Youth leads the way for other girls to practice martial arts.
In honor of International Women’s Day and Women's History Month, we want to highlight McKayla*, a 6th-grade youth enrolled in the Friends program who embodies determination, growth mindset and resilience no matter the obstacle.
It’s Thursday, 3:30 p.m. McKayla is waiting on her Friend, Tiana*, to
pick her up from school. On any other day, you can find McKayla and
Tiana hanging out doing arts and crafts, playing board games, writing
letters and making cards for her friends and families.
But it’s Thursday, and for McKayla, that only means one thing: Jiu-Jitsu.
McKayla is a yellow belt in Jiu-Jitsu, working on her way to earning
her orange belt through weekly classes provided by Five Rings Jiu Jitsu
Academy at the Friends Rockwood facility. She began the Jiu-Jitsu
classes two years ago and has been committed ever since.
Jiu-Jitsu is a self-dense martial art focused on grappling and body
control, but its teaching is individualized to the person learning and
adaptive to their environment. It provides skills you might expect, like
providing youth with strategies for anti-bullying—avoiding fights and
defending themselves if necessary. Even more important for our youth, it
champions body positivity and walking confidently. This physical and
mental toolkit is especially empowering for young girls, who navigate
higher amounts of societal pressure and violence.
As a practice that is adaptive to a person and their environment, the
Jiu Jitsu classes at Friends focus on the basics, building a foundation
for the “long-haul,” said Coach Dan, who has been practicing Jiu-Jitsu
for ten years. He combined his love for teaching children with his
passion for the sport in 2015 after joining the Five Rings Jiu Jitsu
Academy. “Jiu-Jitsu saved my life,” said Coach Dan, pointing to the
mental, physical and community-building innate to the sport as his
sources of strength when he had to overcome his own personal challenges
Like a lot of people, adults and kids alike, McKayla was a little
nervous when first seeing Jiu-Jitsu during a week-long camp at Friends
in 2018, involving several hours of daily practice. Few people would
choose a week-long summer camp as their introduction to Jiu-Jitsu, but
if we look at how McKayla’s channeled her growth mindset and
appreciation for healthy competition in other sparks, then we shouldn’t
be surprised. “She gave soccer a shot, and it’s now her favorite sport.
She was encouraged to play the viola, and now she’s an amazing performer
in her school's orchestra,” said Tiana. She goes on to say it’s no
surprise that McKayla “started Jiu-Jitsu by being open-minded and now
Initially, McKayla really enjoyed the community and social
connection, and over the years, that developed into more leadership
skills. Tiana says McKayla “... is now comfortable helping another youth
with a new skill, raising her hand to be a line leader or offering to
be an example with the coach to show a new skill; she’s always wanting
to find her own solutions to her challenges.” Coach Dan builds on this
sentiment, and said, “She is always coming in with a big high-five, or a
big hug, and brings a lot of enthusiasm in helping the other girls.”
We could all learn a thing or two from McKayla about trying new things.