Lafayette Self Defense Company instructor Daniel Cothron wants Macon County's population to be hard targets for criminals.

A former mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor and bounty hunter, Cothron has been teaching local self-defense classes since last December, and he plans to begin working with youth (ages 5-11) next month through the Family Safe program.

"I feel like it's a need in the community, because every week you'll see something in the news about violent crime or child abductions," Cothron said. "It makes everyone feel a little better knowing they can protect themselves and their loved ones."

Cothron emphasizes fighting as a last resort in all of his classes, and that goes double for children.

"There is no way children can defend themselves against a grown adult with ill intent," Cothron said. "Teaching them is more about showing them how to avoid and escape a dangerous situation."

Children and their parents will work together to complete the two-hour class, which covers safety measures to use in a family setting or if a child needs to escape a situation alone.

"As far as the children go, it will be how to avoid, escape and fight your way through if you have to," Cothron said. "In a case where a child has to go, 'stranger danger' and run, everyone becomes a stranger if they don't know anyone. So, part of that is to help them identify people who are likely to be safe, like a mother with a bunch of children, a police officer or a firefighter."

Cothron noted that although "stranger danger" is a component of the program, his primary goal is to bring parents and children together to discuss safety.

"Family Safe isn't necessarily just for the kids, but parents as well," Cothron said. "They can work with each other to come up with a pre-threat plan that gives the child an indication of what not to go near and how to avoid dangerous situations."

Child abduction and trafficking are the major threats Cothron hopes to address through the program, though he said its lessons apply to all types of violent crime.

"The majority of all abductions happen from somebody the child already feels comfortable with and knows, so we bring the parent into the role because they have to be on the same game plan," Cothron said. "It seems like I've got a lot of people interested in the family safe program, and they feel the need for it."

Cothron brings previous experience working with children from his time at Compton's Martial Arts Academy, where he helped younger students work their way up the belt rankings.

"I started in martial arts and got into MMA and cage fighting," Cothron said. "When I became 21 or 22, I got into bail bonds and became a bounty hunter and found out my black belt didn't mean anything to anybody."

From there, Cothron pivoted to self-defense training and started looking for the most impactful program he could find, eventually deciding on the New Jersey-based Self Defense Company.

"We've got instructors all over the nation, and I'm licensed to use the name," Cothron said. "(The core of Self Defense Company) is based on World War II training, and we're constantly building new programs. We try to do something at least twice a month, and we want to build up to where we're doing something every Saturday."

Some of those classes include basic self-defense training, weaponretention classes for those with carry permits, and a more comprehensive four-week program called Self Defense Academy.

"One thing I'd like people to understand, especially in the gun community, is that you can't rely on firearms all the time," Cothron said. "If you could, the military wouldn't need to do hand-to-hand combat training. Taking a self-defense class to go with a carry permit is like another tool in the toolbox."

Classes are most commonly held at Macon Iron Fitness, but people also have the option for private home lessons

"What I'm doing is bringing the realistic side of self-defense to the community," Cothron said. "It's something that doesn't take years to master, and with one class, you can walk out feeling confident in your ability to protect yourself or your loved ones."