Make no mistake. The students at Master Gorino's Taekwondo in Amherst are learning how to fight. But, they're also learning that there are many other options they can use to fight bullying, before anything has to turn physical.
"This is all about developing the student at a person," Master Chuck Gorino said. "The tenants of taekwondo are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. So when the kids are coming in here we're trying to build those qualities in them."
The dojang has started a new initiative to address bullying in schools. Master Gorino had been teaching his students for years how they can deal with bullies at school and how to avoid fights, but now those same students are expected to spread those lessons among their classmates.
"If there's a child sitting alone at a table eating lunch by themselves or they're at a table and nobody is paying attention to them, walk over," Gorino said. "Put your arm around them and say hey, do you want to come and eat with me?"
It's a message his students are eager to pass along.
"A kid should be able to go to school without getting bullied and picked on when they're trying to learn," Elias Hansen, an 11-year-old at Sweet Home Middle School, said.
"[Bullying] makes me feel upset inside because I have younger siblings and if I saw that happening to them, I would be on to it and I'd be mad," Kenmore East High School 10th grader Ava Plapus explained.
The students sign an anti-bully pledge and promise to be friendly to all students, avoid fighting as best they can, befriend students who may be lonely and seek help from an adult whenever trouble arises.
As a way to show peers they are here to help, the students wear blue T-shirts that read "Bullying stops with me." Master Gorino sent letters to the schools his students attend to let them know about the initiative and has received positive feedback from administrators and teachers.
On Thursday, Oct. 25, Master Gorino is hosting a free seminar on the topic at the dojang located at 839 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Amherst. It starts at 6:45 p.m. and is open to children, parents and school teachers/administrators. Anyone interested in attending is asked to call (716) 836-KICK to reserve a spot.