DALLAS -- Holding out his right hand folded into a fist before a class of about 20 children, martial arts instructor Brandon Pelky said: "This is our toughness."
Then reaching out his left hand, leaving it open, he said: "This is our compassion and kindness."
Bringing his hands together, left over right, Pelky added: "We always cover our toughness with compassion and kindness." Pelky bowed to his students.
Covering their clinched fists with their left hands, the students bowed to their instructor.
This is how Pelky's martial arts classes begin every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Dallas' The Jungle Gym. The self-defense-focused classes are part of the city's free camps offered to children during the summer. Pelky's class is geared to teach children ages kindergarten through eighth-grade basic self-defense.
Pelky and his assistant, Chase Holley, lead the children through a series of warm-up drills, kicks, punches, elbow throws and defensive moves, such as choking.
"It can help you a lot in self-defense," said student Jonathan Shaw, 12, who has been attending for about a month. "They teach you really good techniques. I think that they teach us a lot in one day."
Teaching the children more than just how to use the techniques, Pelky tells his students when to use what they have been taught. Much in the spirit of the opening ritual, in which an open hand covers a fist, Pelky emphasizes safety and discretion with his students, telling them never to use the techniques for fun or on friends.
"I did worry about them doing this at home," said parent Jennifer Lee, who has three children in the class. "But they have never once crossed that line."
Lee and other parents at the Friday, July 15, class seemed impressed with how the class was conducted.
"He's teaching real stuff," said parent Erica Poston. "It's self-defense and it's not scary."
Poston's daughter, Sofia, 7, said she is learning more than she thought she would.
"I was expecting to do a lot of punching and kicking," she said, adding that her favorite part of the class is learning the choke moves and kicks.
Pelky works hard to make the class fun for the children, as well.
A game of "ninja tag" concludes the class. It's essentially "freeze tag" but, once tagged, the children have to stand on one foot until someone frees them. Two students are picked to be "it" and the chase begins. "Ninja tag" helps the children practice balancing on one foot, a key skill that will be used later. But the students, laughing and having a good time, don't notice that.
"It's so fun that they don't know that they are learning," Pelky said.
Want to Participate
* Martial arts classes are offered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at The Jungle Gym, 101 SW Court St., Dallas, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. through Sept. 2. There is no cost to take the class and parents need only bring their children and sign a waiver the morning of the class.
For more information about the class or other camps offered through the city, go to www.ci.dallas.or.us/sports.