Battling bullies and other predators Self-defense courses aim to teach children how to fight back


Although most self-defense courses teach adults how to thwart an attacking stranger, a new course teaches children that a smack on the nose, a stomp on the foot or a forceful jab to the ribs might be enough to turn away a schoolyard bully.

Instructors Debbie and Art Ross, black belts in a variety of martial arts styles, told children at Ellicott City's Chatham Mall recently that various techniques can be used to defend against attackers of different ages.

Their advice came at a course dealing with child-on-child violence, the first to be offered by Howard County General Hospital and the Fighting Chance Inc. self-defense organization of Columbia's Wilde Lake village.

"Self-defense is not 'He took my pencil' or 'He called me a bad name.' And it means you've tried everything you could, including my favorite, running away," Ms. Ross told her students.

"Blame your parents. Tell an attacker, 'If I fight you, my dad's going to kill me.' "

But if there's no way out, children who take the course don't have to curl up in a ball and take the blows of an unarmed attacker.

They are taught how to use their own bodies on especially painful points -- maneuvers almost guaranteed to get an attacker off their backs.

A knee in the groin or a poke in the eye is appropriate, for example, if a child is being attacked by an adult.

Instructors stress that anyone confronted with a weapon should comply and get away as quickly as possible.

But the instructors also tell students that some martial arts basics are effective and less dangerous to use on another aggressive child.

"We don't want you to cause permanent damage. Just a lot of pain," Ms. Ross tells children.

The bully will turn away from inflicting pain on others when suffering pain. The victim, with a fresh dose of self-confidence from ending a fight, will be a victim no longer.

"There can't be bullies unless there are victims," said Ms. Ross, a Wilde Lake resident and co-founder of Fighting Chance, which will offer the children's course again in the spring.

"They want an easy target, so you need to have an attitude about you. A bully in the school yard isn't going to pick on someone who is a challenge."

Ellicott City resident Doralee Curtis said she hoped the course would make potential aggressors think twice about picking on her 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer.

"She's a little timid, and I thought something like that might make her a little more confident and feel better about herself," she said.

"I hope that she would never have to use it, but if she ever would, I think she'd be better equipped to handle the situation."

One participant, 10-year-old Chase Nelson of Columbia's Owen Brown village, said he was the target of school bus bullies and was beaten up at a school sock hop two years ago.

This course, he said, might prevent such incidents. "I had to learn about self-defense, so if I'm in danger, I can protect myself."

Children learning self-defense have to decide if they'd rather fight back and risk a suspension or roll over and take the blows.

Howard County schools don't have a written policy concerning fights. But Alice Haskins, instructional director for Howard County middle schools, said that if a student is involved in a fight, even if only defending himself, the child generally will be suspended along with the aggressor.

"I really do think it's a good policy," said Ellicott City resident Deanna Goodman, whose 11-year-old daughter, Becky, attended the seminar.

"But what happens when, after school, you're walking home and you're out of the school's jurisdiction, when you get off the bus and some kid just doesn't like what you're wearing?"

She wants her children to know that, at times when it's impossible to turn the other cheek, it's OK to defend yourself and not feel guilty about it.

Information on Fighting Chance and its children's program is available by calling Debbie Ross at (410) 740-2913.

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