Seven-year-old Makayla Bea has been enrolled the martial arts studio since kindergarten, when her mother noticed she was being bullied by another child. "I never worried until I saw the effects of someone picking on her and she just melted under the pressure. She crumbled. And it did, it broke my heart to watch her do that," said Jenna Bea.
13-year-old Kyle Hopkins also has a personal story. Just weeks after he started martial arts classes, he was attacked by a kid at school. "I turned around and he punched me in the face and then he kicked me in the stomach and threw me down a hill and then he kicked me in the stomach and my friend came down and tackled him to make him stop," said Hopkins.
Kyle and Makayla are just two children who have built up their confidence through martial arts. Their instructor is another. Rudy Carrillo said his mother enrolled him in martial arts because kids were picking on him. "When I signed up I thought I was learning how to fight but learned it was mostly about self-discipline and being able to control myself and my actions," said Carrillo.
Carrillo said the decision was life changing. Now, he owns his own studio, where he spends his days trying to build up kids and their self-esteem. "I hope when children come to our school we help them build the confidence to believe who they are, not so much what they think other people believe of them - which is key," said Carrillo.
Jason Kraft is the co-owner of American Kickboxing Academy. He also sees martial arts as a way to build confidence. There, students learn a combination of skills including wrestling and boxing which can be used for self-defense. "What typically happens when they come here is they actually gain a respect for self-defense, for the martial arts, for wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and they know not to use it unless it's the last possible thing," said Kraft.
Elizabeth Moreland took her son, Derek, to AKA so he could learn to protect himself. As a mom, she said bullying is constantly on her mind. "Every day I worry about it. He's never been bullied. But I worry about it every day," said Moreland.
Moreland hopes what Derek learns will keep him safe. "You use what you know. Don't ever start anything with anybody don't ever be the first to throw the first punch, but if somebody starts it with you, you finish it," said Moreland.
One year after starting martial arts, Kyle Hopkins is a member of the black belt club. He believes the lessons have made him stronger. "I know how to defend myself and I'm more confident if someone comes up and tries to punch me I know how to block it and everything," said Hopkins.
In addition to the self-confidence boost, the students also have a lot of fun. Once timid kindergartner, Makayla, has turned into a smiling and confident seven year old. "I'm very proud of her. She walks with her head held high, she is really sure of herself finally. She has some self-confidence and that, as a mom there's nothing else you want," said Bea.