HAMILTON >> Knowledge of proper self-defense not only saves lives, but also builds confidence and can improve other areas in life as well.
That’s the lesson Trenton Police Youth Explorers are learning over the course of six months as they participate in self-defense training courtesy of Primal Gym in Hamilton, the training grounds for a few local amateur boxers.
Since January, the Explorers have trained twice a month at the gym, where they learn mixed martial arts, boxing, kickboxing, hand-to-hand combat and other self-defense skills.
“I’ve always wanted the kids to learn some type of self-defense skills,” Detective Phil Peroni said. “We can teach them what we know as police officers, but this is a more structured setting.”
The TPD Youth Explorers Program, which was reinstated in 2014 after a three-year hiatus, is just one of the initiatives local police are using to connect with the city’s young population. The program’s goal is to help young people develop into positive community influences regardless of what career field they choose later in life.
Although self-defense training will be necessary if the kids decide to join the police force, the skills are also useful in everyday life, especially in an urban city where neighborhood cliques often distance themselves from teens who seem mentally and physically weaker than others.
“This type of training can change lives,” Primal Gym owner Jim McCann said. “It gives them direction and a sense of purpose. I’ve seen introverted people all of a sudden become extroverts on some level because they found something they were good at.”
Peroni and now-retired Officer Elsie Vega-Medina started searching for a way to incorporate extensive self-defense training into the Youth Explorers program about two years ago. They eventually connected with McCann who agreed to train the kids for free because TPD doesn’t have the funds in its budget. The Explorers will train every other Sunday through June, and McCann has agreed to continue training some of the kids throughout the summer.
“It’s a way for me to give back to the community,” McCann, who has been training in martial arts and self-defense for the past 43 years, said. “I’ve already seen growth in some of these kids and hopefully they will take that back into the world.”
Just as the goal of the Explorers program is not to convince kids to become police officers, the goal of self-defense training is not to convince teens to become champion fighters.
“Boxing is not only about fighting,” 17-year-old Shinard Bunch, a member of the U.S. Junior Olympic Boxing team, said while taking a break from training the Explorers. “It teaches discipline and respect.”
“Boxing is a great sport that gives kids something to focus on to help them stay out of trouble,” 20-year-old Junior Abel, who won the Diamond Glove tournament as a sub-novice last year, said.
Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. and Mayor Eric Jackson stopped by the gym Sunday to witness the positive growth of the Youth Explorers as well.
“It makes me feel great to have local kids in the ring inspiring these younger Explorers,” Jackson said. “We don’t talk enough about the good things that are happening around here. Our youth are doing great things not only to inspire themselves, but to inspire younger kids as well. They’re not only using their body, they’re using their minds too. It’s wonderful to see kids working in a positive environment, staying out of trouble and doing things to create a career path. They inspire me as a mayor.”
About the author.
Penny Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 16 years experience in print, digital and broadcast media. Prior to working in New Jersey, he served as editor of Homicide Watch D.C. Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Penny on Twitter: @Penny_Ray.