By Trudy A. Martinez
As I approach the Junior High, a hum catches my ear like a swarm of bees. Occasionally, a high squeal pitch punctures the air, following a towering roar, commanding, “Get over here–leave that girl alone!”
Crowds of mother’s litter the doorway with an occasional father here and there. And of course, there are a lot of small children trying to squeeze through small openings in the crowd.
A long metal table blocks the wide entrance, except for a small passage way leading to the activity floor. Behind the table, volunteers sit on tan metal folding chairs frantically handing out fliers, signing up enrollees, or answering questions. It is difficult for early enrollees to push 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 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.
An air-borne white sock flies high above the heads of the crowd, as if propelled by a rocket–tailing behind a voice commands: “Go get that sock!”
The activity floor with its waxed and shining hardwood takes on the appearance of a gym. An instructor, giving directions to children from an earlier session, is about to break up. He says, “Remember now,” taking in a deep breath as he raises his finger to his puckered lips, “Sh-h-h!” Then he continues, “What you learn here tonight you only use as self-defense to protect yourself from anyone who tries to grab you or hurt you–NOT your friends,” he adds. Taking another deep breath he says, “Your participation in learning and mastering the techniques I show you can earn you this bright yellow belt.” Then he asks, “Do you want one?”
A loud sharp, “Ya,” rings out as all the children reply to his question in unison.
Although the educational activity program is sponsored by the Y.M.C.A., a men’s organization, encouragement is given for both boy and girl participants.
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 turnout for self-defense and safety awareness programs highlights a growing problem that faces America: helpless children falling prey to unknown assailants and turning into victims. A concern for the safety of children prompts the offering of the classes. An overwhelming response indicates parents worry. Because of the size of the class, some parents participate by holding the block pads and block sticks (foam padded) for the children to practice on, thus freeing more instructors to assist kids who have difficulty mastering the techniques.
The children line up in rows. Chandra makes sure she is right up front so she doesn’t miss a move. Chandra’s mom said the first night of class, “Chandra needed encouragement and reassurance. She didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t know anything.” But out there on the floor during her first lesson her shyness disappears. 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 leaves 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 assume the position. “Block–Kick.”
“Ke–.” they yell as one arm goes up to block. “Ya,” they continue as their leg goes up close to their body and instantly shoots forward.
Judging from the height of their kicks, I imagine an assailant dropping to his knees. “These kids can turn out winners,” I think as my mind envisions an encounter and then their little legs carrying them speedily away from the danger.