Walking away from bullies
Martial arts program teaches students what to do when they're being picked on
RANTOUL — Jaree walks up to Tavionne and insults him in a threatening manner.
Tavionne replies, "I like your shoes," and walks off.
The simulated encounter was a demonstration for fellow kindergarten students at Eastlawn School of how to diffuse a situation in which a bully seeks to intimidate someone.
The children were only acting, but situations like these play out for real in hundreds, if not thousands, of instances across the playgrounds of the United States each day.
Students at Eastlawn were taught by Jamie Eldridge, an instructor from Leaders for Life Martial Arts, Champaign, how to handle bullying incidents. The instruction is designed to prevent would-be bullies from harassing classmates and how those being bullied can handle a situation.
Instead of teaching karate kicks, the lesson involves a different approach.
"Bullying has become a big issue," Eldridge said. "Like President Obama said, we've got to do something about this."
The martial arts academy has been seeking to do something about bullying for several years.
Eldridge said the programs are designed to empower children and to convince them that they can make a difference to prevent the bully from having his way.
"Many times there are maybe 50 adults at a school at a time, but there's maybe 300 kids, so in reality who sees the most bullying? It's the kids," Eldridge said.
Students need to help. They need to realize that they shouldn't hide bullies from teachers and others in authority, according to the instructor.
"We teach kids what to do if they're being bullied — to give a compliment," he said. "We don't want to teach kids to fight. We want them to walk away.
"They need to protect themselves. If they're getting beat up, they need to protect themselves."
The main objective in teaching children self-protection is to "get the person off them and get away."
Then they should go tell a teacher.
Being among friends is important, too.
"The biggest thing is bullies like to pick on kids who are alone," Eldridge said. "A bully's not going to pick on one kid in a giant group. Get around people that you trust."
Eldridge said the classes also teach students to speak up for themselves.
"You have to use your voice like 'Leave me alone' and look them in the face," he said.
It isn't an easy thing to learn, but it does work, the instructor said.
"I have one kid who has autism and he's a nine-time world champion," Eldridge said. "I see what martial arts does for kids. When he started, he had no balance. He would trip over air.
"A lot of them are scared at first. We empower them and help them."
Eldridge said many people believe bullies act like they do because of low self-esteem. That's not the case.
"It's usually a power struggle," he said. "A lot of times it's somebody who's got a lot of power already who does the picking. It's not somebody with low self-esteem who does it."
Most of the students appear to appreciate the programs.
Eldridge said one girl ran up to Eldridge's boss after presenting a program and asked him if he would be her daddy.
"It just shows the impact we have on them," he said.
Tina Newberry — who with husband, Jeff, operates their martial arts academies in Champaign, Mahomet and Effingham — said she has seen the effect of the programs.
"We've had a lot of teachers who have said it really gave a lot of awareness to our classrooms," Newberry said. "Their classrooms were more settled. The kids had more of an awareness of the effects of bullying.
"We have had some individual testimonies of parents who have come to our ... courses, ... and it opened up communication within their household to allow the kids to express their needs, that they need to be protected a little bit more (and) about the mental anguish they've been going through."
Eldridge said the academy is Christ-centered.
"Jesus is what empowers me to do this," he said. "It's not my power. He wants to touch lives."
Newberry said some students who have gone through the in-school programs have enrolled at their academy.
One student said he applied what he learned "and the bully doesn't pick on me any more. As a matter of fact, we became friends," Newberry said of the student.
"Our goal is to get the kids to monitor themselves ... and we're going to stand up for each other. It's not popular to be bullied. It's more popular to stand up for people who are being bullied," Newberry said.