By Trudy A. Martinez
As I approach the O.J. Actis Junior High, a hum catches my ear like that of a swarm of bees. Occasionally, a high squeal pitch punctures the air, following a towering roar, commanding, “Get over here–leave that girl alone!”
The doorway is crowded with mothers and dotted occasionally with a father here and there and, of course, a lot of small children trying to squeeze through openings in the crowd.
A long metal table blocks the wide entrance, except for a small passage way that leads on to the activity floor. Behind the table, volunteers sit on a tan metal folding chairs. They are frantically handing out fliers, signing up enrollees, or answering questions. It is difficult for those who have already enrolled to get past the eager new participants. A harsh voice rings out, “Just a minute, Jimmy.”
“Come back here,” says another.
Anxious children who manage to escape their parent’s side pepper the passage way. They are uniformly dressed in black outfits that look like over-sized pajamas tied in the middle with a white belt. The belt wraps around their small frames twice before being tied in the front. On their backs, contrasting the black color of the pajama, are bold white letters forming in a semi-circle, spelling out “Young Olympians,” an artistic illustration of a block kick in action, and stars, U.S.A., and more stars.
A white sock becomes air-borne, flying high above the heads of the crowd, as if it has wings–tailing behind it is a voice command: “Go get that sock!”
On the activity floor which takes on the appearance of a gym with its waxed and shining hardwood, an instructor is giving directions to a group of children that were in an earlier session; the group is about to break up. He says, “Remember now,” taking in a deep breath as he raises his finger to is puckered lips, “Sh-h-h!” Then he continues, “What you learn here tonight is to only be used as self-defense–to protect yourself from anyone who tries to grab you or hurt you–not your friends.” he adds. He takes another deep breath and says, “This bright yellow belt can be earned through your participation in learning and mastering the techniques I show you.” Then he asks, “Do you want one?”
A loud sharp, “Ya,” can be heard as all the children reply to his question in unison.
The program is being sponsored by the Y.M.C.A. Although the program is sponsored by the men’s organization, participants of the educational activity are not limited to boys; girls are welcome and encouraged as well.
Chandra, my granddaughter, eagerly awaits her class to begin. her big brown eyes glisten and beam with excitement. It is difficult for her to remain still. Her muscles tense and her fists clinch in anticipation. When her mother says, “Chandra, you need to get your shoes and socks off.” Chandra immediately drops to the floor as if she is a puppet and the words pull her string; her mother does not need to repeat the words. She moves quickly, untying her shoes, pulling them off, and then removing her socks; when she finishes with one foot, she instantly repeats the process with the other.
On the activity floor, the instructor tells the early group, “Good-night,” as he bows to them with both hands at his side. All the students reciprocate and then leave the floor, scampering with excitement back to their parents.
Chandra’s eyes grow in size, taking on a pleading look as if to ask, “May I go?” Her lips form a smile and she turns her head upward toward her mother, anxiously waiting her mother’s approval. “Okay, go on.”
The turn out for the self-defense and safety awareness program seems to highlight a growing problem that faces America: that of helpless children falling prey to unknown assailants and being victimized. A concern for their safety prompts the offering of the classes. The overwhelming response indicates parents worry about the children. Because of the size of the class, some parents are asked to participate by holding the block pads and block sticks (foam padded) for the children to practice on, thus freeing more instructors to assist those kids who are having difficulty.
The children line up in rows. Chandra makes sure she is right up front so she doesn’t miss a move Chandra’s mom had told me the first night of class, Chandra had to be encouraged and reassured that she would not be the only one who didn’t know anything; but no one would guess that she had been so shy now or that she had only one lesson. She certainly did not act like a novice.
“Horse stance,” says the instructor.
Immediately, all the children assume the position: they spread their legs apart, assume a semi-squat position, double their fists tightly until their little knuckles appear white and hard, and position their little arms in preparation to block and punch. Their bodies are rigid. “Punch,” yells the instructor.
The children threw one arm forward sharply with force–“Ya.” they reply in unison.
The instructor has them sit on the floor in a squatting position as he demonstrates the next move. “When I say, ‘ Get up.’ I want you to get up as fast as you can–but don’t start until I tell you.” All the little bodies tense and lean forward slightly. One over-anxious little bottom left the grown, protruding upward–it is Chandra. “Down,” the instructor repeats. “Don’t get up until I say.” He went on giving detail instructions on how to block a hit and then immediately follows through with a kick forward. “Up,” he says.
Little bodies pop up like they are spring-loaded.
“Horse stance,” he yells. They instantly assumes the position. “Block–Kick.
“Ke–.” they yells as one arm goes up to block. “Ya,” they continues as their leg goes up close to their body and instantly shots forward.
Judging from the height of their kicks, I imagine an assailant dropping to his knees. “These kids can turn out winners,” I thought as my mind envisions the encounter and then their little legs carrying them speedily away from the danger.