LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Thousands of women have learned how to defend themselves from being a victim of rape as part of a self-defense class offered in La Crosse. Twenty-two of those women have told the instructor the skills they learned helped them fight off an attacker.

If you want to protect yourself from a potential attacker, it's not enough to just learn about safety. To fight through your fear, you have to physically train.

Fighting is a lot like playing piano. Granted, it does look and sound a little different, But the point is, if you expect to sit down and play Mozart if you've never touched the keys before, you're going to be very disappointed. And as Master Larry Klahn will be quick to tell you, it's the same concept when it comes to self defense.

"You train a strike. And then you do it again. And you do it again...It's the ability to do something without thought. And the way our brains work, is it works well in repetition. We have to keep reinforcing that synaptic pathway. And when we do, you may be subjected to horrendous stress but you'll always fall back on what you were trained to do," said Klahn.

It takes about the same amount of force to break a 1-inch pine board as it does to break a human rib. If you can break a board, breaking a nose should be no problem.

But it’s something Sparta resident Jackie Urban thought she’d never be able to do.

"How could I possibly do that? I've never done that before," said Urban.

Urban enrolled in the class after she thought she heard someone breaking into her house one night. It turned out to be nothing, but she realized she wasn't prepared to defend herself.

When it was her turn to break a board, she did it on the first try. And she's not alone. Every single woman in this class broke a board.

"One of the reasons we have you break boards is to prove to that mid-brain that, hey, this works. I can do this," said Klahn.

But sometimes the brain reacts to this class in strange ways. A few of the women started having nightmares.

"Someone attacking me as I get in the car to go home, or walking across the parking lot, or having to open the door and someone jumps in at you. Sometimes that's what I dream," said Urban.

And when she tried to fight back in her dreams, it didn’t work.

"It may manifest itself as a confrontation and your strikes don't work. You remember all of them, you're hitting them just as hard as you can and nothing's happening," said Klahn.

But as the weeks of the class go on, the dreams start changing.

"I seem to have a little bit more power. Instead of just waking up startled and scared, I actually see myself fighting back with the skills that I'm gaining. You know, someone's choking you and you spin out and smack them in the nose," said Urban.

"It takes a lot to walk in that door to do this. What do we do? We bring every nightmare to life. Every scenario that is just like, 'Oh my God, I hope that never happens to me'-- we try to bring it to life. Why? Because once you have faced it and fought through it, you own it. It's done and it's gone," said Klahn.