Self Defense classes offered in San Juan County

by Jessica Holiday,
Victim Services Program Manager, Utah Navajo Health System, Inc.
Springtime in Monument Valley has finally emerged after a long winter. The sunlight is beaming and there are tourists and locals milling about the Monument Valley Welcome Center.
People are basking in the sunny weather. I end my phone call with Thomas Denny, instructor, after giving him directions to where the Self Defense Class will be held. He drove too far south and missed the Monument Valley Welcome Center turn-off.
A couple minutes later he pulls up to the parking lot. His appearance is striking with a strong build and tattooed extremities. He looks like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with, considering his 5’10”, 195 lb. frame. Thomas “Wildman” Denny is a Professional MMA fighter with over 23 years of fighting experience and over 100 professional fights under his belt.
He’s about to teach a Women’s Self Defense Class for the community of Monument Valley. This is a four-part series of Women’s Self Defense Classeses offered during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The events are sponsored by the Utah Navajo Health System Victim Advocacy Program and Gentle Ironhawk Shelter.
Thomas’ huge smile and warm demeanor are immediately evident as he starts speaking. Outside the venue, clad in a black sleeveless hoodie he is perched like a fighter ready and open to answer my questions:
JH: “Why is self defense important for women to know?”
TD: “Self defense is important for women, especially just to feel safe. We’re in a world right now where I think mental illness, drugs, and alcohol are at an all-time high. I think in order to even go to your local store, it’s best if you’re prepared.
“It’s always better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in the middle of a battle. I think that everyone should train, plus health benefits in general. I think everyone should be a little healthier along with able to protect yourself.
JH: “I totally agree. What range of classes do you teach?”
TD: “I’ve always taught mixed martial arts. I teach all aspects. I teach wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu. I kind of teach everything. It’s only been more recent that more women have wanted to… More women are wanting to be a little more prepared.
“It started out with soccer moms wanting to train and it kind of just bled over into the general population. All women feel safer knowing a little more.”
JH: “What are some basic tips and techniques for women to be able to protect themselves.”
TD: “I think that we need to be more aware of our surroundings. Try not to hide yourself because although you are hiding yourself, you’re making your own personal space more secluded. Take hoodies off, pin hair back, try not to wear really dark sunglasses.”
JH: “What about ear buds? I wear those all the time.”
TD: “Earbuds, that’s a big one. I just had to save a girl from almost getting hit by a car, crossing the street because she had her earbuds in and went to cross and didn’t hear the car honking. I had to actually swerve to almost hit her so that she would see me coming this way because she didn’t see the car coming that way.
“Once she saw me, she was like, ‘Ahhh.’ I was like, ‘Get out of the way!’ Yeah, earbuds, any kind of things that.
“Your senses are there for a reason, sight, smell, touch, all these senses we have and if you’re covering them up and not using them, especially while walking out or being in unfamiliar territory or just in general.
“Even walking into a store, walking into a Wal-Mart, lots of these sex traffickers, that’s where they’re kidnapping females and children because they’re not aware of what’s going on, it’s easy for them to grab them and scoop them out.
“You should definitely be aware of your surroundings, take out the earbuds, pin the hair back, take your hoodie off, and walk with confidence wherever you are walking to.”
JH: “I really appreciate in the last class you did, you said, if you see a man approach a woman outside of a gas station, if they’re panhandling, and they approach a woman and walk up to them, you will tell them not to approach a woman like that because that is a scary situation. Do you do that whenever you see a situation like that?”
TD: “I do it pretty often. It’s funny because my son, just in church yesterday, we were talking about how you hope that parents, the things we lead by example, will come off to your children. My son is ten and is a little guy.
“We were driving up to Colorado and there was a guy panhandling a woman and her two kids and he walked over and was like, ‘Hey, what are you doing? If you’re trying to get money, go ask somebody else, don’t ask these women.’
“It brought a tear to my eye, my son who could get kidnapped by this guy, he’s brave enough to stand up to these people and say, ‘Hey, don’t talk to women like that, they don’t know you. If you’re in that bad of a situation go talk to the store owner.’”
JH: “That’s really powerful. I appreciate you saying that. I think more men can follow that.”
TD: “I think in general we should protect women more as it is, just all the way around.”
JH: “Do you feel like you offer a unique approach in your Self Defense classes?”
TD: “I do, I feel what I offer is something you can believe in, something that you know will work. Something that is tested; whereas, there is so much other crap out there, I will watch on the internet and I’m like, ‘This would never work.’ That’s why with the stuff I put together, I know this will work, this will help you get out of harm’s way.”
JH: “How did you get into teaching jiu jitsu, self defense classes, etc.?”
TD: “I used training as a way out of my abusive situation. I was physically and mentally abused as a child. I started training at a local youth center when I was ten years old and that was just boxing.
“I figured if I am getting beat up at home, I can actually be getting beat up at this community center and learn how to box and learn how to protect myself. I saw how valuable that was. It took me through a whole 23 year career.
“I’ve trained and fought all over the world. I’ve had amazing events happen. I just want to help put that into other people’s lives as well, kids that have nowhere to go, women that don’t think they have somewhere to go, that think they can’t be an asset to the world.
“Yes, we can, we can by training. It helps in all aspects of your life, whether it’s your job, your health, you see all these different avenues that start helping and that benefit your life. I want to push on the knowledge and help others out.”
JH: “How can people sign up for your classes?”
TD: “You can find me on Instagram: @team_wildman_utah. You can find me on Facebook, as just my name: Thomas Denny. You can look me up through the One Way Baptist Church in Blanding.”
After class, I drive to the local grocery store to pick up some essentials and I see a man outside of the store asking strangers for money. My guard is up.
I turn down the volume of my earpods, my hair is already pulled back. I walk confidently into the store. Returning to my vehicle, I pull out of the parking space and a different man approaches me.
He waves for me to stop, I don’t know this person, he has no items in his hands that I might’ve dropped. I pause for a moment, think about Thomas’s words, shake my head no and drive on.
Thomas is teaching a free Self Defense Class for Women at the Blanding Arts & Events Center on Monday, April 24 from 4 to 6 p.m.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday