Martial arts class helps keep youth centered

Instructor Sidney Cocchia holds Clefthon Verdiu’s right hand to block and left hand to strike. Photo by Bob Roche

By Jessie Nocella

LYNN — If Bruce Lee could do it, these Lynn youth can do it too.

“Some kids were bullying me at school, so I like that I’m learning how to protect myself,” Clefthon Verdieu, 9, said.

Verdieu is one of 12 children who attend a free Wing Chun martial arts class put on by Centerboard Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides family housing services, education and youth programs. Wing Chun is a Chinese-based form of self-defense for close range combat that has been associated with Lee’s famous style of fighting.

The class for children age 9 to 15 is held at Visionspace Gallery every Wednesday from 5 to 6 p.m. It was initiated by Justice Born, community engagement coordinator, to help teach kids self defense. More than half the students live in family housing. Lynn resident Born has also created many other weekly events, including drum workshops, art classes, break dancing classes and a youth open mic night.

Joseph Castillo, Wing Chun teacher for Centerboard Inc., is the ideal mentor, considering he knows the struggles of an unstable upbringing. He learned the unorthodox style of self-defense from a friend about four years ago.

“I was a disenfranchised youth myself; I didn’t have a mother or father growing up,” Castillo said. “I grew up with my grandmother, and she couldn’t do a lot of things with me, and I got into a lot of trouble as a child. I just want to give back.”

The classes show the children discipline and the awareness to think before they act, he said. Castillo said martial arts is as much a mental activity as a physical pursuit.

“The balance is the main thing in Wing Chun,” he said. “Because it’s about the transfer of energy.”

Jazmin Taylor, 10, showed off her balancing skills and following certain stances. Taylor said she enjoys the judgment free zone, where she can be herself.

“I like making new friends and coming back for the youth open mic at the end of the week,” she said.

The youngsters diligently practiced during the hour class, finally perfecting their poses. They would repeat directions back to Castillo like “palm,” “turn” and “grab.”

Bradley Nicosia, 11, has been to three classes and was focused on each new position he was taught. Nicosia said he has learned to block better.

“I’d be able to get someone into some sort of lock instead of physically harming them,” he said.

Born plans to continue the class through the fall. Adult classes for Wing Chun are also offered every Tuesday at Visionspace for $15 per person, per class. To register or for more information, call 339-883-2422.

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