Self Defense At BTJ

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At age 16, Jeremy Azar clinched the title as the “Thai Boxing” Champion of France. Now 33, the martial arts champ is contending in a very different, but no less challenging arena: teaching 16-year-old students at Boys Town Jerusalem to become tolerant, level-headed young men–who are highly skilled in self-defense.

“Martial arts were my passion when I was young,” Jeremy recalled. “Then they became my profession when I was appointed to head the security of the Jewish community of Paris. But eventually I realized that my talent was really a gift to empower others to save lives, build stamina, and control fear and pressure.” From the moment Jeremy and his wife immigrated to Israel in 2002 and he started working at Boys Town Jerusalem, he began to transform the lives of the young students in his charge.

“At first I gave extracurricular lessons in martial arts to the Israeli students, and soon became involved in the school’s program for French students as well. I firmly believe it is essential for every person to know the basics of self-defense, and that every Jew in Israel and throughout the world is in some measure of danger. I teach my students to understand the mindset and techniques of the enemy (Jeremy is an expert in the complex Pencak Silat martial art, a primarily Moslem sport), and I make the lessons very practical. Most important, I train students to remain focused and calm in the face of danger.”

In time, Jeremy has expanded his work at Boys Town to become the director of the dormitory, where he is responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of hundreds of students. In addition, he counsels senior students and continues to teach martial arts to both the Israeli and French students. “My goal in teaching martial arts is to make each young man independent, so that he can defend himself tomorrow if need be. This sport also builds self-confidence, and enables a boy to channel his energies into something powerful and positive.”

Parisian-born Yohann Saada, 16, has been studying in the French program at Boys Town for two years. “I’ve gotten a lot out of Jeremy’s martial arts lessons. I’ve been in danger in many places in my life, and now I’m happy to learn how to defend myself. I always knew that this sport is good for the body, but I’m finding how it improves my mind. I’m much calmer since I started practicing martial arts.”

“The more I work in education,” Jeremy mused, “I realize how much more challenging this is than the most competitive athletic sport. I must give my students the tools to gain strength, to think quickly and clearly, to concentrate, to cooperate, and most important, to control their own anger or stress. But I do see great improvement, and I’ve gotten calls from grads serving in the army who tell me how my lessons helped them in clashes with enemy forces. What better gift could I give than that of self-defense!”

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