Local Couple Leads Anti-Bullying & Safety Classes
Writer / Beth Beckwith
Earlier this year tension arose in the local community concerning child abduction attempts near Norton Commons and Saratoga Woods. Many concerned humanitarians began to spread word of this through social media in an attempt to raise “Stranger Danger” awareness. One local couple, Scott and Donna Smith, decided to take physical action to help prevent further harm.
Scott runs Gracie Jiu-Jitsu of Kentucky, a martial arts and fitness academy for children and adults of all ages located off of Blankenbaker Access in Jeffersontown, not far from Middletown. They have been hosting Bully Me Not programs for several years now to equip parents and kids with the proper tools to detect and avoid bullying. These hands-on seminars engage participants by discussing various scenarios where bullying may take place. The primary focus is on verbal diffusion from these types of situations. The secondary focus is on techniques that help individuals understand how they can empower themselves and that they don’t have to feel like victims.
“When we did our first Bully Me Not program, there were 50-60 kids flooding in the doors,” Scott says. “We educate the kids and their parents too. If a child is being picked on, parents need to know what signs to look for. I’ve even had bullies in my classes in the past. You see their faces and the story each person tries to tell you through their hurting and need for someone to listen to them.”
He went on to discuss how parents expect that the school systems will help but, in truth, they can’t be there around the clock. As a result, Scott incorporated a series of protocols that children should adhere to when being bullied.
“Learning to defend themselves is good for them but your kid doesn’t want to get in trouble by you, the parent or their school,” Scott says. “They need to understand that they won’t get in trouble if they decide to stand up for themselves or ask for help.”
This year Scott and Donna started a new program called Kids Safe. Their first Kids Safe event, held in August, focused on spatial awareness and what to do in the case of an abduction attempt. Police officers from the Jeffersontown Police Department joined in to help put the program together and talk to participants. Batman, played by Zach Schuller, even made an appearance to raise crowd morale. Zach personally custom-made his costume to look legitimate and draw kids’ attention in hopes of raising awareness and consideration for the delicate topic at hand.
Scott and other staff members taught techniques for how to avoid kidnapping. The most important technique was to remain aware of the space between yourself and others. They orchestrated a “what if” scenario where attendees had to decide who was the likely abductor in a unique display. One student, Anthony Menendez, was asked to put on a hoodie and act tough on one side of the gym. On the other side, two other female students stood and were asked to appear approachable and friendly.
The crowd was asked who they thought would abduct them and every hand raised when Scott pointed at Anthony. Scott informed them that it was actually the two women who were to be mistrusted. Police officers went into detail about the recent abduction attempts and why this was the case.
“You’ll attract more flies with sugar than vinegar,” Scott says. “One of the things happening around town was that females were trying to lure kids into their vehicles.”
The class moved forward to discuss how abductors would not be menacing but rather kind when they are trying to take a child. From this lesson, students were taught to know how far to stay away from someone if they felt the need to evade. The rest of the course taught them what to do if they were being abducted. They practiced certain maneuvers focusing on how to make their body feel heavy, break away and call out for help.
“We as parents want our kids to be polite to everyone,” Scott says. “Unfortunately nowadays kids need to be taught something different. They need to be comfortable enough to tell an adult no. It’s an educational thing that kids need to start hearing. It doesn’t always happen in the first or second program we do, but if we can reach out to kids then they can get a base understanding of what should be done.”
Many families decided to bring their children in for more self-defense courses and sign up themselves once they saw how effective the workshops were. Scott and Donna have received thanks in the past for helping children learn anti-bullying strategies and to build a better sense of self-confidence. These skills have helped many children feel able to stand up for themselves since training at the academy.
“We always want our children to be educated, to eat well, behave well, but you also want to build that confidence in your child where they can defend and take care of themselves,” Scott says. “I have kids who come in and out of the gate who are just studs and others, it takes years of years of training because the more you train, the better you get. There are kids in the program who have been here for over 10 years. I have kids who can win against trained grown men. That’s what jiu-jitsu can do.”
Courses for children range at the academy and are sectioned based on age range. The initial program, for ages 4-6, is called “The Spider Monkey In Me.” In this starter program, parents serve as their child’s partner. Jiu-jitsu moves are similar to play time wrestling for kids. Scott mentioned that skill base plays a significant role in these courses as well as age. At one point he even evaluated and included a 3-year old in this class before due to the child’s adaptability and cognition.
Ages 7-9 are the “minions.” These students begin to learn submission, groundwork and all of the basics of jiu-jitsu. The next age group is the “juniors,” consisting of pre-teens and teenagers. From that point on, students have the chance to migrate into the adult classes.
In addition to classes for parents and their children, Scott hosts series for women’s and men’s self-defense throughout the year as well. In some of Scott’s self-defense courses for women, he places special focus on days like Black Friday, where women may be deemed more vulnerable and profitable for a criminal to harass.
“If you’re a bad person, you take advantage of the fact that every female has cash or goods on those days,” Scott adds.
The first thing students learn to do in these scenarios is to give the perpetrator what they want because, in Scott’s words, “nothing is worth dying for.” Next, they learn step-by-step techniques to use to help break away. None of the self-defense courses at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu of Kentucky focus on how to harm another individual. The main discipline rests on fundamental basic mechanics that help to avoid, deflect or break away from negative scenarios.
“We don’t teach one punch tactics but we do teach how to place holds to keep bullies at bay,” Scott says. “Ninety-five percent of all fights will end up on the ground at some point. When you’re there, you either know what to do or you don’t. We teach you how to avoid getting to that point and what to do if you find yourself there.”
Scott and Donna conduct these workshops and many similar self-defense demonstrations at no charge in order to give back to the community. Their work continues to grow and adapt based on the needs of others.
When asked what inspired Scott to start these free programs, he said, “This is my living, this is what I do 24/7. When I see a kid that’s been picked on and the look in their eye when they realize there’s an answer, they can learn, they can get help., you just have to do it. Parents may not get it at first but this is an art. It’s all about repetition. Some days will be awesome, some will be hard but this is something that will impact their child’s life because what I teach works.”