SAN ANTONIO – Students at Ohana Academy are doing more than just learning how to defend themselves physically. They're also learning how to combat bullying without getting physical.
Tavia Gaston, a trainee at Ohana Academy, said she was the target of teasing.
"I got bullied in school. I got bullied in classes," Gaston said. "You know how some people have that wall to deflect all those mean comments? My wall fell apart and those comments just got back to me."
Gaston, who is in seventh grade, is now focused on building her inner strength. She said her training doesn't mean she has to fight to beat a bully.
"Not to say that all kids should fight. It's just saying, it gives you a boost of confidence when you learn a new skill," Gaston explained.
Confidence and respect are qualities that are learned while in class. Jackson Roberts, 6, is one of the young trainees learning the technique of Jiu Jitsu. Jackson has earned 11 character stripes and a leadership patch.
Jason Yerrington, the owner of Ohana Academy, said "it's really hard not to have a little bit of confidence to say, 'Hey I did that. I accomplished that.'"
University of Texas at San Antonio professor Dr. Page Smith said research shows confidence is also important when combating bullying.
"We have to keep in mind that young people have very fragile psyches, particularly in the middle to high school years," Smith said. "Those victims that have been victimized need to realize the value of their own self worth and that it should not damage their self worth as a person."
A healthy social life is also important.
"Membership in a peer group definitely decreases the opportunity for bullies to act and react to specific students," Smith said. "They need to seek out a support system of their peers."
Ohana means family, and the academy strives to live out that meaning by offering support to their students. However, Yerrington knows his way of empowering other may not be for everyone.
"The number one thing I would say is get plugged in, if not with us, it's got to be something," Yerrington said. "Go learn (how to play) an instrument, go get into music school, or dance, or go into a chess club; go get involved in a community that is going to hold you accountable and lift you up."
Dr. Page Smith says the research at UTSA centered around bullying has been conducted for about a decade and has been internationally recognized.
In their research, Dr. Smith says researchers saw a link between juvenile bullying that could lead to workplace bullying and even expand to minor crimes.
While there is not a one size fits all approach to identifying a bully, Dr. Smith says the main factor that tends to stand out is a need to seek attention in a negative manner and describes bullying as a serial event. He says victims need to know they are not alone and should be encouraged to speak up before another victim is targeted.