It's a vicious cycle.
As one panting, red-faced defender stands in the center of the room, pair after pair of attackers try to take the student down.
"Next two," instructor Jeff Friedlis says. "Automatic attack - no wait."
And with that, the attackers pounce on the defender. But one falls, feet hitting a heating vent and breaking it off the wall. Another falls to his knees in a coughing fit.
Finally, at the end of the hour-and-a-half session, Friedlis faces the line of students for class announcements as they kneel on the floor in the small room of the Institute of Traditional Asian Martial Arts, 130 W. Grand River Ave.
Marketing sophomore Dave Hurst, who has been taking classes at the institute for more than a year, said although exercise and self-discipline are benefits of the lessons, martial arts also serve as a way to handle violent situations.
"We go incredibly hard near the end of class," he said after the evening class at the institute. "It could be like a real-life situation with a person running at you and attacking you."
The institute is one of several in the Lansing area offering classes for everything from forms of exercise and self-discipline to self-defense techniques such as kickboxing.
Friedlis said his students, who practice the Aiki Goshin-Jutsu system of takedowns, pins and finishing maneuvers, are also taught about the philosophy and artistic aspect of Asian martial arts.
"We differ from more modern or eclectic schools, schools who have been founded by instructors who combine many different arts into one style," he said. "For the most part, those arts are geared toward pure Americanized self-defense without any lineage to traditional aspects or deeper theories or philosophies of the arts."
Students can train from a basic white belt, or kyu, to the highest level, the black belt. And although Friedlis said the classes he teaches are more strictly traditional then many other martial arts classes, the aspect of practical usage is still a top priority.
"We use harmonious energy as opposed to blocking or kicking, usually based on physical force and leverage and speed," he said. "We base our movements on circular, flowing movements as opposed to hard, physical type movement."
And Friedlis said the use of circular, flowing movements allow a person of any size to defend themselves from a bigger or stronger attacker.
"We use the attacker's own physical energy, but we also use their intent as our weapon, as opposed to developing strong arms or lightning-fast punches or eye gouges or other forms of defending one's self," he said.
"Through rhythm and timing we learn how to harmonize with the attacker so we can neutralize that attack in a more harmonious way."
Other self-defense classes are being offered outside the traditional Asian martial arts realm.
Isaac Cohen will present an Israeli self-defense seminar at 7 p.m. today at the Hillel Jewish Student Center, 360 Charles St. Cohen, an Israeli who has lived in East Lansing for the past 14 years, said the class will teach students how to avoid dangerous situations, mainly through nonviolent techniques.
"There's no flashy movements or impressing anybody," he said. "We want to stop the problem there and now - it's not a wrestling match."
Cohen said the class at Hillel, which is open to the public, will include demonstrations of possible scenarios and audience participation.
But he said it's important to remember to deal with situations like road rage or verbal arguments with common sense, not violence.
"A big ego can go against you," he said. "The action here is about self-control and getting along with people. A big ego can create a misunderstanding."
Cohen said he's taught Israeli self-defense techniques in 10 different Middle Eastern countries. And although he said it's nearly impossible for people to defend themselves against situations such as suicide bombers, it's important for onlookers to keep their eyes open for suspicious looking people and packages.
The interest in taking precautions has heightened since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Cohen said.
"The events have proved that everyone is vulnerable," he said. "The attacker is one step ahead of you. He's watching you and knows your vulnerabilities and wants to take advantage of it.
"Keeping your eyes open and being aware makes it difficult for the attacker."
And although many might assume self-defense is an activity dominated by males, Cohen said since the class focuses mostly on avoiding confrontation and keeping a heightened awareness, many women can benefit as well.
"It's not just for guys," he said. "Every woman is able to defend themselves just like men. It's not the size of the woman in the fight that counts - it's the size of the fight."
But avoiding physical confrontation isn't always possible.
Dan Smith, an instructor at the American Martial Arts Academy, 1011 Northcrest Road in DeWitt, said students there learn techniques such as kickboxing and wrestling to use in a street fight.
"In this school, the best thing is that you'll get in great condition and everything you learn here you can use in the street," he said. "Nothing is a wasted technique."
Smith said classes at the academy are patterned after techniques perfected by martial arts prodigy Bruce Lee with the intention of educating men and women to fight off different kinds of possible attacks.
When learning different styles of martial arts, some believe it's important to learn to physically defend yourself, but Charlotte resident Clint Dare said what's most important is avoiding confrontation in the first place.
Dare, who trains regularly under Cohen, said being aware and knowing how the mind works is important in avoiding a fight.
"My favorite technique would be that you are never the aggressor in any type of situation," he said. "The teacher shows us you are basically defensive the whole time.
"That would be the main thing I love about it, because in this day and age, people taking martial arts could possibly get themselves in a serious bunch of trouble in the world we're living in today by being aggressors."