Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations and causes that improve North Okaloosa County residents’ quality of life.

CRESTVIEW — The ability to protect oneself is both important and vital for anybody, whether it’s a child confronted with a bully or an adult faced with a criminal.

Gordon Martial Arts helps individuals protect themselves when threatening situations arise by offering free self-defense courses for women and children. The classes aim to teach basic skills that can help people in dangerous situations, as well as tips for avoiding them in the first place.

“The main thing we teach is to be more aware of your situation,” Tom Gordon, the owner of the martial arts studio, said. “Whether this means not parking in dark areas, paying attention to what’s going on around you and not being distracted or how to get away from situations altogether.”

Gordon started offering the classes around 1995-96, he said. Since then, he’s partnered with local law enforcement to host the classes. Aside from defense in the moment, the classes can help victims of crime or bullying overcome psychological damage and give back a sense of personal security.

“Once an assailant is gone, the damage goes real deep, real fast,” Gordon said. He told the story of a woman who was victimized in her driveway and lost her sense of safety at her own home.

“We want to give people a sense of empowerment,” he added.

For children, Gordon teaches skills to avoid and discourage bullies — many of which are shared as a resource on the studio’s website. They include using a buddy system, talking to adults about the situation, not showing emotion, and avoidance. Children are also taught karate but only as a defensive measure, Gordon said.

Resources are also available for parents of children who are being bullied. Gordon believes that martial arts classes don’t just teach self-defense but also help children gain confidence, which can be just as important in dealing with a bully.

The classes are offered about four times per year and Gordon said he sees a mix of attendees.

“I’ll have girls aged 12, 13, 14 years and women up to their seventies,” he said.

Each class has about 20-25 people in attendance but he’s had classes as large as 50 before. Women are encouraged to attend multiple classes as a way to constantly practice and refine their skills.

“I love it when I see people at multiple classes,” Gordon said. He also enjoys getting feedback and seeing the mental toughness the classes can offer. “They are so amped up after the class, it’s a great thing to see.”

Gordon decided to offer the classes years ago because he knew he had the ability to educate people about a valuable skill.

“I’m in the belief that if you’re in a position to help someone, you should do something,” he said. “That’s how I was raised to believe and that’s what I continue to practice.”

Gordon — a father of girls, a husband and a son — saw the importance of teaching women and children specifically the ability to defend themselves and how to avoid potentially harmful situations.

The next women’s self-defense class will be offered with help from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

Those planning to attend do not have to pre-register; simply show up in comfortable clothes. Attendees must be at least 12 years old.