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Dozens Turn Out For Self-Defense Class
Taking a proactive approach, Scott Pettit of Riverbank's Karate for Kids hosted a free, two-hour class for local youngsters on Saturday, drawing dozens of participants.

Two attempted abductions in Riverbank and one in Oakdale over the past couple of weeks prompted the scheduling of the class, which focused on anti-abduction and anti-bullying techniques for kids.

"We're talking about the situations that kids can encounter," Pettit said of introducing the participants to various dangers. "They'll learn what they can do."

Not wanting to sound an alarm that has children fearing everyone they see on the street, Pettit said there are ways to gauge the situation and said the class was designed only to give kids some tools with which to work.

Volunteers and students of his Karate for Kids classes helped out, taking on different roles in the scenarios. Children also had the chance to try out some of their new skills, thwarting potential bullies and learning what to do if approached by a stranger.

After a brief overview to start, Pettit broke the roughly 60 students into groups of four, each working with a 'woofer' - the bad guy - and a coach, who gave the children tips on how to react in different situations, how to protect themselves from bullies, and how to avoid potential danger.

"I'm learning about bullies," said six-year-old Jared Fernandez after completing an exercise. "I can defend myself."

Pettit also pointed out the difference between bullies and potential abductors, with the bully very obviously having an agenda and being loud and abrasive, while the would-be abductor can appear kind and even be nice in an effort to get close.

"Don't go through life fearing everyone you see on the sidewalk," Pettit said, but urged youngsters to stay on their guard and never accept an invitation to go with someone they don't know. While some may try to lure them with cash, the promise of video games or more, he said youngsters have to be aware of those tricks and keep themselves safe.

"It's very important not to let strangers get too close to you," he said.

Pettit also urged parents staying to watch the class to pay attention and then practice the skills at home with their children, reinforcing the need for safety.

Tips including using a backpack as a weapon, swinging it into the face of a would be assailant, were also covered.

Mom Jamie Carlson had two daughters, ages five and 10, at the class.

"We knew one of the girls," she said of the attempted abductions in Riverbank. "We definitely wanted to do this. It was really good and something we need to go home and practice."

Ten-year-old Klarissa Sandoval said she felt "better" after participating and planned to practice her newfound skills with her brother.

"I think it's a wonderful class," mom Sylvia Sandoval agreed. "It's great to have this offered to our children."