NUTLEY, NJ - George Bostory, sixth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, founded Special Dragons a Nutley non-profit adaptive martial arts school for children with disabilities in 2012.
Bostory is a retired special education teacher, who was inspired by the idea when talking with a fellow teacher almost 10 years ago.
The program teaches an eclectic style of martial arts where children learn Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Jujitsu and Judo. “We use basic karate techniques to help with balance and coordination,” he said.
Classes are broken down to two age groups; one group is from ages 5 to 12 and the second is from ages 12 to 21. The children learn focus and in the process their status of attention increases. “We are trying to address important issues and challenges and […] address them with gaining coordination through martial arts,” said Bostory.
Repetition is key to teaching the children. They learn by doing the same technique over and over again and they keep refining the technique. “Coordination and motor skills apply to not only karate but to the real world. [The children] take those lessons from the karate mat into the real world and have a more productive and happier life,” he said.
The students are taught at their own pace. Students all start out as a white belt and tested to move up in rank to orange, yellow, green, brown and black. There is currently no one beyond green belt in the program. “They are true green belts, they complete all the requirements that a typical student needs to do to achieve the ranks,” Bostory said.
The tests are often adjusted some in order for the children to receive rank belts. Bostory explained the tests are modified in different ways and sometimes the children do not know they are being tested to be less stressful. “Some students will be tested by doing certain tasks, it wasn’t a formal test,” he said. “One student did the kata, [a choreographed pattern of movement,] three times in a row and he was awarded the yellow belt,” he added.
He doesn’t give the children special treatment.” I try not to patronize them and treat them as regular children. I’m firm with them and they love it. They like being treated as regular children, and I have higher expectations for them too,” said Bostory.
Some students rise up the ranks to become leaders in the Special Dragons martial arts school. “My oldest student is 23 years old now and became an assistant in the program. If the student is capable we try to give the students a position in leadership,” he said.
Student instructors will demonstrate the technique or the stretching exercise while the lead instructors will make corrections in the class. “You would be surprised at how much they make improvements,” said Bostory.
While Special Dragons began for children with autism, it has since expanded to include all children with special needs. Bostory said his program currently has children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, ADHD, cognitive challenges, and behavioral challenges.
There are a total of three locations and approximately 40 students enrolled. Besides the hub location at the Elks Lodge, 242 Chestnut St., Nutley, there is also a site in Garfield at Roosevelt School #7 and one in Union at Duncan Martial Arts. A fourth location is in discussions, according to Bostory.
Special Dragons is mainly run through grant money and donations as well as other government agencies and government funding, including the Department of Child Services. Though the program isn’t entirely free, there is a sliding scale for those who can’t afford the classes and the organization will work with parents so a child can participate.
They also hold fundraisers, such as Rock for Autism, to defray cost. The organization is a grass roots and the money goes immediately to the children and equipment, “It’s right here right now,” Bostory said. To donate to Special Dragons visit specialdragons.us/Donations.html.
Bostory is not the only teacher among his staff. Lori Mitchel, a high ranking black belt candidate, is also a New Jersey special education teacher, and is his chief assistant instructor.
Special Dragons is also seeking volunteers to instruct the program. They have internships and paid internships depending on the location. “The best candidates are students in the special education, psychology, and social work fields of study, and of course people who practice martial arts,” said Bostory.
According to Bostory, most parents are very happy with it and recommend the program to others. For more information, call 973-667-8525. Special Dragons is also on Facebook at facebook.com/SpecialDragons/.
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