- Jason Mann
- Two students face off at Pine Creek High School
General Sun Tzu, author of the classic The Art of War, said, "The greatest general is not one who can defeat a hundred enemies in a hundred battles, rather it's the one that controls things so well that the need to fight never arises."
Avoidance, not response, is the highest level of martial arts defense. That belief lies at the heart of the Streetwise Self-protection Program, a martial arts program offered by the nonprofit American Black Belt Academy. ABBA teaches that, with the proper training, 99 percent of all conflicts can be avoided or resolved before reaching a level of violent confrontation. It's a long-acknowledged fact that martial arts training can be invaluable in those rare situations when confrontation is absolutely unavoidable. But the program empowers students to avoid confrontation by developing their inner strengths.
"We try to teach principles that work all the time, anywhere," says Kyoshi (master instructor) Terry L. Bryan, president of ABBA, and Streetwise program founder. Four years ago Bryan saw the need for a community-based martial arts program in area high schools, where the seeds of self-esteem and self-confidence are meant to be sown, but all too often get trampled, despite educators' best efforts.
"If you look at gangs and drugs, those are symptoms," Bryan continues. "What's causing them? Well, it's lack of self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and lack of ability to set goals in life. Those are the elements that are causing the problems. Let's heal the problem, not the symptoms."
For the past three years, the Streetwise martial arts program has been offered as an accredited physical education elective in District 20 high schools. In the fall, the program will also be available to Coronado and Lewis-Palmer students, and selected middle schools in D-20. The program offers instruction in traditional Okinawan Shaolin Kempo Karate, with an emphasis on positive reinforcement. Through the development of martial arts techniques, students are taught how to think ahead of time and to avoid situations where violence, rape or negative influences, such as drugs, might arise.
As Bryan walks on campus one morning at Pine Creek High School, it is immediately clear that he is no ordinary gym class instructor, nor is he seen as one. The Kyoshi glides amid the morning throng of students hurrying this way and that in the halls, moving with a light, sliding grace and placid smile that belies his husky, teddy bear-like frame. Students stop and bow, offering greetings, "Good morning, Kyoshi," before continuing on their way.
In the wrestling room, where classes are held, the students' attention never wanes, and throughout the class their decorum is a model of courtesy and respect, always answering, "Yes, sir" or "Yes, ma'am" when addressing the Sensei (teacher). The students practice the outward martial arts techniques intended to repel an attacker, turning their somewhat awkward teenage bodies into graceful, flowing forms.
But the larger, truer transformation happens on an internal level. Once slouching, grumpy teens find themselves standing erect and confident. The life-giving essence, the qi, begins to flow within them, unimpeded by distractions such as peer pressure, vanity and pride. Confidence blooms and is accompanied by equal parts self-respect and respect for others. That inner-transformation is the one that provides the most self-defense.
"You learn that walking away is the easiest," says Nathan Gabriel, a brown belt senior at Pine Creek.
Pine Creek High School principal Steve Moran, who also earned his black belt through the ABBA, says that he's received "lot's of encouraging e-mails" from parents, students and former students who have gone on to apply the lessons learned in the program in the real world. "It does a lot for kids," Moran says. "We're talking about life-long lessons here and skills that prepare you for every situation."
The classes are taught by either Bryan or one of his ABBA black belt instructors. One of the school's P.E. teachers is also present, though for reasons of protocol more than instruction. In fact the P.E. teachers are also students of the program. In the true spirit of Karate-do (the way of karate), each student is also expected to act as a Sempai, a junior teacher, to those ranked below them. Green belts mentor yellow belts, purple belts mentor green belts, and brown belts mentor purple belts, thus empowering students with the responsibility and confidence of authority.
"The typical scenario is with a real quiet, shy, reserved person who just never excelled at anything," Bryan says. "After a semester or two of karate, all of a sudden they come out of their shell and they're more assertive and they tell you what they want, what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. And you say, 'Great, you're taking command of your life.' That is awesome. To think that the martial arts somehow played a part in that is truly enchanting."
Bryan, is an eighth dan (degree black belt) who holds degrees in social work and child psychology, as well as a masters degree in education. He has been teaching martial arts for 31 years and is one of the few people to have earned a doctorate in martial arts and to be recognized as a "Living Legend" by the Japanese royal family. He is also a founder of the International Professional Martial Arts Association, which developed a standard of ethics and behavior, consisting of 58 tenets that member martial arts instructors must adhere to.
In the fall, ABBA will offer an after-school Child Abduction Protection Program at its dojo for elementary age children, addressing the needs implied by two national studies. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 50,000 children disappear every year, and The Children's Defense Fund estimates that 5.2 million children under the age of 13 are left alone, unsupervised, each day.
Five days a week, Sensei Diane Barrowclough will teach the children karate. The program also teaches children how to act appropriately in potential abduction situations, including scenarios in which a stranger says they are a friend of their parents, or a stranger calls when the child is home alone, or a stranger asks the child to help find a lost pet.
In true Karate-do tradition, Bryan sees as the ABBA's ultimate goal a self-propagating system where the students who achieve Sensei black belt level in high school will in turn instruct students at the elementary and middle school levels.
The Streetwise program is also offered to groups, organizations and businesses in the community. ABBA offers two-hour presentations on self-defense and safety awareness free of charge, and more intensive, specialized programs for a nominal fee.
"Part of learning the martial arts is learning that you aren't in it for the money," Bryan says. "You are in it because you have an obligation to teach people. Everyone deserves a life free from fear."
The cost for the Streetwise Self-protection Program is $159 per semester, which includes gi (the uniform), insurance, and access to study materials. For more information on participating in the program, call Kyoshi Terry Bryan at 598-0398.