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Martial Arts Can Save Lives

Getting Your Child Into Martial Arts Training

During the past two years, the media has been inundated with stories of abducted children, and it is rare for children to be found alive. As parents, it's easy to think such a thing could never happen to our children simply because it's what we want to believe. The alternative is too horrific to even consider.

Living in a small town, neither my children nor I can go into any retail store without meeting someone who knows us. While shopping, we seldom worry about leaving our car windows down to help fight the South Texas heat. Doors of houses are left unlocked and even the smallest of dogs is considered an adequate warning system for danger. Children are told not to speak to strangers, but few receive any true training in self-defense. I give thanks everyday because by watching my husband and me training in the martial arts, our eldest daughter, Vicki, decided to begin her training as well.

A Close Call

On May 14, 2002, Vicki, who was 13, was running late for the school bus. She followed her normal routine and stopped two houses up the road to walk with her friend Teresa, because she knew I never allowed her to travel the 1/2 mile to the bus stop alone. On that day, her friend was too ill to go to school, and Vicki decided to go on to the bus stop instead of coming back home for me. It didn't take her long to regret that decision.

The bus itself was running late so Vicki sat down on the grass beside the road and became engrossed in a book. She was so caught up in the story, she never noticed the pick up that passed, stopped up the road and then backed up to her until one of the two men inside spoke to her.

Their request seemed simple enough, but Vicki told me later it was like a flashback to a karate class we had two years earlier in which we discussed the most common and effective ploys that child predators use. In fact, they used the same exact words, "My dog got out of the fence last night, and we haven't been able to find him anywhere. Have you seen a black lab running loose?"

The men took it to the next step and asked her to come over to the truck so they could show her a photo of the dog. By this time, Vicki was already backing further away from the road as she told the men she hadn't seen any dogs. While she knew her refusal to approach the truck wasn't the response these men were looking for, she was shocked when the driver opened his door and began approaching her. As she turned to run, he began his pursuit in earnest, and when he grabbed the neck of her T-shirt from behind, she froze in fear. It was only when he let go of the shirt and grabbed her wrist that her martial arts training took over and allowed her to escape. This escape wasn't achieved by following the time-honored advice of every girl's mother to "Kick them where it hurts the most," but by an actual martial arts technique that had been practiced so many times, it had become instinctual.

Within two weeks and a few blocks of Vicki's encounter, there was an attempted abduction of a 13-year-old girl who was out rollerblading with a friend. A few days later, a 12-year-old girl was abducted, raped and left in a ditch many miles from home.

A Plan of Action

These were not random occurrences or isolated events. The threat of abduction, molestation, rape and death are very real threats to all children in every part of the country, and parents need to remember that both male and female children are at risk. As a parent, it is our responsibility to provide protection for our children, but regardless of how vigilant we may be, there are always times when we aren't going to be close at hand.

So what can a parent do to help protect their child when they are at the mall, out walking with a friend or waiting for the school bus? Simple, encourage them to enroll in a martial arts program and learn at least the basics of self-defense. Of course, a major issue in this is finding the right martial arts program for both you and your child.

When asked for advice on choosing a martial arts school for children, Grand Master Sandy Tomaselli (8th degree black belt) of Dragon's Den Karate in Humble, Texas, who is also a member of the Harris County Precinct 3 Constable's office, gave these tips:

  • Call and find schools that are willing to give students a few free lessons. This will give an opportunity for both the parent and the child to observe the martial arts style and the teaching methods of the instructors.
  • Attend various styles in this manner. There are hundreds of different martial arts styles, and no one style is suited for every possible student.
  • Avoid schools that require long-term contracts. In today's economy, it is difficult to say what you may or may not be able to afford in six months or a year. There is also the problem with children who lose interest, become unable to participate or get caught up in extracurricular school activities. The karate schools that require contracts aren't concerned with these matters and will insist on payment regardless of whether or not the student attends class. If the contract isn't met, they will often turn accounts over to collection agencies.
  • There are no guarantees in martial arts, so don't be lured by promises of a black belt being earned within one or two years.
  • Karate uniforms and sparring equipment is not only expensive but also required for tournament participation. That doesn't mean the student should be required to purchase these items on the first day of class. A new student should be allowed to participate in loose-fitting, comfortable clothes to see if he or she is going to stick with the program. Various schools may require specific styles of uniforms with their school logos and patches. Once purchased, a student could have to purchase these items again if he or she decides to attend a different school.
  • Parents should stay and observe the classes. Is there a showing of mutual respect between students and instructors? Martial arts teaches a student respect while giving him or her a feeling of self-confidence and self-esteem. These lessons can't be learned where humiliation or ridicule is used as a method of training. Also, an instructor should be able to retain control of the class at all times.
  • Ask to see the instructor's credentials. Black belt certificates are easily faked. Find out who the instructor's sensei (instructor) was and call for references. Anyone can go down to a martial arts supply store and buy a black belt for $8 to $10. That belt doesn't make them qualified to be an instructor.

"I always encourage the parents of my junior students to take the classes along with their children," Master Tomaselli says. "It provides quality time for the parent and child both in and outside the dojo (karate school). When the parent takes the class with the child, it encourages the child to see someone else struggling to perfect techniques, allows them to practice together at home and will often lead to the child sticking with the program.

"Last but not least, any parent who watches the news or reads a paper should know that children aren't the only ones who need to be able to defend themselves. After all, that is what the martial arts are all about. We don't teach a child to be aggressive, like so many would believe, but simply the art of self-defense. You can bet that for almost every carjacking, kidnapping, rape or murder, someone believed that it wouldn't happen to them. No one wants to be a victim, and while no single technique will work 100 percent of the time in every situation, isn't it better to at least have a fighting chance? To know that if danger does approach you, you will have some idea of how to avoid or survive it?"

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