Black belt launches free bullying-prevention class

Credit: Photography by Kern-Photo

Fulton resident R.J. Kern switched schools four times between 6th and 9th grade.

“As a young adolescent, making new friends and fitting in was difficult,” he said in a blog post. “As the new kid in town, I was an easy target. …  I would rather spend time during my lunch in my 9th grade geometry teacher’s office rather than face the hallway, feared I’d be stuffed into a locker. Again. Kids can be cruel.”

Now age 36, Kern wants to help other kids navigate the hallways. The taekwondo teacher recently secured a grant from the Fulton Neighborhood Association to offer free bullying prevention workshops to kids ages 6-12, the first on April 25 from 1-3 p.m.

“I see myself in a lot of these kids,” he said. “They can’t learn some of this stuff on the football field or soccer field.”

In the 90-minute seminar, Kern explains the difference between bullying and teasing. He teaches how to avoid bullying in the first place. (Hang out in a crowded library, he suggests, rather than a deserted hallway after school.) He also offers tactics kids can use in response to taunting. (If someone says your breath stinks, nonchalantly reply: “So?”) The class ends in a celebratory board break.

“I don’t stand for bullies. Period. Yet in those early years, I didn’t even know what bullying was,” Kern writes. “…I want to share what I’ve learned so the same thing doesn’t happen to others in my community. I’m setting my sights on stopping bullying. And I’m serious.”

The Fulton grant helps pay for curriculum materials and a DVD to send home with families. Kern currently has funding to teach 50 kids, and he’d like to raise enough money to teach 100.

To help fundraise, a trunk show is scheduled for Saturday, May 9 at Pershing Park, hosted by lululemon athletica Galleria Edina. Forty percent of proceeds will go to the workshops.

The workshops come at a busy time for Kern. He is a full-time dad, caring for his three-month-old while his wife heads back to work. He also works as a photographer, shooting portraits and weddings.

Early in his career, he worked as a cartographer at National Geographic. His photo portfolio includes cinematic portraits inspired by movies like “Inception,” shots of the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and images of sheep and goats taken in the mountains of Ireland and Norway.

Kern also owns Lakes Martial Arts Studio, which teaches students ages four and up skills like board-breaking and sparring at Pershing Park.

“For the entire 10 weeks, we’re talking about honor and keeping your word,” he said. “Above all, what I teach isn’t straight-up taekwondo or martial arts.”

For details on the workshop and trunk show, visit lakesmartialarts.com.