Sitting at a small dining table, three martial arts students chatted with each other. They told jokes and laughed as the rest of the class watched what was about to happen.
Abruptly, two gunmen rushed in and took the students hostage, duct-taping their wrists together and holding pistols to the back of their heads.
Hearts palpitated; adrenaline pumped.
“Don’t move or I’ll kill you,” one man wailed. The room fell silent as everyone watched the assailants. The hostages breathed heavily. Julio Anta, owner of Anta’s Fitness and Self Defense studio in Doral, observed too, sometimes coaching, sometimes criticizing the actions of his students as the victims tried to get loose.
Then the gunmen turned their heads, the bound students took advantage of the distraction and precipitously ripped free from the gray tape as Anta had taught them, grabbed the shooters’ weapon and escaped.
The other classmates applauded as Anta praised the students for using certain techniques — tearing the tape, grabbing guns at the right moment — during the simulated attack “that causes immediate stress and panic,” he said. He also demonstrated other ways the students could have handled the attack.
Anta, who is certified in Krav Maga Israeli counterterrorism techniques, began teaching active-shooter classes last year after mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino. A police term, “active shooter” refers to someone who tries to kill people randomly in a confined and populated area, like spraying gunfire in a workplace or nightclub, as opposed to a one-on-one assault on a particular victim.
Preparing for active shooter situations has become a growing trend as law enforcement entities gear up and get trained in how to respond. Last year, Miami-Dade Police began using a social networking app to spread the word to civilians on how to stay safe if terror comes to your neighborhood.
Anta, who has been instructing since 1998, is a former Marine and correctional officer. He mainly teaches Krav Maga, a self-defense system developed by the Israeli military, and holds black belts in several other martial arts.
In the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting that left 49 dead, the slaying of five Dallas police officers, and the more recent active-shooter/bomb threat at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Anta said he’ll be opening free active shooter classes to adults in August.
“In the last four or five years, we’re getting attacked everywhere in the world, and unfortunately, I think it’s gonna get worse,” Anta said. “What happened in Orlando just blew my mind; I freaked out. The shooter went into a place where no one is going to defend themselves. If somebody knew and were trained to be in a scenario like that, who knows if more lives could have been saved.”
Anta started the class with teaching “how to escape, how to barricade, and how to defend.”
“The first thing we train people to do is to escape. Escape can mean run, it can mean hide. It can mean many things. Then we teach them how to barricade themselves, depending how the room is and whether the door swings forward or backward,” Anta said. “There’s nothing 100 percent, but the more you’re trained, the better it is.”
Anta said he hopes preparations for mass shootings will expand into schools and businesses.
“When I was a kid in the ’60s, in school, they would ring an alarm, we would have to cover our heads and get under the desk. Because of the Cold War, we were expecting the Soviet Union to attack us. There were even commercials on where to go and what to do. Today we have fire drills. But we’re not teaching people what to do in the case of an active shooter. I think it’s because it’s so new. Hopefully we can avoid larger death tolls with proper training.”
During the class, students simulated an active shooter busting into a lounge. Students later partnered up and learned how to disarm a gunman, whether he’s using a small pistol or a rifle. They also learned how to defend themselves from somebody trying to stab them.
Years ago, Pedro Martinez, 57, was robbed at gunpoint. On Thursday night, he attended a class with his wife and two sons, who live in Hialeah.
“Every day it gets worse. We are all vulnerable,” Martinez said. “These situations can happen at any time. If me and my family are prepared, then we have a better chance. You can’t always teach an exact scenario but you can teach how to defend against a knife, how to take a gun away, how to react, escape or hide.”
On the back of each student’s emerald shirt was the phrase “Fear No Evil.”
“I believe that if you learn how to defend yourself, you’re going to have less chance of fearing that evil,” Anta said. “ To me, this training is like insurance. I have medical insurance, life insurance. If something happens, if I get hurt, that insurance is there.”
Workshop dates for free active shooter workshops will be announced the first week of August. For more information call 305-599-3649.