A group of University of Minnesota students in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority house stood up in unison Friday.
Then they sat down.
Then they stood up again.
The women were “basing out” — using a wide stance to lower their center of gravity and make it harder for attackers to pull them in.
Sorority members and potential recruits in jeans and boat shoes grappled with their more appropriately dressed peers in a self-defense demonstration led by members of the University of Minnesota’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club.
“If I see any of you on campus and you don’t get up like this, I’m going to push you [back down],” Jacob Sajevic, the club’s vice president and a mechanical engineering sophomore, told the group.
The demonstration was part of the sorority’s informal recruitment process. Chloe Philion, a kinesiology sophomore and Alpha Chi Omega’s vice president of philanthropy, said it meshed well with the sorority’s philanthropic focus on domestic violence awareness.
The roughly two dozen women practicing on the shag carpeting of the sorority’s lounge cheered as Lauren Schreffler, a physiology sophomore, demonstrated how to throw Sajevic to the ground.
“A lot of martial arts, it’s a huge disadvantage to be smaller and weaker,” Schreffler said. “But jiu jitsu is tailored specifically so that the smaller, weaker person is not at a disadvantage.”
Matt Tomm, an accounting senior and club member, said jiu jitsu is “something you can always have in your back pocket.”
It’s a relatively new martial art — it’s a couple hundred years old instead of a thousand, said Christoph Noetzli, head instructor at the Minneapolis School of Jiu Jitsu.
Noetzli said jiu jitsu is an “inside art” because practitioners want to be as close as possible to an attacker.
“Size, gender, anything — doesn’t matter,” Noetzli said. “Small women can do a lot of damage to a big guy.”
Attackers in street assaults are looking for what is familiar, said Mary Brandl, who teaches self defense classes at the University.
“They’re looking for what feels easy,” Brandl said. “A number of the robberies in and around campus have been them coming up from behind to people that have been on their cellphone or texting.”
Brandl said in her classes she teaches students how to look “strong but neutral.”
The demonstrators also focused on conflict avoidance.
“If you get attacked and don’t get hurt, you consider that a victory,” said Sajevic, who founded the club in fall 2011 with Rob Klink, a biology, society and environment junior.
Philion said Alpha Chi Omega would host the demonstration again.
“The girls had a lot of fun, and it’s nice to give them something they can take away with them,” she said.
At the end of the demonstration, when one participant asked Sajevic to “do something cool,” he had only one response.
“Come to jiu jitsu club.”