB.
“It’s an important thing to learn no matter who you are,” she said. “A one-off is useful, but more useful than that is the opportunity to build off that basic knowledge and keep those skills honed. We can’t always control the world around us, but we can control the ways we respond to it.”
The Travis AFB Sexual Assault Prevention Response office can be reached at 707-424-1105 or 707-424-1098 or e-mail 60AMW/CVS@us.af.mil.