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Kids learn about 'stranger danger'

ATA Martial Arts Studio teaches children self-defense techniques

Posted: July 5, 2009 9:37 p.m.
Updated: July 6, 2009 8:00 a.m.

Gavin Espinoza teaches breakaway techniques to Dylan Horowitz, 5, while his sister Ashley, 12, poses as a stranger who is trying to abduct him. ATA Martial Arts Studio hosts a weekly Kidz 'n Power seminar, endorsed by Amber Alert, for kids and parents to learn more about avoiding child abduction.

 
About 45 youngsters sat on the floor of ATA Martial Arts studio and watched their teacher, Gavin Espinosa, take on the role of a "stranger" who had just grabbed one of their friends from behind.

Immediately the "victim" sprang into action, channeling the three break-away techniques: bite, knee or kick the groin, and escape.

As he pretended to bite Espinosa's ear, the teacher reacted with a yelp, letting him go.

The student immediately turned around to knee the "stranger" and started screaming "Go away!" and "Help!" toward his mom, who gave him a hug.

The two-hour training session was part of "Kidz ‘n Power Child Safety," a program designed to teach kids about "stranger danger" and how to stay safe in dangerous situations.

ATA Martial Arts typically hosts the training session every three months, but the Stevenson Ranch studio held an impromptu class last week in response to concerns from local parents about how to keep their kids safe, said Jean Morrison, a fourth-degree black belt instructor.

Another session, which is free and open to the community, is scheduled for August, Morrison said.

"We hope you never have to use these skills, but practicing gives you a better chance to be safe," she said. "I think that's the bottom line."

The training session, backed by Amber Alert, is meant for kids ages 4 and up.

It includes a viewing of the video "Sgt. Safety," who guides kids through different scenarios they could encounter while playing or hanging out with their friends.

Espinosa, owner of ATA Martial Arts and fifth-degree black belt, walked the students through exercises to reinforce the lessons.
"The kids are very active. They're not just watching the video the whole time," Morrison said.

Woven into the presentation are tips and advice on how kids should deal with other dangers, like fires and drugs.

The afternoon class also featured a segment for parents, which taught them how to work with local authorities to report a suspicious person or attempted kidnapping, she said.

Bon Lohrli, of Valencia, brought his 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter to the training session Thursday.

Lohrli's kids have been enrolled at the martial arts studio for nearly five years; Thursday's session served as a refresher course.

He's thankful for the classes, he said, especially as people often forget about the dangers in their communities.

"It's made our kids better people," he said of the classes. "I think that it's foolish for people not to take advantage of the information."

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