Earn your stripes

It’s not easy being a kid, you know. Karen Iley discovers a club that turns your cub into a tiger in order to survive in today’s big, bad world


What would your child do if they were approached by a stranger? Would they know who to call if the house was on fire? How would they cope if they were being picked on at school? Or are they potentially a bit of a bully themselves? These are all questions that keep mums and dads awake at night. Of course, we hope such situations never arise, but would our kids be prepared if they did?

We must admit we raised an eyebrow when we first read about life skills coaching for young ’uns. Surely they should be carefree, full of joy and not weighed down with life’s woes and burdens? But seeing the folk at Total Kids Defence (TKD) Tigers in action, we’ve come round to their way of thinking. While Dubai may be relatively safe and kid friendly compared to other parts of the world, the fact is that our children can still be victims – be it from bullying in school, being approached by a stranger, low self-esteem, lack of confidence or poor health and fitness.

‘Our aim is to give children the foundation, knowledge and experience they need to confidently know how to stay safe and to make the right decisions in potentially life-threatening situations,’ says Simon Brownrigg, business development manager for TKD Tigers.

The classes – involving cleverly designed games and role play – teach kids all about safety, fitness, health, peer pressure and bullying, as well as family values. Serious stuff, all this, but where TKD Tigers excels, and where it differentiates itself from a dull school lesson or tedious lecture from mum and dad is that it’s, quite simply, a lot of fun. ‘We’re making kids play, so, although they’re learning important lessons, they think it’s just a game,’ says Simon.

For example, should a stranger try to lure them away with the promise of games or sweets, kids learn they should run away quickly and shout, ‘Stranger, stranger!’ TKD Tigers also helps tackle the very real problem of child obesity, getting kids to battle their way through an imaginary forest and pretending to be slithery snakes and towering giraffes. ‘Nowadays, kids think they have to be sitting on a PlayStation to have fun; the jungle game gets them moving and using some good old-fashioned imagination. They’re learning to keep fit without even knowing it,’ says Simon.

At such tender ages, kids are unlikely to be accomplished at ‘proper’ sports like tennis or football, but they can develop a love of activity while learning the rules of games. ‘There’s also another side to it,’ Simon explains. ‘Here in Dubai, sport is very competitive. There’s a lot of pressure to get into teams and be the best. At TKD Tigers there are no winners and losers – anyone can be good because they’re developing leadership, involvement and teamwork while also learning that activity is fun.’

For sure, the kids we saw taking part in a demo lesson were having a whale of a time. Let’s face it, getting to yell your lungs out, run amok and wriggle around on the floor – and be patted on the back for doing so – is sheer heaven for your average three to eight-year-old.

Even when it comes to more sensitive subjects such as bullying, TKD Tiger games teach children how to avoid being a victim – for example by boosting their confidence and self-esteem or improving their posture – as well as how to react to bullies. Courses contain basic taekwondo principles, so kids learn moves to extract themselves from brawls, while the course also targets potential culprits and nips bullying behaviour in the bud. ‘Some kids don’t realise that they are bullying. You know the ones: boys who think it’s a game to punch a girl in the shoulder if they like her.

We teach kids how far they can go, we show them where the line is, and if they step over it, they learn that they need to apologise and get on with playing,’ says Simon. But is this rough and tumble not all part of the school of life? Simon points out, ‘We’re not saying “Stop playing”. Kids will still jump on each other, but we can teach them when to stop.’

Water safety, road safety and home safety are all covered, and parents are encouraged to get involved. The guide and story book includes questions to ask and extra tasks for kids to complete. So, ‘Being nice to my little sister’, ‘Eating two pieces of fruit every day’ and drawing the family’s escape route in case of fire can earn them extra points and count towards their bronze, silver and gold awards.

Kids are provided with their own karate-style tiger suits, and are rewarded for hard work and effort, not just natural ability. But the real beauty of TKD Tigers is that they don’t even realise they’re learning. ‘It’s quiet education. Kids don’t want to do serious stuff, but they are taking it all in. In a real situation, they could turn it around.’
TKD Tigers is run in various schools across Dubai. If your school is interested in a free tester session, contact Simon Brownrigg on 050 348 2080. Parents should call 055 367 9544 to find out about existing classes.

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