With kids back in class after summer vacation, concerns over bullying return as well. Some Montreal parents have found a unique way to help their children: by enrolling them in martial arts classes.

“Bullying is a part of life. There’s nothing you can do to avoid it so the best thing you can do is teach them how to avoid it,” said Bruno Fernandes a jiu jitsu instructor at the Gracie Barra Montreal Martial Arts School.

This year, the school decided to host four anti-bullying classes, which began on Sept. 3, with subsequent classes on each of the following three Saturdays.

With almost a quarter of Canadian children reporting that they have been involved in bullying at some point, and half of all parents saying one of their children was bullied, solutions are being sought to stem the epidemic. Ten-year-old Gabriella Mendanha, who has taken jiu jitsu lessons for four years, credits the martial art for helping her finally end her own bullying.

“If they don’t stop, I could defend myself,” she said. “If they are punching me, kicking me, I won’t hurt them but I was just, like, control him and he will never come back to me.”

Parent Veronique Lalime said that the benefits of martial arts go beyond just schoolhouse bullying.

“We have three daughters and we know that women are often victims of attacks of any kind and my husband and I wanted our daughter to be able to defend herself, but also be empowered,” she said.

Student Victor Briccoli said martial arts helped him help others at his school.

“At school, there was a boy who was getting things said to him, so I went to intervene and I told the people to back off,” he said.

Fernandes stressed that learning jiu jitsu isn’t just about being able to physically overpower an attacker. It’s about building confidence and self-esteem – lessons that martial arts can also teach bullies themselves.

“Martial arts exposes them to defeat so you know they are going to a lot here,” he said. “That kind of emotion that they probably never dealt with sometimes changes their behaviour.”

And while learning to fight might seem like it encourages violence, Fernandes said his students know using their skills is a last resort.

“A bigger part of what we do is teach them how to be more confident and avoid physical contact,” he said. “Once they learn they can defend themselves, they won’t be so inclined to start a fight.”

For more information on the Gracie Barra anti-bullying lessons, click here.