Bellevue PD's self-defense courses have taught 2,000 women and counting

Each class includes certified women instructors well-versed in jiu-jitsu.

In May, the Bellevue Police Department (BPD) celebrated the second anniversary of its free Women Empowerment (WE) self-defense program, which has taught over 2,000 women — some of who have traveled over 60 miles to attend — how to survive an attack.

The WE program is the official self-defense program for women taught at Gracie University in Torrance, California, according to the BPD blog. The program includes 15 classes that teach 20 Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques.

“Unlike most self-defense systems that rely heavily on strength, speed and coordination, the techniques in the Women Empowered program employ leverage, technique and timing, so anyone, regardless of age or athletic ability, can make them work against larger opponents,” according to the Gracie University website.

Jiu-jitsu instructor and BPD officer Craig Hanaumi brought the program to Bellevue in May 2022 after attending law enforcement training at Gracie University, making it the first police department to teach WE curriculum.

Hanaumi said the juxtaposition between the general lack of women in jiu-jitsu schools and the “huge” amount of women participating in the WE program at the university caught his interest.

“Looking at how impactful it was for so many of those women inspired the idea to bring the program to our department and make it free for our community,” he said. “People often look to the police department for guidance for things related to public safety, so the partnership made a lot of sense in that way too.”

The program began with one class a month at the Crossroads Community Center in Bellevue and eventually expanded to two different jiu-jitsu schools. After an average attendance of 50 to 100 women per class, the program moved to its current location, at the BPD’s training center in Bellevue City Hall. Classes are now offered three to four times a month.

In each class, Hanaumi is accompanied by a team of certified women instructors who are BPD officers or volunteers well-versed in jiu-jitsu. Beyond training techniques, Hanaumi said having women instructors volunteer their time and support participants is one of his favorite parts of the program.

The women instructors not only help demonstrate techniques, but wander the room to assist or answer questions as women practice each technique.

Lakita Hemsley, a BPD officer and instructor, said the all-women class alleviates barriers that often come with being a beginner in a male-dominated sport.

“Even as a cop, I don’t want to go to those classes. They are either trying to show off or trying to be stronger, and it’s more of a sport,” Hemsley said at the May 19 class. “Whereas I’m here really trying to learn something, a technique.”

During the class, women learned a punch block series, a technique that addresses five movements to defend on the ground. As women paired up to practice what they learned, the room filled with laughter and chatter as participants navigated each new, cumbersome movement.

When presenting each movement, Hanaumi often put techniques into the context of an attack, asked for thought and ideas, and often reminded participants that victory is not perfectly getting someone to submit, but instead surviving.

One of the women who attended the class with her daughter felt the class allowed women a space to learn how to safely defend themselves because “a lot of times women don’t feel like they have the right to punch somebody to protect themselves.”

“Also, with everything that’s kind of going on in the world in general, it just feels better to at least get some knowledge on how to defend yourself...or start to think about it,” the daughter added.

Upcoming classes land on June 9, 15 and 23 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. — the June 15 class runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Next month, classes land on July 7 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. and July 10 and 17, from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. For future dates, people can look for Bellevue Police Department posts on Facebook or X. Participants meet at the Bellevue City Hall lobby at 1:20 p.m.

To sign up for an upcoming class, email Hanaumi at chanaumi@bellevuewa.gov

Hanaumi and a volunteer show participants how to defend on the ground before they break out to practice in pairs. (Cameron Sires/ Alb Media)

Hanaumi and a volunteer show participants how to defend on the ground before they break out to practice in pairs. (Cameron Sires/ Alb Media)

(Cameron Sires/ Alb Media)

(Cameron Sires/ Alb Media)