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Using martial arts to stop bullying, teach kids about self worth

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Although October is Bullying Prevention Month, some local martial arts schools and organizations are dedicated year-round to stopping bullying and raising defense awareness for youth and adults alike. 

For Adisa Banjoko, founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation and practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jiutsu, part of the process of halting bullying is in changing oneself. 

“Martial arts benefit youth by giving them physical fitness, body and mind coordination and a sense of self worth,” Banjoko said. “This is something beyond the stereotypical idea of a kid being a ‘fighter.’ On the contrary, for any person to walk into a martial arts studio, the first thing they have to acknowledge is that they cannot defend themselves at the level they hoped to. So, the first step of refining their ego has already been accomplished.”

Banjoko helps kids to maintain a sense of self worth through chess camps and martial arts programming around the Bay Area, including Oakland. 

“The Hip-Hop Chess Federation's anti-bullying program ... begins oddly enough with the game of chess itself,”  he explained, making the analogy accessible for those who know little about the game. 

“Our methodology is rooted in the child understanding that just as the king is worthy of defense, so are they," Banjoko said. "They are the kings and queens of their own world. They are worthy of defense.”

Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Kids who bully use their power - such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity - to control or harm others. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and purposely excluding someone from a group. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may experience serious, lasting problems.

For Sensei Terri Giamartino of Emeryville Martial Arts, bullying is a sickness spread easily through social media. 

“Over the years, I have developed self-defense courses for all age groups and have spent a great deal of time developing a curriculum that manages the bully," Giamartino said. "Bullying has become a national epidemic that is increasing its reach quickly and easily through social media. Social media also provides an anonymous venue for teasing or hate mongering and can go viral in seconds.”

Giamartino teaches Cuong Nhu, a dynamic Vietnamese martial art, as part of her anti-bullying curriculum. 

“My anti-bullying approach is based on the martial arts principles of redirection and straightforward assertiveness," she explained. "Students are taught to manage situations without the use of violence, learning ways to assess threats, redirect verbal assaults and mobilize the audience, which is a critical factor in empowering the bully."

Banjoko said he feels bullying should be addressed early.

“Anti-bullying should be taught as a standard part of American education as early as kindergarten,” said Banjoko, a father himself. “This is because many young people don't understand when bullying is happening and how to talk about it. Communication is at the core of overcoming bullying.”

Take Action!

There are many martial arts schools around the Bay Area and in Oakland. Here are just a few:
Baker’s Martial Arts, Oakland

Cascos Martial Arts                                     
Emeryville Martial Arts, Emeryville

Hand to Hand Kajuhenbo, Oakland

Hip Hop Chess Federation, Fremont

Pitts Martial Arts Academy, Oakland

Soja Martial Arts Studio, Oakland

YMCA - Downtown Oakland, Oakland

About Maria McMath

Maria is originally from Oakland, California, and resides there today. She graduated from St. Jarlath Elementary School in the Diocese of Oakland, and The Head Royce School. She enjoys reading, cooking, spending time with family, and arts of the language, culinary, visual, aural, healing, literary, and martial varieties. Maria is also a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.

I would like to also add Suigetsukan.

Suigetsukan is a collectively run, non-profit dojo in Oakland that offeres youth classess as well as adult classes. Our dojo is sliding scale (no one turned away for lack of funds) and has a strong self-defense program. Girl Army also runs courses out of Suigetsukan for Women's Self Defense.

We are often referred to as "the anarchist dojo" because there are a lot of activists and organizers from various movements that train here, and we organize the dojo collectively (while respecting culture, tradition and rank on the mat).