'I stopped dancing, I'm fighting now': Hong Kong protesters take up self-defence classes

Masked participants spar with foam sticks during a self-defence class organised by a student union at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on Oct 15, 2019.
Masked participants spar with foam sticks during a self-defence class organised by a student union at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on Oct 15, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Before protests erupted across her Hong Kong hometown five months ago, 31-year-old Pino was a dancer, taking various types of evening classes for years, from jazz to hip-hop and pole.

Now, the slight IT worker, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, is learning to fight.

"I stopped dancing, I'm fighting now," she said.

Once a week, Ms Pino joins a self-defence class where instructors give lessons on how to fight police, evade arrest, and navigate the unrest on the streets of the Asian financial hub. Lessons sometimes incorporate videos of real protest clashes.

These classes are one of several that have sprung up in recent months, say protesters, pitched at demonstrators and others concerned about getting caught in the chaos.

The rallies have been marred by violence which flares mostly during weekends, with demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails, destroying shops seen as pro-Beijing, vandalising train stations and engaging in running battles with police.

"Not only the frontliners or the youngsters, we all need to learn these skills to protect ourselves," said Mr William Cheung, the organiser of one self-defence class held regularly at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

On a recent morning outside the university's library, around a dozen students fenced with foam sticks representing the black batons used by police, and practised shielding blows with their backpacks.

"The topic of today's lesson is escaping," said R., a 19-year-old participant who asked to be named only by his first initial for fear of retribution.

 
 
 

"It looks like the fight is not coming to an end soon, and I don't know for how much longer it will last," he said, explaining why he felt the classes were necessary.

Demonstrators have also been fearful of attacks from other groups, particularly after suspected triad members set upon activists and commuters at a train station in Yuen Long district in July.

"If you don't protect yourselves well, then you don't know whether you'll be beaten to death, or something bad may happen like being injured and hospitalised," said Mr Cheung.

Police did not immediately respond to request for comment about this story.

Ms Pino, who volunteers as a medic during protests and attends to those injured, said she has learnt how to disarm an attacker.

It might be some time, though, before she goes back to dance classes.

"I think in this society, we need to fight, not dance," she said.