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Martial Artist's 'Life Calling' Devoted to Bully Prevention

Joe Van Deuren didn't find his "life calling" until he was 40, but since then has devoted 18 years to helping kids overcome bullying at his Annapolis-based martial arts studio.

The National Education Association reports that nearly 1/3 of all school-aged children are affected by bullying on a monthly basis—a statistic that Joe Van Deuren has committed his life to changing.

But it wasn’t until he was 40 that the Edgewater man figured out that his “life calling” was to help kids overcome bullying and to stop it in the early years of their development.

Now, as the leader of in Annapolis, Van Deuren is developing a systematic and almost scientific way of combating bullying and sharing it with the community in weekly workshops.

After watching his youngest child, now 24, progress through all the levels of schooling, Van Deuren is now teaching kids how to stop bullying in classrooms and how to prevent it before it’s even a reality on the playground. In his workshop-like seminar called “Focus on Friendship, Bully Prevention Workshop,” he takes his vast experience in martial arts and applies it to instilling confidence and peace in young people.

“I started really studying martial arts in all its aspects—in the spiritual aspect too—thinking a lot deeper than just the physical stuff,” Van Deuren said. “I was bullied as a child, but I don’t know if that’s what drove me to this. When I graduated from school, had children and was in a fortunate situation, I just recognized there were issues that crosses the line whether kids were in public school or private school.”

Systematically, Van Deuren breaks down his training for kids into six tools ranging from five-step, conflict-handling processes to self-confidence boosters. He focuses on attitude, awareness and authenticity while training workshop attendants. One of the most unique things he does is work with kids as young as 4-5 years old.

“I don’t think we should be waiting until they get to middle school. By the time they’re 13, their character is solidified,” Van Deuren said. “I have kids in my school that are 4. I’m beginning to already do things with them that sets the groundwork that teachers them about friendship.”

The workshops are split up by age and gender for all children older than kindergarten, and while balancing taekwondo, he teaches them the values of communication, empathy, understanding and facing confrontational personalities.

The workshop is nice, Van Deuren said, but his vision for the county is much larger than his once-a-week classes.

“This is a life calling. I have some really big ideas of things I’m going to do in this county. I’m laying the groundwork for them now,” Van Deuren said.

The martial arts expert also said that his current season of life has allowed him to focus on the things that truly matter and not just making money with the workshops. Van Deuren said he’s able to avoid problems that he sees in other martial art studios.

“Too many martial arts schools are like McDojos—for ‘x’ number of dollars, you get a black belt,” Van Deuren said.

Moving forward, Van Deuren dreams of having peer-to-peer workshops throughout the county with high school students working with middle school students, and then see them work with younger kids.

“It’s not about posters, it’s not about programs, it’s about people,” Van Deuren said. “In any given school, the culture is driven by the principal … If bullying is a major issue to them, they will have a lot less of it. If something is more important than that, like test scores, it doesn’t happen.”

“We’re not teaching math or sciences, we’re teaching students. They’re eventually going to learn one plus one, but if they’re so scared they’re going to be bullied, they’re not going to learn a thing,” Van Deuren said. 

What is the key to bully prevention in Anne Arundel County? Tell me in the comments. 

Alice Shindelar July 17, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Want to help put an end to bullying? Check this out: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/158301?a=835579

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