Creating beams of confidence through self-defense


As a survivor of abuse, Karen Knudsen empowers women through self-defense classes. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst/UV Mag)

Karen Knudsen’s favorite moment as a self-defense instructor is watching women stand a little taller — largely because she had to grow along her own journey.

The first blow to Karen’s self-confidence came when she was raped at age 9.

“It really impacted my self-esteem,” says Karen, who lives in Spanish Fork. “I no longer felt like I was one of the other girls. I felt broken and worthless, and I really struggled in my childhood and in my adolescence to find my worth.”

When she turned 21, Karen married and although now she looks back and sees red flags in the relationship, the butterflies and her youthful naivety blinded her to the dangers of the situation. Her husband quickly became controlling and abusive, and that marriage ended in divorce.

Anxiety and fear plagued her until she enrolled in the self-defense course at the Orem Police Department. The class gave her confidence and helped heal past wounds.

“It was during the advanced course that I really started to find my worth and I got to a place where I realized I didn’t deserve what happened to me,” Karen says. “For a long time I carried guilt and shame, which a lot of women carry.”

When one of the self-defense instructors was moving out of state, he asked Karen if she had thought about becoming a self-defense instructor.

“I laughed because I couldn’t kick as hard and I couldn’t punch as hard as the rest of my classmates,” Karen says.

“My calling is to help women. We won’t always have pepper spray or a knife, so it’s important for a woman to know how to use her hands and feet.” — Karen Knudsen, self-defense instructor

But her passion and example of rising above adversity and afflictions made her the perfect candidate. She began teaching and is now remarried and a mother to three children.

“My calling is to help women,” Karen says. “We won’t always have pepper spray or a knife, so it’s important for a woman to know how to use her hands and feet.”

As the women learn moves to protect themselves, they also gain the feeling they are worth protecting.

“Every morning when I wake up it’s my goal to ask who can I help smile today and who can I help empower today,” Karen says. “ I love it when I can get a woman to say, ‘I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.’”

Karen teaches classes with the Orem and Spanish Fork Police departments and for other groups of women.

“As long as women keep coming to me, I’ll keep teaching,” Karen says. “I don’t have a huge goal in mind; I’m just going where Heavenly Father wants me to go and if women stop calling me tomorrow, then that’s awesome. If it lasts more than 20 years, that’s awesome, too.”

Add your light

To learn about Karen’s self-defense classes, visit Spanish Fork Women’s Self Defense Facebook Page or call/text Karen at (801) 404-6546.


Utah Valley is Lindsey's home away from her Colorado Springs home. She writes for Utah Valley Magazine, and Prosper Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @lindsey5brooke.

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