Summer karate class teaches respect, discipline
Eleven-year-old Caleb Longoria was afraid of cops before summer started.
So when his mom signed him up for the Victoria County Sheriff's Office GREAT Karate Summer Camp, Caleb was excited to learn the moves, but nervous about his instructors - cops.
"I was pretty scared he (the instructor) was a cop because if you do something wrong, they get mad at you," Caleb said.
By the time he graduated from the Gang Resistance, Education And Training (GREAT) class Thursday afternoon, however, Caleb had changed his mind.
"But he was a real nice guy," Caleb continued. "I thought cops were always mean ... but now I think cops are real nice."
Caleb said none of the instructors got mad at him, not even once.
Lt. Chris Garcia, the lead instructor for the camp, said that fear is fairly typical from the nearly 30 kids in the class - and one of the main reasons for the anti-gang program.
"Most importantly, we want to form a very strong relationship with them, from law enforcement to children," Garcia said. "When I was a kid, we were afraid of police, and it doesn't need to be like that."
Through the program, kids up to sixth grade spend their summer learning karate and jujitsu, at no cost.
"This is not a fighting class," Caleb said, emphatically. "It's for peace, for self defense. It is not to beat someone up. I learned there are a lot of ways to defend yourself."
Even though the kids may not realize they are learning more than how to throw an attacker to the ground (the favorite move of most kids in the class), Jeremy De Los Santos, a volunteer and first degree black belt, said they also learn valuable life lessons.
De Los Santos, 22, attended the class when he was in sixth grade and has volunteered every year since.
"Martial arts has taught me confidence. It has taught me respect," De Los Santos said. "There are a lot of kids that just grow up angry ... It helped me a lot because I had somewhere to focus my energy."
Brandi Brand, of Victoria, said her daughters, ages 8 and 7, have participated in the program for three years. She said they come away more confident after each summer.
"My oldest used to get bullied a lot," Brand said. "Now, I see a lot more confidence in her and she is more self-assured. She is more likely to go out there and make friends."
She said it is important for the kids to stay busy so they don't get in trouble. The bonus with this program, she said, is that it is headed up by the sheriff's department.
"My kids, when they were little, they'd see a cop and say, 'Oh mom, it is a cop,'" Brand said. "Now, it doesn't bother them."
Her daughter, Skyy Burney, 7, said cops "catch the bad guys and help little children."
The program, in existence almost continually since 1996, recruits from the elementary schools, sending flyers for the kids to take home.
Garcia said the program focuses on belt colors - not gang colors - to keep the kids out of trouble.
"It is important because it gives them some self confidence, helps them with their hand-eye coordination, it teaches them to de-escalate issues and to be smart," Garcia said.
And, as Skyy said, "It is fun to get to do karate on people."