“We’re a family here,” program director Ada Vargas reassuringly told us during our son’s Amerikick Park Slope class, located at 529 5th Avenue and 14th Street. “Just give it some time. We’re all here to help, and will do whatever we need to do to make this work.”
As I stood there and watched my kid fly back and forth across the mat, screaming like a wild banshee, serious doubts began to creep in. Henry was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder in 2013, and by the age of three, already had a broken trail of preschool and activity attempts in his wake.
“He’s a bit too active for this type of class,” a dance instructor once said.
“You need to have him evaluated for autism,” declared a preschool teacher at the end of a four-day phase-in.
“I’ve never seen a tantrum like that,” said another teacher, “there is something seriously wrong with your child.”
While our brains organize the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feel of the world around us into appropriate responses, the sensory input is all a bit jumbled in Henry’s mind. A gentle caress is like sandpaper across the skin. The grinding of a distant drill will bring him to tears. Crowded rooms can oftentimes be so overwhelming that his body flies into overdrive. He’ll run, spin, jump, smash into walls, and even yell at the top of his lungs to try and feed the fight-or-flight type of response his body is having to a particular environment.
That said, our son has always been friendly, outgoing, and confident. He wanted to go to school and wanted to be around other kids, so in addition to beginning play and occupational therapies, we continued looking for a neighborhood program that would not only embrace Henry, but help him soar. That’s when we found Amerikick.
Founded in 2005 by Sensei Alex Davydov (pictured above), Amerikick Park Slope offers martial arts classes for children ages three through adult in a fun, but disciplined atmosphere.
“There are a lot of different benefits in martial arts,” Alex explained. “Confidence, focus, self-control, discipline, and self-respect. Whether kids are in a team sport, at school, or just playing outside on the street, these attributes help them excel at anything.”
The 3- and 4-year-old Little Tiger class focuses on developing motor skills.
“Because they have a small attention span,” said Alex, “we keep them active with lots of obstacle courses, and they learn martial arts through moving.
“As the kids get older,” he continued, “they have a longer attention span. For the 5- and 6-year-olds, the techniques are stationary, but still move a bit fast.
“There’s still not much downtime,” he said, “but we explain the techniques a bit better, so that they understand how to execute a block or a kick properly.”
Emphasis turns to self-defense between the ages of 7 and 12.
“The main goal in this environment, in any martial arts school, is for kids to learn how to defend themselves,” said Alex. “We believe that the best way to defend yourself is to walk away from a fight. We teach the kids to use martial arts only as a last resort. When the punches are already flying at you.”
When it comes to the actual instruction at Amerikick, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“There are a lot of different techniques in martial arts that most people can do,” Alex explained. “The movement can always be modified, depending on the body. If you’re overweight and trying to get into shape, you’ll do things a little slower than others at first, or if you’re not very flexible, you’ll just kick a bit lower to the ground, but you can do it.”
As Henry struggled in his early days at Amerikick, Sensei Alex, along with his two senior instructors, Ricky Taylor and Adrian Johnson, took him under their wings, and it quickly became apparent that the school was committed to helping our son.
The attention paid off, too. Ten months down the road, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in Henry’s focus and self-control both on the mat and at home. He was even able to compete in a recent tournament, winning a bronze medal for his age group.
Better still? He’s having a blast doing it.
“It’s awesome to see a child transform,” said Alex. “You see some kids start at a level where you want to tell them to leave. To say we can’t accommodate you. But then it’s a challenge.
“When Henry started,” he continued, “he was running around, and making a lot of noise. Now he’s in line, following the team, and then recently, he was wearing an honorary black belt for the day.
“It’s a huge thing,” Alex smiled, “and it makes me proud. These types of things money can’t buy.”
This proud mama agrees.