When it comes to kids and martial arts, a fair bit of time is spent on differentiating between the good guys and the bad guys. It seems pretty easy since we’re dealing with schoolyard bullies, various stranger scenarios, and practicing self defence moves. It all seems pretty cut and dried. Until you hear that one of your students’ three friends were killed by a drunk driver. 

A week ago, a horrible accident occurred in Vaughan, Ontario in which an allegedly drunk driver named Marco Muzzo sped through a stop sign and t-boned a van and killed three children and a grandfather. Two other passengers, the grandmother and great-grandmother, were seriously injured as well. Muzzo is facing several serious charges relating to this fatal accident.  He is currently in custody awaiting a bail hearing on October 19th. The mother and the father of the children, who were not in the van at the time of the accident are now dealing with the nightmare of losing three children. Daniel Neville-Lake was 9, Harry was 5, and Millie only 2.

This might have faded in my memory as another horrible drunk driving accident, except for one thing.

One of my adult class students, 10 year old Ryan, knew these kids. He hung out with them and attended their birthday parties. Ryan is a great kid and recently was promoted to yellow belt. I was really proud of him when he got that rank. The look on his face when he got the promotion is one I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

A few days before the aforementioned accident, Ryan and I had gotten into a “heated” argument over the merits of R2D2 vs. Darth Vader. The kid was earnestly trying to convince me that R2D2 is more of a “bad ass” than Darth Vader. He was quite convincing. It was a hilarious argument. Quite a few folks, overhearing this “argument” were chuckling. Various newspaper articles have indicated that Ryan’s friend, Daniel, was a Stars Wars fan as well. I would imagine that Ryan and Daniel probably discussed that movie quite a bit. I think that, through these discussions, he was prepared for his “argument” with me.

Then BAM, three days after that “argument”, this horrific accident took place.  His mother, step-mother, and his father had to break the news to him that he lost three friends due to a drunk driver. His mother and step mother have posted some pictures of Ryan with his deceased friends and a drawing that he did in tribute to his three lost friends. One can only imagine being in the shoes of parents trying to explain the cruelties and vagaries of life to a young child.

Tribute by Ryan to his three friends
Tribute by Ryan to his three friends, Daniel, Harry and Milly. With permission from Ryan’s mother

As a Modern Arnis/self defence instructor, I focus on teaching kids how to use social skills to get out of situations and physical skills to be able to defend themselves against school yard bullies and adults alike. I also teach them basic leadership skills and how to be confident and assertive human beings. In addition, I focus on teaching Filipino Martial Arts and the fascinating things that you can do with a stick. It’s all those things that we think in terms of “self defence” and “martial arts.”

But how do you explain to a kid that one of the bad guys might be a drunk driver with an apparent disdain for society and that there’s no defence against drunk drivers except hope that the parents embrace the philosophy of defensive driving? That what I teach can help him with most situations but not all of them? That life seems random? I have no doubt that his mother, step-mother and his father are trying to answer some of those questions that Ryan might pose to them. It’s akin to telling an unsuspecting kid that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are not real. LIfe is not fair and can be especially cruel. A lot for a kid to handle.

I will have to consider how to talk to Ryan if he raises the topic in class. While his mother, father and step mother have far larger roles in his life, I’m aware that the role of a teacher or a martial arts instructor in helping him deal with this situation might be helpful for him.

This reminds me that the classes in Activity Room 4 at the Legends Community Centre are not only just for self defence and Filipino Martial Arts, but it is also a “refuge/safe haven” for those wanting a break from real life.

“Step into the room, forget about life for a short while. When you step in the door, leave the distractions behind and just train.”  – Me.

Having become more aware that a few of my students have gone through tough times in the past year or so makes it all the more imperative that the classes represent an opportunity to forget about life for a little while. There isn’t much that I can do about the bad fortunes/misfortunes of my students.

But I can provide them with a place to get away and just train.

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