After UT stabbings, local defense company promotes student training before fall classes

A UT student participates in a situational awareness and defense training course on Aug. 5, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
A UT student participates in a situational awareness and defense training course on Aug. 5, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

SMITHVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — It happens in a flash.

A normal day, shattered by a violent attack. That’s what happened in May on the University of Texas at Austin campus, when police say a student stabbed four classmates, killing one of them.

Now a local self-defense training company wants students to prepare to start classes in a different way.

“We are getting out of someone’s grip on the wrist if someone were to come up to you and grab your arm,” Olivia Bulifant said, demonstrating a technique she learned during a course spanning several hours at the Black Tree Ranch outside Smithville Saturday.

Walking around her campus in Houston alone, it’s something she worries about. “Plus,” she said, “I’m a small woman, so I feel like guys see me as a vulnerable target.”

Bulifant was one of just a handful of college students invited for the weekend class with instructors from Black Tree, a training company based in Central Texas.

“A lot of people get in that mindset of, ‘Oh, it’ll never happen to me. I just see it on the news,'” Derrick Higgs, one of the instructors, said.

The class focused on what law enforcement and military groups call “situational awareness” — knowing your surroundings and how you’ll respond if something bad happens. It can be as simple as sitting at a table with a view of the door when you go to a restaurant, or knowing which exit from a room will be your fastest getaway point.

Before classes start again at UT and colleges across the country in a few weeks, the instructors want students to know how to move and how to think.

“I catch myself thinking, ‘Oh, something that could go wrong is not going to go wrong because it hasn’t happened before,'” UT senior Connor Widder said.

If something does happen, Bulifant hopes this kind of training can give her an edge. “If I were to be approached,” she said, “I’d want to know how to get out of that.

Black Tree plans to host a bigger training class, for a fee, on the UT campus on Aug. 26. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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