Dan Rheaume is the kind of guy you want to meet before walking down a dark alley.
The New Westminster resident has been studying martial arts since he was a kid, he says.
"It's the typical story of a kid getting bullied at school; I wanted to protect myself. I was a child of the '80s, I really enjoyed the ninja movies that were out when I was young," he says. "So for me, that was a huge motivator to get involved with martial arts and my parents obliged. They put me into martial arts when I was a kid and I've loved it ever since."
Now, Rheaume runs Heisei Budo Combatives, a self-defence group that meets in New Westminster and Burnaby. Aside from his training in martial arts, Rheaume is also trained as a defence against guns and use-of-force instructor, he says.
"I've done almost every popular martial art you can think of. It felt a little lacking, honestly, in some reality," he says. "Basically, I've evolved what I do into a more general self-defence course without a lot of traditionalism behind it. We really believe in the human stress response and working with it instead of against it."
He incorporates his knowledge of the criminal code and what levels of force civilians can use to defend themselves into the training, he says.
"Being a use of force instructor, I am familiar with the criminal code and what options are available to civilians in terms of what their levels of force can be. And I always try to keep that in context with the course, just so that people know that it isn't ancient Japan where you can take out a short sword and start hacking people up," he says. "Those skills are great for the historical value but they're not really practical for people living in a city in the 21st century."
A big focus is de-escalating situations verbally so that force isn't necessary, he adds.
His group is also posted on Meetup.com, under New Westminster Defensive Tactics Training. They do pressure testing using protective suits, he says, and do some sparring - tailored to each individual - to see what works under stress.
The group rents community halls in churches in New Westminster and also meets at Simon Fraser University, where two of the members are students, he says.
Rheaume started the group instead of opening his own school primarily because he was looking for people to spar with, not a commercial venture, he says.
"I'm doing it mainly for myself and I can't do it by myself, so I want other people to practice with, basically," he says, adding some people are also intimidated by the commitment and time that joining a school requires.
The group has a weekly free drop-in in New Westminster, and meets at other locations, as well.
The Meetup group lists 25 members but Rheaume says only a handful have actually come to the drop-ins.
"Of the several individuals that joined the actual Meetup group, I've seen a few of them come in," he says. "I was actually surprised that not as many that signed up for the group have actually come by."
The group is primarily made up of men but some women do attend, as well, according to Rheaume.
He plans to offer women's self-defence courses at Queensborough Community Centre this spring.
As for the usefulness of the training, Rheaume quotes an old expression, "When seconds count, the cops are only minutes away.
"You are responsible for your own personal safety," he adds. "The police are there and they do a good job, but they're there to investigate after the fact in most cases."
Darcey MacInnes, a Vancouver resident, joined the group last summer.
"I was looking for a non-traditional martial arts system," he wrote in an email to The Record, as he was on his way to Japan. "I can respect and appreciate the traditions of martial arts, but at this point in my life, I was looking for something more practical."
He likes the group, he says, and appreciates the way Rheaume works with each member.
"There isn't a lot of bs or fluff with Dan's system," MacInnes says. "You learn practical skills for real world situations."
MacInnes has studied martial arts - taekwondo and karate - for more than 20 years. He found the group online, he says, and has used Meetup in the past, when he ran his own business.
Brian Murata, a Burnaby resident, found the group on Facebook, not Meetup.
I actually met Dan on Facebook, coming on two years ago," he says. "I started networking with him and that's how I came across Heisei Budo."
He's studied martial arts for 15 years, he says, starting with karate.
The practicality of the group's training is what appealed to Murata most, he says.
"Of course, he's (Rheaume) coming from the use of force background, so I knew that the actual training involved would be practical, easy to learn but I'd also be learning some of the more important parts of self defence," he says, adding learning what the laws are, how to de-escalate conflicts and practicing pressure testing are some of the best aspects.
The learning process is the most challenging aspect of the training, according to Murata.
"They're not bad challenges, they're definitely challenges in which you grow," he says.
For information on the weekly drop-ins, search for New Westminster Defensive Tactics Training on meetup.com. For more information on what's offered, go to www.heiseibudo.com.