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Nelson Nio: Guru of Kicking Ass

Nelson Nio

Nelson Nio

Nelson Nio got beaten up by 2,200 women last year. They punched him, kneed him in the groin, clawed his eyes, kicked his face and tried to dislocate his shoulder. Nio is pretty happy about this. Teaching women how to fight — or fight back — is his raison d'être.

Nio teaches self-defense classes for women only. He calls his method of close-range fighting Shield Self Defense.

The women who take his classes are cheerleaders, office workers, police officers, sorority girls, wives, daughters, sisters, mothers. Some are celebrities (Kim Kardashian). Some are victims of domestic violence. Many have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. Many come to Nio broken. He arms them with technique. Then he drills and drills until that technique becomes embedded into muscle memory. Because, as he says, "When you're fully adrenalized, there's no time to think."

This isn't your typical "Yell loudly and hope for rescue" stuff. Nio's women fight hard and smart, essentially learning how to rescue themselves. Lessons are hands-on from day one and increase in difficulty. You'll be blindfolded. You'll grapple on the ground with his hand over your mouth as if you'd been surprised by an attacker while fast asleep in bed.

Nio draws from tae kwon do, Krav Maga and Wing-chun — the ancient martial arts developed by a Chinese nun — as well as from street fighting. Martial arts is sport. Self-defense is reality.

He designed the moves in response to actual attack situations women have told him about. What do you do if a guy is on top of you pulling your clothes off? What if someone pushes you against a wall? What if you're grabbed by the neck? By the hair?

And his methods work. Just ask the lady whose associate tried to rape her during a business trip. She flung him clear across the room.

Why does Nio do it? There must be less painful ways to make a living. The answer he usually gives involves a female friend who was assaulted in a carport, and how he taught her a few defense moves and how that became the basis of his classes. He'll quote appalling statistics on the number of women attacked in the United States — one every two and a half minutes.

But the deeper answer is Nio knows something of oppression. Of being the little guy in an unfair fight. Growing up ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, facing intense discrimination, he fought every day. It's the reason he made martial arts his life's study. He was once attacked by 30 guys with baseball bats. They broke his spine and sent him to the hospital, but he took nine of them with him.

In class, it can feel mean to beat up this respectful, soft-spoken and very Zen guy. To hear him choke out the word "awesome" when you've scored a particularly brutal hit. Nothing, however, gives him more satisfaction than knowing his girls can kick some serious ass to save their life.

"All my aches and pains," he says, "they are worth it."

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