No more victims: Student life at Smoky Mountain Self-Defense

Sign outside of smoky mountain self-defense studio. Courtesy of Smokey Mountain Self Defense Team. Photo by Sherilyn Smith.
Sign outside of smoky mountain self-defense studio. Courtesy of Smokey Mountain Self Defense Team. Photo by Sherilyn Smith.

The students of Smoky Mountain Self-Defense shuffled nervously as Roy “Hoot” Shields entered the training room, slapping a baseball bat against his open palm. Shields is the founder of Smoky Mountain Self-Defense as well as the head instructor, a martial arts master, and a former member of the U.S. Military and Federal Services. Shields raised the bat and slowly ambled through the room, pointing at students.

“Eenie,” he said.

The next student, “Meanie.”

The next, “Miney.”

Then, “Moe.”

The act was a nod to a recent episode of the TV series, “The Walking Dead”.

An unearthly hush fell over the room. For a single slice of time, breathing was almost inaudible. Someone subtly swallowed. Another person twitched, most likely involuntarily, then froze once more.

Not funny,” a woman in the back said. Shields laughed with the class and stopped at the front of the room, slapping the bat against his open palm a final time and clenching it in his fist.

Before speaking, Shields took a moment to admire the bat and then kissed it.

He returned his gaze to us, eyeglasses flashing in the wane light, and asked, “You ever love a bat so much, you get it tattooed on your arm?” Then, among the mural of dark tattoos on Shields’s skin, he pointed out the bat that had been permanently inked into a forearm bulging with muscle.

“Anyway,” he said, dropping the arm. “Let’s begin. Left guard. Twelve o’clock. On my whistle. Go.”

Classes at Smoky Mountain Self-Defense follow a pattern: laughter, then defensive blocks (if you don’t hold your arm right when you ram them, you’ll break your own nose); jokes, then eye gouge practice (you don’t want to massage their retinas: you want to shove your thumb in up to the second joint); small talk, then instructions on the proper methodology for crushing another human’s throat (you’re going to want to grip their windpipe and squeeze until your fingers touch on the inside of their neck–then pull).

Inside the facility were a series of fake weapons: guns, batons and bats. There are thick sparring pads in one corner and an aired-up tripod for kick practice in the other. And standing on one side of the room are three sparring dummies.

The class began with block practice. Instructors shouted a number dial on the clock, blew a whistle and the class performed that block in the directed orientation. After blocks, the class ran through hits. The first lesson consisted of learning how to knock someone into unconsciousness with a single slap.

The following lessons were consisted of things like elbow digs and knee jabs. Students were taught the proper fist form for punching without breaking your own knuckles and instructions for kicks that not only jarred opponents with force but also scraped the skin off their legs.

At the end of each lesson, students were instructed either to practice their moves on a sparring dummy solo or charge the aired-up tripod with a series of knee jabs along with two other students in a berserk group attack.

As violent and deadly as the class content was, it was not taught with the intent for students to go out and begin conflicts, but rather to defend themselves if they were ever unfortunate enough to find themselves in a bad situation. Shields often stressed the class theme: “no more victims.”

This was why instruction under Shields involved such bluntness. There were no belts. There were no promotions. There were no levels. The class gave people simple, effective skills that they could use if they ever needed to.

For more information on Smoky Mountain Self-Defense, they can be reached at (865)977-7837. They are located at 2422 E. Broadway Ave. Maryville, TN 37804.

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