Teaching courage, safety through self-defense techniques

Photos by Jennifer Marolt Shannon Duval, philosophy professor at Mount Mary College, demonstrates a self-defense maneuver to Mount Mary student Anne Koenings.


“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi


Professor Shannon Duval brings a unique talent to campus through her ability to weave together philosophy and the martial arts so students can use the new skills out in the community.

After earning her doctorate from Pennsylvania State University, Duval was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship, a grant that allows United States citizens to teach and conduct research abroad and allows non-U.S. citizens to come to the United States. Under this grant, Duval traveled to Germany, France and Bulgaria in order to teach.

After joining the Mount Mary philosophy department 14 years ago, Duval took an interest in tae kwon do six years ago when her son’s pediatrician encouraged it as an activity to address his high-functioning autism. She now holds a second degree black belt and is a national champion in Kali Arnis, a Filipino form of martial arts. She also holds the third place world ranking for Women’s Double Stick, an Arnis competition.

Mindful of Mount Mary’s dedication to social justice, Duval wanted to bring these skills to the students. After a unit on domestic violence, Duval took her ethics class to the gym for a basic lesson in self-defense.

Afterward, she noticed her students sitting up taller and displaying more confidence. According to Duval, the goal goes beyond fear of violence; it raises self-confidence in individuals and allows them to connect to other people in a genuine way.

“All of the girls loved learning safety tips and self-defense techniques from Shannon,” said Anne Koening, graduate assistant for Student Engagement. “She had great energy that got the girls really into learning how to defend themselves and appropriately assess situations.”

Duval encourages students by affirming “anyone can do these things.” Personal safety is more about verbal skills as well as knowing the human body and how to use its natural qualities to one’s advantage.

Duval believes self-defense strategies give students courage and provide safety in reaching out to Milwaukee’s diverse populations and locations. She hopes teaching students self-defense will help the Mount Mary community touch areas that may have seemed inaccessible before. There are “no boundaries to the classroom,” Duval said.

She also teaches basic elements of personal safety and self-defense off-campus to a variety of ages from young girls to women in their 70s.

Duval recognizes she has a great opportunity at Mount Mary. She’s able to work with women of all ages and at different stages of life.

“It is really important that women have a place that they can go to nurture heart, soul and mind without the complications of the outside world,” Duval said.

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