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Self-defense classes teach older Asian Americans how to fight back as hate crimes increase

Classes teach Asian Americans self-defense
Classes teach Asian Americans self-defense as hate crimes rise 01:40

They've been taunted and had close calls, but a group of Asian American seniors had never formally learned how to physically defend themselves. 

After someone told his father to go back to China, Sammy Yuen, who has been trained in martial arts, started teaching self-defense classes at University Settlement Center. He said his father's experience disturbed him. 

"I wish I was there," he told CBS News. "And so I just felt like I had to ... help the people that I can here in New York."

He's helping people like New York City native Mary Yuen, who is in her 70s. In addition to the physical training, Mary Yuen said the most important thing she has learned from the classes is "to be very aware of your surroundings." 

"I'm always very aware, but I do have friends who are older, younger, they don't pay attention," Mary Yuen told CBS News. 

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have risen dramatically since the start of the pandemic. In New York City, anti-Asian attacks rose 343% last year, according to the New York City Police Department. 

"The simple goal is just to empower the students to be able to go outside, to do their chores, go to work, and just get home safely, be aware of threats before they happen, and give yourself time to get away," Sammy Yuen said.

The classes are funded by the Alicia and Jason Lee Foundation in partnership with University Settlement.

Mary Yuen now carries that knowledge with her, as well as gratitude for her young teacher. 

"He's really wonderful. He's very dedicated," she said. "He doesn't mind if you punch him the wrong way."

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