The students lined up in three rows in a classroom.
After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and Lord’s Prayer, it was time to get down to business practicing hammer fists, back fists, one-hand grabs, one-hand chokes and ground kicks.
The techniques are just as important to learn as the lesson on bullying.
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For the first six enrichment learning club meetings of this school year, a group of students at Brownstown Central Middle School is immersed in taekwondo and self-defense with Emily Darlage of Shining Spirit Warrior Martial Arts and Self-Defense.
During the first meeting four weeks ago, Darlage said she heard a student say they were going to beat up another student that day. Another one chipped in and said, “Oh great. I can’t wait to beat them up.”
By the third session Sept. 11, the students no longer had those thoughts.
“They are understanding, ‘I have an option here. My option doesn’t have to be pick on someone or to beat someone up or to hit back because they said something I didn’t like. I can just walk away. I can run away. I can get help,’” Darlage said.
The club is one of 20 offered the first trimester at the school. Harry Potter, blanket making, Hour of Code, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, photography, yearbook and kindness are among the others.
This is the third school year for clubs to be offered. For an hour on six Wednesdays, students participate in a club of their choosing. For the second and third cycles, they can stay with that same club or try a different one.
Sixth grade science teacher Kelly Cunningham came up with the taekwondo and self-defense club. Last year, she led the Lego, holiday and no-baking clubs.
“They sit all day, and I thought, ‘What can I do to get them moving? Truly, what can we do to get them moving and that would benefit them?’” she said.
One day while chatting with Darlage, she thought taekwondo and self-defense would be the perfect idea for a club.
“She jumped all over it,” Cunningham said of Darlage.
Through just three sessions, Cunningham said she also has noticed positive changes in the students.
“I’ve had several of these kids in clubs last year and in the classroom also,” she said. “There are some in here that could have some real behavior issues, but we don’t have any of that. They are respectful, and I think that they are all trying their best, which is a big deal for some of them.”
For some of the students, she said school isn’t their thing. They, however, are sure to be there Wednesdays so they don’t miss the club time with Darlage.
“When they come in here, I feel like they think they can be themselves and it doesn’t matter what they look like or how they do it,” Cunningham said. “They know that they are doing their best and they are going to be praised.”
As far as the bullying lesson, Darlage said she has seen a different demeanor in the students who are picked on and ones who pick on others.
“None of them have been disrespectful in class, and you can just see how they hold themselves and how they listen and be more respectful in that aspect,” she said.
There has always been issues with bullying, but Darlage said people have to learn to remember what it’s like to be on the other side.
“Every single one of us has been bullied, and every single one of us has been the bully whether we’ve meant to or not,” she said. “We just have to learn to stop and think about how we treat others and how we react to how we’re treated and when it’s OK to let it out and when it’s not.”
She said that’s a real problem in society today. Some people want to resort to violence when someone says or does something they don’t like.
“You have to weigh it out,” she said. “Is your life still in jeopardy at that exact second? … If your life is in jeopardy at that second or you feel like someone’s life will be in jeopardy that second or the seconds following, then it’s defense. We’re teaching self-defense, not offense.”
Cunningham said while some of the students used to hit someone if they hit them or said something bad to them, Darlage told them it’s not OK to do that.
“The message she’s sending is it’s not OK to do that. It’s OK to know what to do when your life’s at stake, but it’s not OK to just hit someone,” she said. “I like that message.”
If anyone feels like they have to defend themselves, Darlage said they just have to gather their inner strength and fight for their life.
“Because your life is valuable,” she told the students. “As a Christian, I believe God has a purpose for each of us. We don’t know whether other people feel that or not, but we’re sure not going to give up our life for someone that (wants to hurt or harm others). Maybe it’s a person with troubles or they are just an evil person. Whatever the case is, they don’t have the right to take your life.”
If someone you know is troubled, don’t pick on them or tolerate others picking on them, Darlage told the students. There are resources available at school, church and in the community for help, she said.
“Every day when you get up, you can choose, ‘Am I going to be nice to someone or am I going to be mean to someone? Do I want to be known for being nice? Do I want to be known for being mean?’” she said. “Don’t be impulsive and do something without thinking. Always think first before you act because you don’t want to end up regretting what you did later.”
Seventh graders Alexis Leeper and Talon Fish and sixth grader Kristen Combs are among the students in the taekwondo and self-defense club.
Leeper said she signed up because she wanted to learn self-defense, including holds, punches and kicks.
Fish’s brother also is in the club, and he said they both wanted a chance to learn more than they already knew.
“We have a certain point of view on fighting, and I wanted to see another point of view of fighting, self-defense kind of stuff,” he said.
Combs said she also has been taking taekwondo classes for five weeks.
“I overall just love taekwondo,” she said. “I have lots of mental issues, and (the classes) help me relax in many different ways.”
By the end of the club, Leeper said she wants to take away the knowledge of only fighting if it’s for self-defense, while Fish said he will know a different fighting style.
“I could combine the style I’ve been taught and the style that (Darlage) is teaching me and put them together to make a somewhat improved self-defense mechanism,” Fish said.
Combs said the club is a good supplement to her classes.
“I just like to know self-defense because I’m not going to say a lot of people don’t like me, it’s just because I’m small and a lot of people probably think they can take over me,” she said of the importance of learning ways to stand up for herself.
Toward the end of the recent club session, Darlage handed out her business card to the students.
“If you feel like you’re to the point you need to hit something or kick something, call me. I’ll bring a pad over,” she said. “You can hit or kick my pads any time you want.”
After she has had a hard day at work, she said she goes to a martial arts studio and let’s out her frustrations.
“I can yell, scream and hit things and it’s cool and I’m not hurting anyone,” she said.
To end the session, the students came to attention, recited some taekwondo phrases and ended by punching their fists forward.
“Class dismissed,” Darlage said.