Students at Te Kura o Tāneatua in the Eastern Bay of Plenty are getting active and developing their leadership skills thanks to a popular Brazilian jiu jitsu programme.
The classes started in 2020 when Principal Mārama Stewart was looking for innovative ways to encourage the school’s tamariki to have fun, build fitness, learn self-control and attend school on a regular basis.
The programme’s initial success prompted Mārama to apply for Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa funding to ensure new and existing students could continue to benefit from the experience in 2022.
“Jiu jitsu is a game of control,” explains Mārama.
“It’s kind of like chess, but using your whole body. That is a really important thing for our tamariki to learn – self-control, self-management.”
Rehia in grade 7 loves taking part in the classes: “I usually stay calm and take deep breaths. It helps me stay calm and control my emotions, and helps me be a good leader for others.”
Located at the foothills of Te Urewera, Te Kura o Tāneatua is a small rural school of 137 tamariki. The school’s location means families must travel out of town to access martial arts classes or similar opportunities.
Mārama was keen to make sure her students had the same opportunities available to tamariki in nearby Whakatāne, so kickstarted the programme by reaching out to Whakatāne MMA Centre to see if they could help. Instructor Jerry Stensness jumped at the chance as he felt the classes would be a great way to channel the energy of schoolyard play fights, that often went awry, into an activity that was fun and empowered tamariki with a sense of responsibility.
“We run the programme once a week in a classroom setting, so it’s not an individual thing and you have to get along with the other students if you want to get good at this,” explains Jerry.
Jerry starts the sessions with a warm-up to encourage the tamariki to get moving, then a learning component of one or two techniques before students play a few games and finish with a bow and a handshake.
“In jiu jitsu you need a training partner. There’s a back and forth, so they know that, ok, I have to be calm, I have to be more in control of my emotions and my body in order to actually join in on the programme.”
Mārama agrees, and says Brazilian jiu jitsu has been an amazing martial art for the students to learn because it involves no striking, punching or kicking, and is built on mutual respect. She’s also noticed a big change in students as they build their confidence and become proud of who they are.
“That also makes parents excited because they love seeing their kids fit, healthy and active and happy and excited to go to school.”