PLANO, Texas — They look like they're horse-playing, like they are just little boys being little boys. But inside North Dallas Mixed Martial Arts in Plano, world-renowned instructors are turning their students into responsible, respectful young men and women.
"It's really changed me," said 10-year-old Allan Sosamon.
His classmate, 11-year-old Madison Bentley, agreed. "I feel like I can stand up for myself," she said.
The instructors at the academy are some of the world's best in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. What's that?
"A martial art that involves less punching and kicking," explained instructor Mark Zuber, who added that the curriculum is tailored to put an end to bullying.
"Do we ever hit the bully?" asked instructor JD Shelly.
"No!" answer the children in the class.
"Why?" Shelly asks.
"Because we're not supposed to hit back!" they scream.
Shelly is a world champion in jiu-jitsu, and and owner of the academy.
Through the techniques they are teaching, Zuber said kids learn how to remain calm and in control when a bully is teasing them (or trying to get them to lose their cool). They are also taught that getting physical is a last resort, which is appropriate only if a bully strikes first.
"We teach them how to de-escalate someone who's yelling or being aggressive, just by being calm. Sometimes that will bring someone down a level," Zuber said. "We also teach them to sue words and eye contact, which is very effective. Most bullies prey on you when you're looking away, looking down, or looking ashamed."
Allan, a fifth-grader from Frisco, said the class is working. He recently stopped a bully without ever laying a hand on him.
"We were at recess, and this kid walks up, shoves another kid into a pole," Allan recalled. "I say to stop. He tells me to 'Stay right there.' He walks up; I know he was about to punch me, but I just sat there, didn't move or anything. He stops, pats me on the shoulder, says that I'm 'cool,' and walked away."
Role-playing taught Allan to stay calm and not "punch or anything like that." He said he was proud of his "mental strength."
Madison, who is in sixth grade, recently stood up to some older, bigger boys who were teasing a friend in a park. "It felt good that I was able to defend myself and a friend," she said.
Zuber's nine-year-old son Aidan is in the same class. He says he knows what to do when facing a stressful situation.
"I think whenever a bully tries to come at me or a friend, I'll be able to defend myself or whoever is getting hurt. And I feel like they'll stop," Aidan said.
These instructors have now started taking their skills into churches and Scout meetings teaching the non-physical side of jiu-jitsu. They said they were startled that each child they meet has either been bullied or has seen it happen.
"They are the silent majority," said Mark Zuber, "and if they'll act when this happens at school and in public, and just stand up for others, I'm hoping it may stop a kid from committing suicide or it may stop a school shooter."