All the right moves

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Kula Elementary School counselor Jennifer Kelley (from left), Mindful Martial Arts head coach Gabe Brewdant and Parent Community Networking Center coordinator Jody Kele teamed up to kick-start a series of after-school mindfulness and martial arts classes for students at the school.

Ever feel like you’re drowning in life’s distractions? And that you need to slow down, take a deep breath and be fully present in the moment?

Kids do, too.

Research indicates that teaching mindfulness — often defined as nonjudgmental present-moment awareness — to children has myriad benefits, including enhanced well-being, decreased stress levels and improved academic performance. So, it comes as no surprise that mindfulness programs are cropping up in schools nationwide, including MindUP, a neuroscience-based program spearheaded by the Goldie Hawn Foundation that teaches kids how to improve their focus, regulate their emotions, form positive relationships, and act with kindness and compassion.

In 2016, Kula Elementary School launched MindUP as part of its social-emotional learning curriculum. Among other things, students practice mindful communication, take periodic mind-quieting “brain breaks,” and unravel the intricacies of their own neurobiology. (They can tell you how the brain’s prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus work.)

Last fall, the school took the program up a notch.

Gabe Brewdant’s students took the stage to demonstrate their Brazilian jujitsu skills during Kula Elementary School’s annual talent show on May 24.

In August, school counselor Jennifer Kelley, who helped roll out Kula Elementary School’s MindUP program, introduced Parent Community Networking Center coordinator Jody Kele to Mindful Martial Arts founder and head coach Gabe Brewdant. Headquartered in Kula, Mindful Martial Arts offers classes that blend martial arts training with mindfulness practices and thought-provoking group discussions.

Amid the flurry of first-day-of-school preparations, Kele and Brewdant teamed up to plan a series of after-school mindfulness and martial arts classes for students in two age groups. Brewdant was ideally suited for the role: Apart from studying Brazilian jujitsu for 15 years and holding a blue belt with four stripes, he was also trained as a Montessori teacher and has taught mindfulness, martial arts and life skills to students of all ages for more than a decade. “I really love working with kids,” he said. “This program is a dream come true for me.”

To say it was an auspicious debut would be an understatement. Brewdant’s roster filled up almost immediately. Kele says she wasn’t surprised. “When we first met to talk about the program, I told Gabe, ‘I think you’re going to get some takers,’ “ she laughed. “I had no doubt there would be interest.” And that interest hasn’t waned. Over the course of the 2018-19 school year, nearly 90 students in kindergarten through 5th grade learned the fundamentals of Brazilian jujitsu from Brewdant every Friday afternoon; there’s a waitlist for the upcoming school year.

A martial art and combat sport, Brazilian jujitsu is an adaptation of judo and traditional Japanese jujitsu. Perhaps best known for its ground fighting techniques, Brazilian jujitsu teaches smaller, weaker individuals to defend themselves against larger, stronger opponents by using leverage and proper technique. It also teaches confidence, self-discipline and emotional control. If you pay a visit to one of Brewdant’s classes, you’ll see that his students learn more than how to correctly and safely execute jujitsu maneuvers. They also learn mindfulness techniques, bullying prevention skills, and other enduring life lessons. And it’s a lot of fun. “That’s what I enjoy the most — the smiles and the hugs,” Brewdant said.

On May 24, eight of his students put their newfound skills on display during Kula Elementary School’s annual talent show. Kele, who coordinates the event every year, said the gi-clad performers dazzled the audience. And it was a proud teacher moment for Brewdant. “They knocked it out of the park,” he said.

Like all great ideas, this one is catching on. In addition to Kula Elementary School, Brewdant will soon offer after-school mindfulness and martial arts classes on other campuses; there also are programs available to the general public. Summer classes are now underway (there are still a few spots available) and fall classes begin in August. Scholarships and financial aid are reserved for those who demonstrate financial need; community members can sponsor a scholarship or make a financial contribution in any amount so all kids can participate.

Kele says the mindfulness and martial arts program made a lasting impact on students in the space of a single school year. “It gave them a safe place to go after school, it built their self-confidence . . . and it made life easier for many of these kids,” she said. Looking to the future, Kele said, “It can only do more good.”

For more information about Mindful Martial Arts, visit www.mindfulmartialarts.com or www.facebook.com/mindfulmartialartsmaui. To register a child for classes, visit www.mindfulmartialarts.com/register. For information about scholarships and financial aid, visit www.mindfulmartialarts.com/financial-aid. To learn more about donor opportunities, visit www.mindfulmartialarts.com/donations.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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