A lesson in self-confidence [The Courier-News, by Janelle Walker, 8/12/2010]

CARPENTERSVILLE — Bullies, according to one fifth-grader at Lakewood Elementary School, are people who don’t feel good about themselves, so they pick on other people.

Martial arts, such as those demonstrated to the school’s physical education classes this week, can help those bullies find self-confidence and self-control so they don’t feel the need to pick on others.

And for children who are bullied, martial arts can give them the confidence to stand up for themselves, look the bully in the eye, and tell them to stop, said Rick Steinmaier, whose Kim’s Black Belt Academy conducted the demonstrations.

Steinmaier reached out to several area schools this summer, offering to come in and teach children martial arts basics. Leann Granell, one of the physical education teachers at Lakewood, took him up on that offer.

She was particularly interested in focusing on bullying, an issue that has come into the forefront following the suicides of students around the country this year. Many of those students were reported to be victims of bullying.

Research shows that students who are bullied are far more likely to be suicidal, Steinmaier said. Boys who are bullied are five times more likely to take their own lives, and girls eight times more likely, he said.

The data on bullies themselves also are troubling, Steinmaier said. Statistics show that 60 percent of boys who are identified as bullies in school end up being convicted of crimes by the time they are 24 years old, he said.

Standing up to bullies

While the best way to stop bullying behavior is to tell an adult, Steinmaier said, it also works to stand up for oneself.

“Sometimes, all it takes is to look them in the eye and say, ‘You are bothering me. Stop it,’ ” Steinmaier said. “We are afraid to look someone in the eye, because it intimidates us. Once you have said that … odds are it will stop.”

Martial arts are not about violence and beating up bullies or the weak, Steinmaier said.

“We are talking about self-defense,” he said. “What we learn at the academy is not to be taken outside the academy.”

For students who are not involved in other sports, art or music, martial arts can be the niche that helps them find self-confidence, Granell added.

During Wednesday’s classes, just 35 minutes each, Steinmaier ran the students through basics such as what he calls the “big dog drill.” As if a big dog was chasing them, students ran in place, leaned forward to run uphill, back to go downhill, ducked like under a tree branch, jumped like leaping a fence, and side-stepped — like dodging an Illinois pothole.

Kicks, punches and barrel rolls completed the quick lesson.

“It is a little taste of what martial arts are like,” Granell said. Some students really got into it; others were less interested, she added.

Stress reliever

For those who are interested, Steinmaier offered a two-month scholarship to the Elgin-based Kim’s Black Belt Academy. Students were asked to write an essay talking about bullying — what it feels like to be bullied, how to stop it, or what to do when they witness it. The teachers will review those essays, and one student from each class, up to 11, will be offered the scholarship if their parents agree. The winning students will be honored in an all-school assembly prior to their winter break.

Lorimer Artaga, 12, of Carpentersville, said he planned to complete the essay and hoped he would get to use the scholarship. He’s been bullied, Artaga said, and admitted he has bullied himself.

“I got mostly experience about how to posture” during the class, he said. It also showed him there are other ways to get one’s anger out other than lashing out at others. “You can go there to get your stress out.”

The class also showed the sixth-grader that he does have power. “I felt my capacity of my strength. It could be something I could do in the future. It was like nothing else I have ever done,” Artaga said.

Kids who get into martial arts because of the one-class session could find themselves with an activity they enjoy for the rest of their lives, Granell added.

“They were exposed to an activity that many of them don’t get a chance to see,” she said. “It exposes kids to an opportunity and something they could do one a daily basis.”