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Martial arts instructor offers free self-defense classes for women in West Philadelphia

By Napoleon F. Kingcade

PHOTOS: Napoleon F. Kingcade

Lawrence Whitaker, a martial arts teacher and 8th-degree master black belt, says the driving force behind his free self-defense classes for women began in 1998, when his sister was murdered by her boyfriend. It was then that Whitaker began holding workshops for young women to ensure they knew how to protect themselves in dangerous situations.

As the founder of Urban Defense LLC in Philadelphia, Whitaker caters to women who want to join his free self-defense classes. One of his well-known students was Kijafa Vick, wife of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. According to Whitaker, because she was already in great athletic shape and was an easy person to teach.

Self-defense classes run by Whitaker have not stopped since his sister’s murder. At first he gave free classes at 6th and Brown Streets, but now he teaches a six-week course at Holy Apostles and Mediator Episcopal Church at 51st and Pine Streets. Classes take place every Wednesday evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Lawrence Whitaker, martial arts teacher and 8th degree black belt master, poses with his students.

His classes don’t just teach women how to throw punches – he teaches them different techniques that involve protecting their personal space when caught in a bad situation.

“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” said Whitaker, who was inducted into the Philadelphia Martial Arts Hall of Fame. “It’s not about punching someone in the face. There are five easy places where you can hurt someone and escape. You can punch them in the groin, poke them in the eyes or you can also bite your attacker.

Among the women taking classes at the church is Lorraine Thomas, who travels weekly from Southwest Philadelphia to join the other women in self-defense classes. So far, Thomas hasn’t missed a class. Every Wednesday, she takes advantage of the two hours of learning self-defense techniques from her instructor.

“In these classes, it’s really good training,” Thomas said. “It’s really important to learn how to defend yourself. You will learn about real boxing and kickboxing game. You are taught to hold your hands. In his classes, you have to be attentive and stay focused.

Whitaker teaches defense techniques to women.

Thomas and the other women try to encourage more women to take self-defense classes at the church. They think his free lessons are too valuable to ignore. Currently, Whitaker has approximately 30 students. He encourages them to wear sneakers and comfortable clothes such as sweatpants, t-shirts and leggings.

“I’ve been here since day one,” Thomas said. “Once these classes are over, we will follow Lawrence Whitaker to his next class. One thing I like about his classes [is that] he teaches us martial arts, which is an eye-opener for all of us.

At a time when carjackings, sexual assaults and kidnappings are happening more frequently than ever, Whitaker said the free classes are meant to help women. Recently, he told Fox 29 News that he was looking forward to launching a new campaign to recruit more women to his classes. He wants to reach more women across the city.

“By the end of next year, I hope to be the number one self-defense course for women in Philadelphia,” Whitaker said. ‘[There are] not too many martial arts instructors who [are] do what I do. For now, the competition is very limited. This is the goal I have set myself. »

In addition to being an 8th degree black belt, Whitaker also served six years in the United States Army as a sergeant and traveled the world. He spent a week in Port-a-Prince, Haiti, where he taught martial arts to the people through the Free Angels Foundation.

Judging by his resume, Whitaker has a bright future ahead of him. Currently, he hopes to make a bigger impact with his self-defense classes and hopes to keep the door open for more women to join his classes. His goals are within reach.

For more information about Urban Defense LLC, call: (267) 974-0287, or visit:

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