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Taking down the bullies, one jiu-jitsu move at a time

System teaches kids to restrain attackers -- as a last resort

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STEINBACH -- The child abductor grabbed five-year-old Logan by the arm with the intent to pull him into a waiting car.

But Logan fought back. First, he spread his legs like he'd trained to do in jiu-jitsu and made sure not to cross his feet. If you cross your feet, you'll fall and be dragged away. Logan wasn't strong enough to immediately break away from the much older attacker, but by keeping his feet apart and pulling back, he at least bought some time.

Then, with his free hand, Logan grabbed the fist of his arm that the abductor was pulling, and yanked with all his might towards the abductor's thumbs. That's the easiest place to break a person's grip. Anyone can do it. A child can do it.

Then Logan was supposed to flee.

Only he didn't because the man was his father, John Sawatzky, and the attempted abduction was an exercise in what to do if this nightmare scenario should ever happen. It's part of a bully-proofing program called Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and it's drawing rave reviews.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is martial arts with a twist. It's a martial art for bully-proofing kids because it involves timing and leverage over speed and strength that a child might not have.

It also doesn't involve hitting or kicking. Striking an attacker just compromises the child's position. You need space to strike someone. Gracie is all about eliminating space, said Sawatzky, 35, who opened Revelation Martial Arts in Steinbach three years ago.

The abduction exercises are about getting out of the grasp of a possible adult attacker, but the bulk of the Gracie program is learning to restrain a bully who is usually within a few years of the child's age.

Kids learn the three Ts: talk, as in be assertive, hold eye contact and tell your harasser you're tired of being bullied; tell, as in tell a parent or teacher if it persists; and tackle, as in if all else fails, put the bully on the ground. You wrap an arm around the back of their knees and drive through them like a football tackle. One method is to clap your hands in front of the bully's face to startle him first.

From there, Gracie is ground wrestling. Once on the ground, you just stay with the bully, not giving him room to strike or push off. You get an arm around the bully's neck and one under the armpit. It's a restraining hold and he can't shake you off. That's just the first manoeuvre.

It's amazing to watch Sawatzky and his son give demonstrations. Essentially, you restrain and tire out your attacker. Then you negotiate.

A seven-year-old in Sawatzky's class recently had to resort to the "third T." He apologized to Sawatzky for not using the first two Ts but he didn't have time. He'd been knocked down twice before he plowed his bully over.

A parent, Shanyn Silinski, said her seven-year-old son, Luke, has picked up so much after just one year.

"My son's uncle is a six-foot-tall dairy farmer and they were fooling around one day, and all of a sudden his uncle was on the ground going, 'Whoa!' " she said.

"A lot of kids will freeze" when threatened, but the Gracie program gives them confidence, Silinski said.

"Now Luke knows how to talk and how to get out of basic holds if someone's holding him by the arm or jacket or pushing him."

Parents have seen changes in their kids.

"School has just seen huge results with discipline," Angela Funk said. She has two children with autism symptoms, the type of kids prone to being bullied. "One of them really struggles in school. Hates school. Can't focus. In June, after only one month in Gracie, one of the teachers said to me, 'Whatever you're doing differently, keep doing it, because this is the best month we've had.' "

Kids with Asperger syndrome symptoms are also in Sawatzky's program.

"It's more than defence. The fight is won or lost in the mind," said Sawatzky, who has a black belt. He uses games to teach the kids.

"The kids come up with scenarios in their five-year-old and eight-year-old minds, and John helps them work through them and makes it real for them," Silinski said.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a Japanese-Brazilian hybrid martial art developed by a child who was thought to be too sickly to participate. He developed his own system by watching his brothers train in jiu-jitsu. Other martial arts centres also teach Gracie, including Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Charleswood.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 A15

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