As a stepfather to young children, JP Cavalier is familiar with the issue of school bullying. So he and his partner Tommy Merino created a free self-defense and confidence class for area kids and teens at Hassetts Jiu Jitsu in the township.
“I have young stepkids, and in the last few years there seems to be a lot of bullying and things like that going on in schools,” said Cavalier. “It seems to be worse than ever. There was bullying when I was a kid and I’m sure there was bullying before, but it just seems to be at an all-time high …
“The things that I hear – I’m appalled sometimes.”
Cavalier is the head instructor of Hassetts, which also has a location in Williamstown. It offers Jiu Jitsu classes for adults as well as children and teaches them how to defend themselves without injury to an attacker. Merino is a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, a police trainer and a retired investigator.
“We thought the more people we can get into martial arts, especially the younger ones, I believe it would have a positive impact on what’s going on with bullying and at least give kids the confidence to stand up for themselves,” Cavalier noted.
The free class took place on May 14 and offered three levels: first through fourth grade, middle school and high school. More than 70 people attended, with the young children’s session crowded enough to turn students away so class size would be manageable. About 18 people attended the middle-school session, with 15 at the high-school session.
“When we started, we were not sure what type of response we would get, because it is the first time we are doing it,” Cavalier said. “I was really happy with the turnout and we are truly lucky with the groups I teach and their families. They really helped us bring people in and get the word out.
“I was overwhelmed with gratitude.”
The class allowed students to try their hand at Jiu Jitsu by learning how to subdue attackers or bullies safely, bring them to the ground and put them in a hold to keep an attack from continuing.
“Something the parents appreciate is that it is not violent,” Cavalier explained. “You are not striking and kicking. Basically, you are just subduing an attacker, or a bully in this case. You are getting them on the ground and in a hold where they can’t hurt you. A lot of parents like that because you are not causing harm to anyone.”
The class also addressed verbal assertiveness in a situation where a bully is speaking aggressively. The students were taught how to speak clearly and confidently in response, so they not only become more confident, but can also help deescalate a situation without physical touch.
“There are two aspects of bullying: If someone assaults you, you need to learn how to defend yourself,” Cavalier stressed. “The trickier part is if someone is picking on you and calling you names …
“We taught kids ideas on how to approach someone if they are bugging you … “ he added. “Look them in the eye and speak in a clear voice. Tell them, ‘I dont want you to call me stupid.’”
The final section of the class was about practicing different scenarios such as kidnapping. Students learned how to free themselves from an attacker or kidnapper, how to get help and the best place to escape to in that situation.
“We taught them a technique: If someone grabs you and takes you away, how to free yourself,” Cavalier said. “It’s like having insurance; you have car insurance and life insurance. You don’t want to use it, but it’s still very important.”
Cavalier hopes to host another session for students who want to try martial arts.
“I’m hoping this opens a spark for the kids that helps them want to continue learning,” he said. “The goal is to continue the practice, because that is how you will continue to learn these life skills.”