It's time to begin the class West Point cadets informally call "Kill and Maim." Without warning, the instructor, all 5'2" and 110 lbs. of her, rushes toward a solid West Point football player. Using her shoulder for leverage, she flips the 6'2", 180-lb. cadet into the air, then stands over his prone body and fakes a head stomp. "Recover," she commands and she scans the class's 24 other upperclassmen (including five women). "Okay," she snaps, "who can I pick on now?"

Forget Star Wars. The army's secret weapon is Marian Rockwell, 34. At the United States Military Academy at West Point she teaches two self-defense courses for women cadets and one coed course in unarmed combat. All three combine karate, judo and street-fighting techniques into an extremely effective don't-mess-with-me-mister system. Two of her female cadet students have been mugged while on leave in New York. In the first incident, her student dislocated the elbow of her attacker, sending him to the hospital. The second got her mugger's arm in an elbow-wrenching lock and landed him on the ground, screaming with pain. New York's finest gave West Point a call, Rockwell remembers happily. "They wanted to commend the Academy on its female cadets and to inquire into our instruction in self-defense."

West Point's program was developed for the Academy by Ray Wood, a martial arts expert with 10 years of study in Japan, and he has nothing but praise for Rockwell. "She inspires the women through her competence and executions, which are among the best I have seen," he says. "And for the men, she's an education. They get to see an attractive, very feminine woman teaching these techniques and then doing a bang-up job in defending herself against them."

In terms of fitness, Marian Rockwell is super qualified for her job. The daughter of a Pratt & Whitney technical writer and a registered nurse, she grew up in North Haven, Conn, trying to emulate her show-off, athletically gifted brother John, eventually following him into high school gymnastics. Not so much gifted as determined, she did 300 sit-ups a night to develop stamina and eventually captained the No. 1 national college gymnastic team, at the University of Massachusetts, where she got her B.S. in public health. She took up distance running, racking up 18 marathons while getting a master's in physical education at the University of Connecticut. In 1979 she landed a job at West Point and soon made her mark.

"I was about to present a certificate to Marian for sustained superior performance when they told me she was out running," recalls Col. James Anderson, director of physical education. "I just assumed she had forgotten. But when I walked into the room, Marian was there, fresh from the shower. Her hair was still damp, but she'd just set a new record for distance running."

The cadets call Rockwell "the studette." "She can outdo guys physically, not only in self-defense, but in running, push-ups, gymnastic moves, everything," says cadet Diane Bodnar, 19. Notes Colonel Anderson: "As women become more and more involved in nontraditional roles, the threat of violence is going to grow. Self-defense is not a sport; it's a life-and-death matter."

Among Rockwell's recommendations to women cadets: wear flats or sneakers if you're walking home alone at night; use car keys clenched between fingers as brass knuckles; jam your lower palm into the attacker's nose with an upward motion and knee straight up into the groin. And "never hesitate," she admonishes. "Don't be a victim. Fight back. A moment of indecision can make the difference between life and death."

Her husband, Nicholas Rockwell, 37, who owns a car repair shop in nearby Fort Montgomery, N.Y., refers to her as "an adorable lethal weapon." At home, he says, "she's the kind of person who brings home wounded squirrels, birds and butterflies and nurses them back to health. She could never really hurt anybody." Marian is not so sure. She's never been attacked, but "if I were," she says, "I would put up a hell of a good fight. I'm not afraid of man, beast or the unknown. Besides I think I could outrun anyone I couldn't tackle."

It's a safe bet. At home, which she shares with Nicholas and his 15-year-old son, Chris, the living room is kept bare so that it can serve as her workout room. When not teaching, she runs eight to 12 miles a day, and she bicycles the seven miles to work and back in all weather. She also lifts weights. "I guess," she laughs, "I'm a jock of all trades."

And there is no question she inculcated her students with a fighting spirit. Says cadet Lynette Bruecker: "If somebody is coming at me and tries to kill me or hurt me, I would have no morals about poking out his eyes. If it's his eye or my life, I'd sooner have it be his eye. Both his eyes, and his nose."

  • Contributors:
  • Barbara Rowes.