Fighting back against anti-Asian hate


After being a victim of what she described as an anti-Asian verbal incident in August 2020 in Los Angeles that went viral online, Hong Lee decided to take action for the Asian American community. After taking a self-defense class at Box for Change, Los Angeles, Lee began talking to a few friends about how they could help the community — particularly seniors — at a time where people of Asian descent are being victimized amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Seniors Fight Back, a new nonprofit, held their first self-defense class in May 2021. “We then decided to start self-defense classes that were geared specifically towards seniors in the community,” Lee, the president and co-founder of the group, said in a phone interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly.

People reported 3,795 “hate incidents” to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center from March 19, 2020 to February 2021, its Website states.

FIGHTING BACK ­— Volunteer Alex Ueda helps a senior at an event in Torrance, Calif. photo by Thuan Lam, Artizan Images

About 2,000 Asian American and Pacific Islander seniors have participated in the self-defense classes throughout L.A. and Orange County, Lee said. She said their 10th class will take place April 30 at the Terasaki Budokan in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. Lee said Ron Scolesdang, a professional mixed martial arts fighter, is an instructor for the classes.

“He covers situational awareness, body language, voice and very basic visible techniques,” Lee said. She added that seniors also learn the elbow and groin kick to help them get away.

Sheryl Kunisaki, who attended a Seniors Fight Back class at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., told the Nichi Bei Weekly that she learned to wrap her arms around an attacker’s neck and apply pressure to make them fall, allowing her to escape. She thought the best tactics were walking with confidence and being aware.

Kunisaki, who attended active shooter workshops at her old CrossFit gym, said whereas those workshops taught her how to attack someone who poses a threat, the Seniors Fight Back class focused on how she could “diminish the possible harm and get away.”

In addition to learning self-defense techniques, Kunisaki said she also received pepper spray and a whistle. Lee said they have distributed about 3,000 safety kits to class participants. The nonprofit’s core members have paid for the safety kits out of pocket, Lee said.

Due to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May and the group holding several consecutive classes, the nonprofit will need to apply for grants and request donations, Lee said.

Lee said after taking the self-defense classes, seniors have felt safer and “more comfortable that they at least know how to protect themselves if a situation were to happen.”

Kunisaki urged people who are unsure of participating in a self-defense class to “just do it, you never know when you might need to know something.”

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