Debbie Neckel

Debbie Neckel, 58, (right) trains a client in self-defense.

The biggest advantage a woman has in defending herself is not a martial arts move or special tactic it’s the element of surprise.

“Men don’t expect women to fight back,” said Debbie Neckel, a retired sex-crimes detective who now teaches women’s self-defense classes in Payson.

Neckel began taking self-defense classes long before she became an officer. At the age of 11 she witnessed a murder and even though the killer was locked up, she lived in fear. She took self-defense classes in her 20s to mitigate that fear.

As a police officer she actively monitored sex offenders in her community and understands the predator mentality.

She has attended advanced sex-crimes training around the country and takes the personal safety of girls and women seriously.

Neckel believes any girl or woman, regardless of age or physical condition, can benefit from self-defense training.

Through her classes, Neckel said women will feel empowered; know when to react, when to walk away; have a greater understanding of the daily threats they face and how to stay safe; work on balance, agility and escape techniques with consideration of age and physical ability.

“Classes are geared to my students’ needs. I teach a combination of self-defense using police defensive tactics, kick boxing, karate and common sense awareness. I can even teach how to wield a cane to perfection. No one is too old for personal safety,” Neckel said.

She offers classes for individuals and groups of four in her home gym and will teach larger groups at the venue of their choice. She charges $25 per hour for individual lessons and $40 an hour for group lessons for a group of four ($10 per person in the group). Neckel offers classes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

“Have a church group of ladies? I would love to provide a free awareness class with great tips for personal safety that will change your mindset and empower you,” Neckel said.

She said just one class will help observational skills and that, in turn, will increase the chance of survival by 80 percent.

Neckel and her husband have made their home in Payson for five years and she has taught women’s self-defense classes for 20 years.

She said there has been a surprising amount of interest in individual lessons and many of her students are younger women.

“For many, taking self-defense is a very private thing,” she said. Usually at some point during the classes the student is ready to talk about why they are taking the training. Many, like Neckel, are survivors.

“I try to help them understand that by surviving, they did something right and we’ll explore that — when they’re ready — and discover what they did to survive,” she said.

She added she didn’t learn what she’d done right to survive until after she’d become a police officer. She was asked to teach a class to a group of young women getting ready to leave their small town to go to college and she was reading “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence” by Gavin de Becker. It is a nonfiction self-help book that demonstrates how every individual should learn to trust the inherent “gift” of their gut instinct. “It was very empowering to know,” Neckel said.

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