Tiger Rock works to build self-esteem, prevent bullying

Tiger Rock Academy 4- and 5-year-old students, known as Tiger Cubs,  practice their statue poses on Monday, February 7, 2011 at the academy’s 5900 S. 85th Street Suite 100 location in Lincoln, Neb.

Photos and story by Doug Burger, NewsNetNebraska

A confident child likely won’t be bullied, a martial arts expert said recently.

Tiger Rock President Jeff Dousharm preaches the importance of self-esteem in children, who make up 60 to 70 percent of his students. For him, children’s self-esteem directly relates to their chances of being bullied.

“People with low self-esteem feel the need to prove themselves,” Dousharm said. “Just like when you find two guys at a bar and one wants to get into a fight real bad, the person with higher self-esteem can walk away. They don’t feel the need to prove themselves.

“Same thing with kids. They feel a need to prove themselves socially to other kids or prove themselves to an individual, they’re more likely to be influenced.”

Tiger Rock Academy is a martial arts studio, but works to build self-esteem of its younger students.

Dousharm and his instructors are able to build self-esteem through positive and inclusive speech. He said it’s important to point out the good things in order to grab the student’s attention.

“Everything in their lives is showing things that are wrong and counting off points for it, whether it is at home or at school,” Dousharm said. “We’re the opposite. We spend our whole day finding what’s right.”

Dousharm said bullies look for children who are vulnerable. They look for targets who they can exert power over.

Irving Middle School in Lincoln has also been taking an active approach toward bullying. The school has drawn national attention for its anti-bullying program. Principal Hugh McDermott agreed that some bullies are looking to exert power over other students to build self-esteem, but added that bullying is still an extremely complicated issue.

“It’s not just one or two things that kind of lead kids to be bullies,” McDermott said. “There’s many underlying issues and concerns that lead kids to bullying.”

McDermott said school counselors go into classrooms to talk to students about bullying and teachers use lessons once a month to build students’ character.

“We’re trying to approach it at a lot of different angles,” McDermott said. “We’re working not only with the bullies, but with the kids that are victims of the bullies and kids that are bystanders. Our job is to try to present information and strategies to help kids, whether they’re bullies, victims are bystanders.”

Beth Leipold, who is currently an instructor at Tiger Rock, has a son who went through the program. He started at age 7. She said he had mild autism as a child and was bullied in school.

“By the time he was in higher middle school, he was no longer really bothered by those kids,” she said. “One kid outright punched him, and he just kind of looked at him, didn’t hit him back. He learned that ability to walk away and not have to worry about.”

Parent Steve Gewecke said his son Robert had early learning disabilities. He said his son couldn’t hear for a long time and, as a result, developed communication problems and became violent.

“I got a postcard in the mail one day to come in here,” Gewecke said of Tiger Rock. “We came in. I’d always wanted to get him in to a martial arts school, the discipline aspect of it. We came in and I liked what I saw. It wasn’t military style, you know scream at them until they get it right.”

Gewecke said his son has done “180 degrees.” He also said his daughter Emily has become more confident, not being afraid to perform in front of hundreds of people.

“She performs, she sings, she dances,” Gewecke said.

The positive effects on his children motivated himself to get into the program. He is now a part-time instructor, but both his children actually outrank him.

“The support that we get from all the instructors here is phenomenal,” he said.

Instructor Jason Reed quiets his Tiger Cub students on Monday, February 7, 2011 at the academy’s 5900 S. 85th Street Suite 100  location in Lincoln, Neb.

Dousharm said Tiger Rock has a partnership with Lincoln Public Schools. He said they do presentations emphasizing values, academics, health and wellness among other things.

“We’re going there to serve as a resource in Lincoln because we want to be a pillar in our community,” Dousharm said. “We want to be a resource. We want to give back instead of someone who wants to take everything. We believe that’s an important part of the community service that we do.”

Dousharm said Tiger Rock does about 100 presentations a year and has a good relationship with LPS.

“During the presentation, we work on really building the kids up, every single student in the class,” he said. “Bullies don’t go after those kids that are built up. We try to serve as resource to schools in that way and help them build that confidence.”

Although McDermott said he hasn’t worked specifically with Tiger Rock, martial arts training can be an effective tool against bullying.

“Martial arts is really big into gaining control of your behavior or channeling your behavior,” McDermott said. “I think that’s really important. Who is responsible for your behavior? You, yourself. There’s nobody else that can do that. I think it can be very effective and helpful. I just don’t know if it’s for every single kids that has bullying issues.”

For instructors at Tiger Rock, the results – and self-esteem – in their students are noticeable.

“It’s fun to see kids have the confidence and be able to stand up and speak to adults,” Leipold said. “I’ve got 10-year-olds who can stand up and lead adults in a warm-up and not be fazed by the fact that two or three of them out there are physicians or lawyers.”

This Tiger Cub is practicing his punches on Monday, February 7, 2011 at the academy’s 5900 S. 85th Street Suite 100 location in Lincoln, Neb.

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