Oakmont instructor believes jiu jitsu is excellent bullying deterrent
Warren Stout, 39, of Oakmont, believes school bullying may have met its match.
Stout, a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, is praising the martial art not only as a method of self-defense, but as a way to build self-confidence in students, which can be the biggest deterrent to bullying.
Craig and Alisha Maslanka of Scott Township enrolled their son, Braylon, 7, in Brazilian jiu jitsu classes after he was pushed around and taunted at school.
“We tried to find ways to build his confidence. We signed him up for karate lessons, but he didn't like the hitting. We enrolled him in baseball and soccer, but he had trouble connecting with his teammates,” Craig explained.
Then they discovered Brazilian jiu jitsu, a grappling-based martial art similar to wrestling. It promotes the concept that smaller, weaker people can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger, heavier assailant by using proper technique, leverage, and, most notably, taking the fight to the ground and then applying joint locks and chokeholds to defeat the opponent. It has been called the ‘gentle art' because it does not focus on hitting, kicking or punching.
Now in his second year of jiu jitsu classes, “Braylon has completely come out of his shell,” his father said.
“He's a whole different boy. He's like a little man, participating in school and extracurricular activities. He interacts with others without getting overwhelmed by it anymore. He's open to trying different activities with different people,” he said. “And the bullying has stopped.”
“Brazilian jiu jitsu is about carrying oneself with self-assurance,” said Stout, who has been teaching, coaching and competing for 30 years. He is the owner of Stout Training in Cranberry, where Maslanka is one of the 40 children enrolled in the jiu jitsu program.
Stout Training has facilities in Cranberry and the Strip District, and offers classes for adults, youth and children six days a week. Training can be used for sport grappling tournaments and in self-defense situations. It also is a method for promoting physical fitness and building character in young people.
At each lesson, children ages 4-12 learn a variety of grappling techniques, are given the opportunity to practice those techniques on a peer and engage in friendly competitions. They also learn to focus and exercise self-control.
With a membership fee ranging from $85 to $119 per month, students may attend as many or as few classes as they wish.
The Cranberry facility is staffed with five full-time professional instructors.
Mike Wilkins, a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, is the head youth instructor at Stout Training.
His youngest students learn jiu jitsu techniques through games, like pinning a small flag to a student's back and having them lie face-up on a mat, then having them protect the flag as an opponent tries to capture it.
“They're not even aware they're doing jiu jitsu moves when they try to grab their partner's flag or try to protect their own,” said Wilkins, 31, of Braddock Hills. “This keeps the class lighthearted, exciting and fun for the kids.”
While Wilkins enjoys watching his students compete in tournaments and win medals, he said the biggest reward comes when parents tell him that their kids are doing better in school or behaving better because of an interaction they had during class or because of something he said during a lesson.
“Jiu jitsu is so much fun,” said Adele Shih-Calabro, 9, of Mars. “Since I started, I feel more powerful, more confident.”
Adele's mother, Tammy, enrolled both of her daughters in the class because she wanted them to learn self-defense.
“Since learning jiu jitsu, they're not easily intimated anymore. And for girls, that means a lot,” she said.
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.