“For one student, the benefit is straight A's on his report card.”

THE MIAMI HERALD - Living & Arts
Not Just For Kicks - 'Martial arts help kids avoid fighting'
by Desonta Holder

Look past the high-flying kicks, lightning-fast punches and submission holds; past the push-ups, squats and crunches. You won't see any battered egos or brazen brutes. You will see self-confidence, perseverance and self-control.

Kung Fu Connection in North Miami, which specializes in troubled children; Steve LaVallee's east Coast Karate & Kickboxing in Oakland Park; and Imperial Martial Arts in Weston have been empowering children for more than 20 years.

Their nominal purpose is teaching self-defense, but they also show children how to avoid confrontation, concentrate and stay focused. For one student, the benefit is straight A's on his report card. For another, it's knowing he doesn't have to fight in school and risk being expelled.

And lately, the schools have seen nearly as many adults as children sign up. While some instructors attribute this trend to movies like Rush Hour, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, others think more adults are simply seeking self-confidence and a sense of awareness.

Gus Rubio, head master at Kung Fu Connection, was very shy and lacked self-confidence as a child.

"I was getting pushed around and beat up a lot," he said, "When I started martial arts, I projected a certain air of confidence. That made all the difference in the world. I was never a target anymore."

That same air of confidence can be seen in his students.

Many parents bring their children to Kung Fu Connection to calm the wildness, said Alice Billman, Rubio's wife and partner. "You want your child to be assertive, but not necessarily aggressive," she said.

Three of Rubio's students, Chase Bryan, 11; Billman's daughter, Blaze Gonzales, 12; and Joshua Eason, 12, signed up for classes after watching other students throw jabs and kicks, then walk away unharmed—and sometimes untouched.

"It just amazed me how some people were able to block hits," said Chase, a sixth-grader at Phyllis Ruth Miller School in Miami. "Kids at school used to try to hit me. Now I know how to move out of the way and block them, so I don't have to fight back. The worse thing to do is fight and get expelled from school."

Blaze, a seventh-grader at Miami Shores/Barry University Charter Middle School, agrees. "Kung Fu taught me a lot about self-control," she said, "I don't get upset anymore when people make fun of me."

And when it comes to school fights, Blaze would rather walk away. "Some girls have very long nails," she said.

Peaceful Child

School violence is just one reason Joshua's mother, Eulyce Eason, signed him up for kung fu.

"My son is a very peaceful child," she said. "This form gives him a sense of civility, focus and choice. It's not about fighting. But if something is unavoidable, I want him to be able to protect himself."

"I watch everything," she said. "they really nurture these boys here."

Joshua, a North Dade Middle School seventh-grader, hopes to one day earn the sacred black belt, which can take years of training and thousands of push-ups and sit-ups.

"I don't enjoy push-ups; I don't enjoy sit-ups," he said, but he does them. Like Blaze and Chase, he's not too fond of running either, but he does it.

"One of our Si-Fu's [instructors] taught us that one day instead of using our kung fu we'll have to run—run fast, dodge a corner, climb up on a rooftop and wait until everything clears out, then climb down and run home," he says.

That's one way to escape someone with long fingernails.

Desonta Holder, an editor in Living and Arts,
is a black belt in karate.

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