Martial arts, law enforcement, and security: Rob Aviles pursues safety and self defense 

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Erica Jiang , Staff writer

“When people hear the term self-defense they tend to fear it, thinking that it’s a bad thing, but for me, I’m in a world of being preventative,” Public Safety Officer Rob Aviles said. “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” Aviles teaches the situational awareness unit in the school’s health classes and runs his own martial arts studio outside of school.

Before joining the school’s public safety department, Aviles worked as a sergeant for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). He served as a supervisor for his precinct, overseeing all of the officers. “I was in charge of their training, making sure their work was being done up to par, and the administration and logistics of deploying the officers,” Aviles said. “I was like the go-to person in the office.” 

After he retired from the NYPD in 2016, Aviles began teaching law enforcement tactics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and for the State. He currently consults for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, training instructors in law enforcement tactics, who then train NYS recruits and police officers. The curriculum covers law enforcement defensive tactics, including hand to hand combat skills such as striking and grappling, arrest tactics, handcuffing concepts, baton training, communication training, adult learning, coaching, and legal procedures, Aviles said. 

In 2018, Aviles started to work part time for the school. He was first invited to train school staff by Assistant Director of Public Safety Pete Clancy. “I used to work with Pete, and he felt the need to get some training done for the staff and told me that there was a position available,” Aviles said. “For me, because I was already working with the NYS training Law Enforcement officers on a consulting basis, I thought you know what, this is something that I might like – it’s a see where it goes kind of thing, it’s something different.”

Now, Aviles teaches the situational awareness section of the Physical Education Health class with Assistant Athletic Director and Physical Education Department Chair Amy Mojica. “I wind up teaching that probably three quarters throughout the year,” Aviles said. The situational awareness section of the Health curriculum was first introduced in 2018 when Aviles joined the staff. “An interested student mentioned it to Ms. Mojica, so she then looked toward public safety and reached out to me because I had that background.”

The situational awareness unit covers what situational awareness is and how to recognize cues that indicate potentially unsafe situations. It also teaches tactics such as basic strikes, wrist grab defense escapes, movement training, and how to break your fall and get back up to your feet in the event you are pushed to ground, Aviles said. 

Outside of the school, Aviles is passionate about martial arts and runs his own studio in Chester, NY, called Aviles Mixed-Martial Arts. Aviles first started martial arts when he was five years old as a result of his father’s encouragement. “My father trained at a studio, so he started to bring me to classes –– eventually he became an instructor too,” Aviles said. Aviles first started learning Karate, and then continued exploring other martial arts such as Judo and Jiu Jitsu. “It’s something that, for whatever reason, just fills so many voids,” he said. “You learn how to become an individual while still focusing on working within a team.”

Aviles opened his studio in 2018. His motivation for launching his own studio was simply that he holds a deep love for teaching about self-defense and enjoys being around like-minded people who are always trying to better themselves, mentally, physically, and emotionally. “It’s really rewarding to see people enjoy martial arts,” Aviles said. “What use is it if I hold onto this information and it just stays with me?” 

Before the pandemic, Aviles’ studio taught both adults and kids. He was forced to switch studios due to the pandemic and is only teaching adults for the moment, but is excited to bring back the kids’ program in the future, he says. “We always discourage ourselves before we even try, so it’s rewarding to see the look on people’s faces when they really want to train and take the benefits.” Aviles also trains his three daughters in the basement of their house, which is equipped with mats and weights, he said. “We have an active lifestyle so they train with me at the house a lot.” 

In addition, Aviles believes knowing that one can defend themselves helps build confidence. “Because of the day to day struggles in training, you start to respect the human dynamics of life,” he said. “It just checks so many boxes.” 

Aviles has also brought his Judo skills to the school, as he taught Judo to the school’s Japanese classes in 2019 for Japan Day. “The Japanese teacher at the time sat down at lunch one day and mentioned that she was Japanese, and Judo originates in Japan, so I told her I trained Judo and she invited me to teach at the festival.” Aviles taught Judo to 15 students, including a few that had already gone through the situational awareness unit in Health, he said. “The energy from all the students and their willingness to learn and take on something new was very cool, they were all in.”  

On a typical day at the school, Aviles is stationed at the Lutnick guard desk. “I do anything from safety to what I like to call high end customer service, having answers to any potential problems,” Aviles said. He proactively pinpoints issues early on so they do not become a larger problem in the future, he said. “We monitor cameras and basically pay attention to the inner and outer workings of the school,” he said. “We look for cues of any type of scenario that could be potentially unsafe.” 

On top of monitoring the school community’s physical safety, Aviles offers his aid in myriad other ways. “I like to say that we fill the void like referees or umpires, they’ve done their job if you haven’t realized that they were there,” Aviles said. “I’m observing actions and paying attention to the circumstances so that I can anticipate needs, even if that may just be handing someone a pencil.” Aviles helps students locate items in the Lost and Found, helps visitors who do not know where they are going, and pays attention to any person in need of medical or emotional assistance, he said. 

For both himself and his students, practicing martial arts can improve health, relieve stress, prevent injury, develop camaraderie, and most importantly, pose a discomfort, Aviles said. “You need to train yourself to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and challenge yourself so that in any unknown experience you can avoid going primal, reacting unconsciously, and avoid tunnel vision.” 

With working at the school during the day and running his own business at night three to four days a week, Aviles requires structure in his day-to-day life, he said. Though Aviles does employ one other instructor at his studio to help him, he is still very busy with work and spending time with his kids. “Structure and discipline buys freedom, so I’m very structured in what I do and I don’t waste time worrying about little things.” Instead, he worries most about not doing anything. “I’m always trying to do something because as we get older, time gets smaller, so you need to learn to be efficient.”

Ultimately, Aviles believes martial arts and self defense permeate all areas of life. “Self defense is an approach to learn how to be under stress and reverse engineer scenarios on the fly. That’s what life is about— it’s about being able to react under stress very quickly,” he said. “You want to respond as opposed to react.” 

When he worked for the NYPD, Aviles always had to respond to calls concerning crimes such as robberies. “Your adrenaline’s high but you need to make sure you’re at the right location, you have the right person, and you deploy in a safe manner,” he said. Aviles’ martial arts experience helps him stay calm and weigh all of his options before deciding how he is going to handle a situation.

Martial arts also transforms a person’s perspective, Aviles said. “You realize that you can dictate where things are going, and if something doesn’t work out, you can take it and build from it,” he said. “In any situation, either you win or you learn.” 

Aviles believes the activity helps people move from a closed to a growth mindset, because they are actively breaking down a skill in order to master it. “Everyday you need to make the conscious choice to break big things apart and always keep moving forward –– the sky’s the limit.”