With reports of violence and abuse against the elderly on the rise, Tel Aviv and the El Halev nonprofit martial arts organization have initiated a self-defense program aimed at teaching senior citizens how to protect themselves. "It is not just about kicking and punching," Yudit Sidikman, founder and treasurer of El Halev, the Israel Women's Martial Arts Federation, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "It's more about creating awareness of how to stay safe." Sidikman is one of 20 female martial arts instructors at El Halev (www.elhalev.org), an organization that works to advance women and girls through the martial arts. The group has been commissioned by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality to run self-defense workshops for the elderly - both men and women - in 14 locations citywide. El Halev, which is headquartered in Jerusalem, runs similar courses elsewhere in the country but this is the first time that a municipality has hired them to assist the pensioners under its jurisdiction, said Sidikman. "Every time one elderly person is attacked, it changes the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of other elderly people, who suddenly feel vulnerable and are afraid to go out," she explained. "Our goal is to change that, so that people are not petrified." According to Sidikman, who made aliya from New Jersey in 1983 and has also taught martial arts to children with special needs, the key is self-confidence and self-awareness. "We teach people to project confidence and help them to understand their right to say 'no,'" she said. "We also teach them how to make smart choices - for example, to decide if it is worth fighting for your purse or better to give it up to an attacker so that you won't be hurt." In addition, El Halev courses teach participants practical techniques such as how to fall properly if pushed, how to use a cell phone to ward off attackers and how to talk through various forms of aggression. Sidikman said that many of the elderly people who have already taken her classes report that they've been victims of attacks in the past, while many more are simply scared of becoming victims. For Jerusalem-based Joan Shrenski, the decision to join a self-defense class at El Halev was an easy one. "A friend of mine had taken the course and it literally saved her life," Shrenski told the Post. "It taught her how to fall safely and in her case it saved her from having severe broken bones." Shrenski, 63, who made aliya from the US more than 27 years ago, added that after starting to take the classes she realized that it was also a "good way to prepare" herself for any kind of attack. "I hope I won't need to use it but there is so much elder abuse today and it's not a bad idea to be prepared," continued Shrenski, who has been taking the course at the El Halev center in the capital's Talpiot industrial zone for the past month-and-a-half. "People who are less able-bodied do get picked on. I walk with a cane and know that I could be at risk but luckily [the instructor] has incorporated that into the course too." Last year, more than 26,432 complaints of violence were made by senior citizens to various official bodies, including the police and social welfare services. Of that figure, 84 percent of the claims came from seniors in their very advanced years and 9% came from new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The most complaints received came from metropolitan Tel Aviv (7,651); Haifa lodged 2,130 complaints and Netanya 1,497.