Safe and secure

Self-defense means more than packing a punch

Self-defense means more than packing a punch

August 12, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Pint-size Victoria Boward knows that no one can pick on her.

If bullies bother her at school, she has a host of tricks to shoo them away.

And if her clever, evasive maneuvers don't work, she can inform her bully, even though she's little, she's a green-belt karate student.

Victoria, 9, of Williamsport, has been taking karate lessons at Allstar Martial Arts in Hagerstown for about two years, says her mother, Wendy Boward. She started the lessons to learn focus, self-respect and self-discipline, but a nice side-effect is learning self-defense, Boward says.

"Girls need to know how to protect themselves," she says. Karate has "given (Victoria) the tools to stand up for herself properly."


It's a skill that all parents want their kids to have. As children negotiate school, day care and social settings, parents never know when dangers might arise in the form of bullies, strangers or out-of-line peers.

There are many things parents can do to raise safe kids, aware of their surroundings and able to get away from someone who is threatening them, says Mike Bolding, owner and master instructor at the Allstar Martial Arts centers.

Empowering children

"No. 1: Kids need to have permission from their parents to say no to adults," Bolding says. "You have to let them know that they have rights just like adults."

That can be hard to do, especially when parents are trying to teach children to respect adult authority.

Bolding and Jonathan Burke, owner of Apex Martial Arts studio in Orlando, Fla., say role-playing is the best way to educate kids about what adult and peer actions are inappropriate.

"You don't want people to be scared, you just want everyone to be aware," says Burke, who has developed a self-defense program called Cardio Defense. "My approach to self-defense for children is awareness. Attacks just don't happen - poof - out of nowhere."

That's why it's important for parents to talk to children about how they should react in different, threatening situations, he says. Attacks can happen anywhere, not just from strangers, and it's important to drill kids on what their response should be.

Barbara Feldman, martial arts master instructor and owner of Blue Heron Martial and Healing Arts in Charles Town, W.Va., says children should practice their self-defense reactions so that if they need to use them they can react instinctually instead of with fear.

She says enrolling kids in a self-defense-oriented program helps them develop verbal and physical skills to deal with a potentially dangerous person.

"One doesn't have to be a martial artist, but, if something happens, you know what to do," Feldman says.

Trained to be loud

Feldman trains youth, especially between ages 8 and 12, to yell loudly if someone grabs them. If they need to try to get away from someone, she teaches them to kick the attacker's knees and groin, or to poke them in the eyes.

"We always have the kids practice running and yelling 'Fire!'" Feldman says.

Shouting "Fire!" is often more likely to get adult attention since children often scream "Help!" when they are playing and joking around.

Bolding suggests telling kids to "name" what is happening to them.

"Yell, 'Help! You're not my dad!' Somebody's going to ask questions," he says, if kids are vocal about why they object to someone's touch.

Screaming "is going to be a child's greatest weapon," Burke says. "An assailant does not want noise drawn to the situation or to themselves. When kids use their mouths ... that's going to help them get out of the situation."

Bigger and stronger

When kids get a little older and grow in size and strength, other self-defense options are possible, Feldman says.

"In my mind, as a teenager, you have the right to defend yourself, and you're strong enough to defend yourself," she says.

While abduction is possible at any age, threats to teenagers are perhaps more common as acquaintance rape or intimidation by peers or older adults.

Sometimes preteen and teenage girls and boys receive unwanted attention or even inappropriate touches from classmates their age or older. Feldman finds that, when the situation is nonthreatening, adolescents don't want to call more attention to themselves or tell an adult. If the unwanted behavior does not stop after verbal requests, Feldman suggests educating youth to stomp hard on the person's foot and firmly say "Don't do that." She encourages both girls and boys to tell friends, a parent, teacher or trusted adult about what happened, in case further intervention is needed.

Buck Browning, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County, says students in his program are educated about refusal skills and recognizing danger both from their surroundings and from social situations.

As children age, he points out, dangers to their safety tend to come more from their peers or slightly older kids.

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