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STAFF PHOTO/JEFF HORVATH During Friday’s demonstration, martial arts studio Master Kevin Robinson shows Brandon Gabriel how to shout and yell to attract attention if someone tries to grab him.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2015:08:21 10:50:22

STAFF PHOTO/JEFF HORVATH Representatives from different area agencies, including the Mental Health and Developmental Services, Health Care Quality Unit, Advocacy Alliance of NEPA, and Keystone Community Resources, attended Friday’s program. Front row from left, Theresa Schrig of the Health Care Quality Unit, Brandon Gabriel, and Crystal Goss. Back row from left, Master Kevin Robinson, Nikki Dunn, John McManus, Dr. Sharon Salzone, Kristie Baker, Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry, Gina Galli of the Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Developmental Services, Nancy Sterlazzo, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Developmental Programs Nancy Thaler, and Tim Little.

Many individuals who practice martial arts do so to develop self-confidence and to learn how to protect themselves. Martial arts allows them to feel safe, and provides friends and family with the comfort of knowing that their loved one can defend themselves in bad situations.

Nonetheless, for individuals with special needs or intellectual disabilities, the physical demands of martial arts may pose a challenge. Moreover, the very disabilities that often prevent special needs individuals from physically defending themselves sometimes make these individuals targets for criminals. This can leave families of special needs persons in a precarious situation; they want their loved ones to enjoy the independence that they deserve, but also worry about their safety.

The people at the Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Developmental Services know this well, and that’s why they, in concert with the Training Council on Quality, the Advocacy Alliance of Northeast PA Health Care Quality Unit, and Keystone Community Resources, teamed up with Robinson’s Martial Arts Institute of Tunkhannock on Friday, Aug. 21, to teach local residents with special needs how to “stay safe.”

The program, “Building Confidence and Learning a Skill to Stay Safe,” was designed to teach vocal assertiveness and self-confidence, as well as safe social behaviors, to intellectually disabled individuals.

“Self-defense means being in control of your body, mind, and emotions,” said Kevin Robinson, owner of Robinson’s Martial Arts Institute, while addressing a group of about 25 special needs persons on Friday morning.

“You don’t always need to use physical force to protect yourself,” he continued. “Your voice is your number one weapon.”

Robinson went through numerous scenarios, each time illustrating how an assertive voice and confident body-language can be the best line of defense in a dangerous situation.

Possibly the most important advice of the morning was to not keep secrets. “Bad guys don’t like secrets,” Robinson told the group, “so if someone is bothering you, touching you, poking you, or just making you uncomfortable, then you have to speak up and tell someone.”

“A stranger can look like anyone,” he continued, “they don’t always look mean, and sometimes they can look really nice, but you need to use your voice if they make you feel scared or want you to come with them. Something as simple as yelling ‘no, no, stop, stop,’ can protect you in a bad situation.”

Robinson went around the room and had each person practice yelling “no” and “stop,” which the group had fun with given that it was a hypothetical. Nonetheless, the message was clear, and it can make all the difference when dealing with thieves and criminals.

Robinson also demonstrated how to walk with confidence, which entails making eye-contact and not shying away from passing strangers. He also explained that you shouldn’t walk with valuables, such as cell-phones, exposed, and that you shouldn’t talk about money or other valuables while on the phone in public.

Robinson and his assistant, Nikki Dunn, also demonstrated the safest way to carry a purse or bag when out of the house. A bag should always be carried with the strap around your neck and under your arm. This makes it hard for thieves to grab it and run off.

De-escalation was another important theme of Robinson’s presentation.

“If someone starts arguing with you or yelling at you, back away, remain calm, and speak softly but firmly,” Robinson advised.

In true martial arts form, Robinson and Dunn showed the group how to back away from a dangerous person with their hands up before faces, not in a cowering position, but in a position to defend themselves if necessary.

By the end of the program it was clear that everyone had a lot of fun learning and practicing the safety strategies and confidence building skills, but also that everyone walked away having learned invaluable 2lessons about how to be safe and independent at the same time.