By ANDREW SCOTT
EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Students at Pocono Self Defense School in Smithfield Township train like their lives depend on it.
Because, in a very real sense, their lives do depend on how well they learn the values of discipline, focus, self-control, respect, humility, determination and hard work taught at the school.
Self-defense students wear belts of different colors, each representing a promotion to a different level of experience and progress. Representing the levels of promotion from least to most experienced, Pocono Self Defense School belt colors are white, blue, yellow, green, brown and black.
“Here, if you’re over a yellow belt, you must be on the Honor Roll,’’ said Sensei Anthony Scott, founder and head instructor, himself coming from a family of educators. “Academic excellence is one of the requirements we stress.’’
Located in the business area by Alaska Pete’s Roadhouse Grille, off the stretch of Route 209 known as Seven Bridges Road, Pocono Self Defense School functions as an extended family for each of its students.
“Our dojo (school) is the proverbial village raising each child walking through our doors,’’ Scott said.
The racially diverse student body numbers 42, ranging in age from 4 to adult.
Upon entering, each student and instructor gives the greeting, “osu’’ or “oss’’ (pronounced “oos’’), which is taken from a Japanese phrase meaning “I will persevere.’’ That term also is a response to an instructor’s guidance.
Each class is a series of practice fighting stances, sparring matches and holds and positions demonstrated by instructors, who alternate between English and Japanese when addressing students.
“There usually isn’t a class where we aren’t wiping sweat off the mat at the end,’’ Scott said, accompanied by co-instructor Shihan Ray Lewis.
“That’s how hard we work.’’
This work ethic has propelled the four-year-old school to amass 200 trophies and medals at various competitions and tournaments between New York and Pennsylvania in the past year, Scott said. Eleven students won top places in the most recent competition, the annual Keystone Karate Tournament earlier this summer in Wilkes-Barre.
Pocono Self Defense School will join Pennsylvania’s best in competing against the best from other states at a national event next year in West Virginia.
Having established itself in the competitive arena, Pocono Self Defense School is now hosting its own tournament, inviting other schools from this area and beyond to compete, Oct. 26 to 28 at the Bushkill Inn & Conference Center.
“But again, it’s not about throwing punches and kicks or winning trophies,’’ Scott said. “It’s about the character we’re trying to build in our students. And going hand in hand with this is the philosophy of giving back to our community.’’
Which is why part of the proceeds from registration and attendance fees for the October tournament will go to Women’s Resources of Monroe County and the Suicide Prevention hotline.
As part of fundraising efforts to help pay the expenses of hosting the tournament, Pocono Self Defense School had a yard sale last month.
There’s a reason Pocono Self Defense School has chosen Women’s Resources and the Suicide Prevention hotline as causes to benefit with its upcoming tournament. Both agencies help people survive and overcome challenging circumstances to lead full lives.
“It’s about empowerment, the very thing our school teaches,’’ said Scott.
Empowerment is something Scott, 55, began learning at age 4 when introduced by his uncle, Warren Bailey, to the world of Seido karate, in which Bailey has been an instructor for decades.
“Seido is a traditional Japanese style of karate that has two goals: to maximize each student’s physical skills and to cultivate individuals of the highest moral character who can make significant contributions to their family life, the workplace and to society at large,’’ states information on the website of the World Seido Karate Organization, of which Bailey and Scott are members.
A tragedy’s impact
Learning the “physical skills’’ part helped Scott survive in the tough neighborhoods of New York City and later Los Angeles, where he lived after his U.S. Coast Guard service. After his 18-year-old younger brother was murdered in Los Angeles in a case of mistaken identity in 1992, Scott settled in the Poconos.
“My brother was the mama’s boy while I was the more adventurous one,’’ Scott said, the tears in his eyes showing how this tragedy’s impact still lingers 26 years later. “His murder sent me down a path where I started drinking and doing other self-destructive things to dull the pain of losing him.
“My uncle Warren rescued me by bringing me back to Seido,’’ he said. “I began training again. One year, I trained for five hours a day, five to six days a week, for 11 months. I entered and excelled in international competitions involving full-contact semi-knockdown with no gloves or shin guards. I began getting back into the discipline and values that motivated me to make better decisions in my life.’’
Scott came to realize the best way to honor his brother’s memory. It’s by inspiring children and young adults to rise above the environment of crime and senseless violence claiming too many lives.
It’s why the former security guard and constable has been mentoring children for years, whether as a counselor in alternative educational systems for troubled youths or as a karate instructor.
“One of the things I love about the martial way is that it builds self-esteem,’’ Scott said. “Notice I say the martial ‘way’ and not martial ‘arts’ because I believe it’s a way of life, not just something you practice as a hobby. The martial way teaches defending yourself not just against people looking to harm you, but also against the negative influences and situations that can lead you down the wrong path.
“It also teaches humility and self-control,’’ he said. “Our students learn not to be showoffs with their skills, to be indifferent to insults and to always seek to resolve conflicts nonviolently if at all possible. When you realize how easily you can seriously hurt someone with what you know, you try to avoid violence if you can.’’
Student Mikyla Askew, 14, of Stroudsburg, seems to get it.
“This has helped build and shape me as a person,’’ Askew said.
Fellow student Sebastian Cohen, 9, of East Stroudsburg, agrees.
“There’s a really strong support system here at our school,’’ he said.