BullyProofing: La Jolla academy gains national attention for anti-bully classes


By Tina Safi


In recent weeks, bullies have made headlines across the country with multiple reports of children being bullied to death. Every day in the United States, an estimated 150,000 kids miss school due to fear or intimidation of bullies, and parents are wondering how to address such a crucial problem.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, located in La Jolla, offers a BullyProof program for children, aiming to boost confidence, increase awareness, and teach kids to be ready … for anything. The program also fosters character development, with a course that focuses on six areas: Responsibility, Health, Respect, Citizenship, Manners, and Caring. Each topic is studied for two months at a time. Participants are taught to incorporate each trait into their everyday lives through a point-based reward system.

Helio Gracie began the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu program in the 1920s, with the philosophy that with the right training, a smaller person could consistently defeat larger opponents using mixed martial arts.

In 1993, Rorian Gracie, Helio’s oldest son, established the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts program, as a continuation of the family art. Years later, the third Gracie generation, Ryron and Rener Gracie, began sharing the Gracie family’s Jiu-Jitsu program with the world by certifying martial arts schools.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu came to La Jolla, after instructor Matthew Becker participated at the first Gracie Instructor Certification course held at the famous Gracie Academy in Torrance, Calif. After being certified by the Gracies, Becker started teaching Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to his students in La Jolla, where he is the only instructor under the direct authority of Grand Master Helio Gracie to teach classes, including Gracie BullyProof.

“The effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has been repeatedly tested and proven throughout the world’s military organizations, police academies, martial arts challenge matches and the UFC,” said Dione Becker, co-owner of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in La Jolla.

Recently, the BullyProof Program, taught by Matthew Becker, has drawn the academy a great deal of attention. Media coverage for the program has ranged from plugs on Oprah to a feature on CNN, which included the program in a special last week about the nationwide bullying problem.

“The CNN American morning crew came to our headquarters last month to film a live Gracie BullyProof class and to interview the parents of the children who have been ‘bullyproofed’ at the Gracie Academy,” Becker said. “We are very excited about having Gracie BullyProof featured on such a respected network, since it will show millions of parents that there is a step-by-step program they can follow to instill unshakable confidence and bullyproof their children.”

Although Becker meets participants of the BullyProof program every day, one child in particular stands out to her, a 10-year-old named Jack.

“Jack’s parents brought him in after he came home from school with his glasses broken and his shirt ripped,” Becker said. “He wouldn’t tell anyone what happened, but after four private lessons he opened up and explained that a kid at school had been calling him names, physically harassing him, and generally making his life miserable.”

Through the Bullyproof Program, which includes verbal de-escalation and confidence building, Jack was eventually able to confront the bully and negotiate a truce. Because Gracie Jiu-Jitsu teaches students how to neutralize both physical AND verbal attacks, kids leave the academy armed with the ability to deal with “would-be” bullies in the future.

“Bullying is a real problem,” Becker said. “Children have lost their lives in our country this month, as a direct result of bullying. Our goal is to bullyproof every kid in La Jolla, and to help people become the best they can be in life with unshakable confidence.”

BullyProof classes are offered year-round, and the academy also offers camps for children during the summer and Thanksgiving holidays.

The program offers a “Little Champs” class for children ages 5 to 7, the “Jr. Grapplers” class for children aged 8 to 14 years-old, and the “Advanced Kids” program as transition to adult classes.