Martial arts classes give junior high student confidence to face bullies

The Den Fitness Center

CARTERVILLE,IL — Bullying in schools is a big problem. Twenty percent of students ages 12-18 experienced it in 2017, according to stopbullying.gov.

A video shows a southern Illinois junior high student being beaten up. She suffered a concussion and broken nose. She’s doing a lot better now. And she has a newfound confidence — thanks to martial arts lessons.

“All I know is that I was just getting punched in the face every second. Just over and over again,” said Makayla Jane.

That’s what 13-year-old Makayla Jane remembers about her second to last day of school — being beaten up by a bully. “I got jumped, and I didn’t even know the person,” she said. She started the summer with physical and emotional scars.

The video caught the attention of martial arts instructor Mike Ben Avi.

“Nobody deserves to be bullied. It’s heartbreaking. It could be anybody’s daughter or sister,” Avi said.

He invited Makayla Jane to join the anti-bullying program he teaches at the Den Fitness Center in Carterville, Illinois.

“I decided to take this project and girl under my wing. The best I can do is give her confidence and teach her tools to defend herself,” said Avi

The Den Fitness Center

Avi not only teaches his students how to protect themselves physically, but also mentally.

“A lot of friendship, a lot of respect, how to be a better person. I always tell them we are on this mat practicing. Sometimes they push themselves to the limit. I keep telling them leave that aside. You want to walk out of here — and you will eventually — knowing that the hardest fight in the world is life,” said Avi.

Now Makayla Jane has a new family behind her and enough confidence to start school in August.

“Stand up for yourself. Don’t just let yourself down. Always pick yourself up when you’re down. Don’t let anyone bully you,” she said.

Those are lessons that will take her far in life. If you’re interested in learning more about anti-bullying martial arts classes at Den Fitness Center, they meet between 4:30 p.m and 8:30 p.m., Mondays and Thursdays.