NEW YORK – Americans are raring to kick some butt.
As the U.S. drops bombs on Taliban targets and special forces attempt to smoke out evildoers, civilians are preparing for the battle at home by learning self-defense tactics, furiously working out and even arming themselves.
"They want to feel empowered," said Kelly McCann, president and CEO of Crucible Security Specialists, which trains people in combative skills. "They want to do something, they want to feel connected to the answer somehow and they don't want to feel helpless, which is what terrorism is all about."
Since Sept. 11, Crucible, which mostly works with members of the Department of Defense and personnel from companies involved in controversial industries such as fur and nuclear power, has been inundated with requests from civilians who want to learn combat. "Suddenly people are all over us," he said.
But soft types need not apply at Crucible, according to McCann. "We aren't fooling around here. I'm not teaching you how to play a flute."
Participants must pass an initial criminal history and fitness screening, and be at least 28 years old to enroll in civilian-oriented courses such as Lesser Lethal Weapons, Combative Skills and Firearms.
Even people who don't have the time or inclination to learn professional combat are sweating out their wartime aggressions by hitting the local gyms. Health club membership and attendance numbers have gone up in the past month as people of all types have started to pump up.
"We are seeing increases in gym use … especially in key urban areas, like Chicago and New York," said Jon Harris, spokesperson for Bally Total Fitness, the nation's largest gym chain. "In addition to the gym being a place to get fit, it is a social place where people meet with friends, talk about day's events … They can get in shape mentally and physically."
Johnny McCully, personal training manager at Equinox gym on Manhattan's Upper West Side, created "C4 Fight Back," a class that teaches participants to "relinquish all fear of attack and walk in [with] confidence in the midst of adversity and be prepared to fight back."
In the first four days the class was advertised, McCully received almost 30 phone calls. "If this class gives [people] an added edge to help them through these tough times, when people are feeling vulnerable, then I've succeeded," he said.
But for some people, being in shape is not enough. Gun sales and visits to firing ranges have also become increasingly popular since terrorism caused average Americans to start questioning their safety.
"If you feel you could protect yourself it makes you feel better," Larry Dunn, store manager of Bay Country Guns in Annapolis, Md., said. "You have something you can use to defend your home.
"Right after the attacks we sold twice as many guns and ammunition as usual. A lot of females, couples and first-time buyers of firearms have come in. A lot of them say they've been thinking about it for a long time and this stopped them from procrastinating about getting a firearm for protection," Dunn said.
While guns provide some with a tangible tool, self-defense skills prepare the body and mind for troublesome situations, which is more than half the battle according to the experts.
"In high-level training we teach that it's really 90 percent mental, 10 percent technique," Crucible's McCann said. "It's important to have the physical skills, but if you have drive and instinct to believe 'I'm not going to let this happen to me,' that's what it takes."