According to a study done by the National Center for Education Statistics last year, one out of every five students reported being bullied.
Huntington Beach native Gabriel Demman was one of them.
Instead of giving in to the teasing he received because of his weight, Demman got tired of it.
His parents, Anthony and Maria, had enrolled him in taekwondo classes for the discipline, but at age 9, Gabriel found the most success and fun in the martial art of jiu-jitsu.
“You can learn a lot of things in [jiu-jitsu], and there’s a lot of competitiveness in it, but you make a lot of friends,” Demman said. “It is like a human chess match where you and the other opponent are thinking the whole time. You’re thinking one or two more steps ahead of the other person, and there’s always … action during the whole thing.”
Demman is 13 now and he’s a yellow belt. He has competed in eight tournaments, earning medals in six of them, including a silver medal at the Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Long Beach last month.
The tournament had more than 3,000 competitors from all parts of the globe and 8,000 spectators in attendance. It was Demman’s first major tournament and he went through two rounds to get to the gold-medal match.
For it being his fourth year practicing jiu-jitsu, Demman’s future is bright. He continues to master his craft and move up the ranks at his gym, Cleber Jiu-Jitsu in Huntington Beach.
His family is aware of the potential injury risks a sport like jiu-jitsu may bring, but the world of combat sports is nothing new to them.
Anthony said he had competed in boxing in the mid-1980’s and was in the top five in the Michigan Golden Gloves competition, while his Demman’s grandfather, Robert, won the Golden Gloves tournament in Colorado twice in the mid-1950’s.
Despite the lineage of fighting in his family, Demman says he does not feel any pressure. Instead, Demman said he feels he can do whatever he chooses to do with full support of his family.
“Gabriel is really unique, skill-wise, and I think he is much more talented than my father or [I was] in fighting,” Anthony said. “He’s got really inhuman strength, especially in his legs, and is quick for a big man. He has a lot of assets physically, and is a natural and smart in jiu-jitsu.”
Since he was 10 years old, Demman has only practiced against grown men in his weight class. He uses it to his advantage.
“I feel like they make me … better than being in a kid’s class,” Demman said. “They show me more. They’re there with the mentality to actually train hard. There are a lot of higher belts there and they show me a lot of advanced moves.”
Last summer, Demman was involved in an anti-bullying campaign and starred in a music video called “Words Made of Hate” by Blind Innocence, a band his older brother, Christian, is a part of. They were affiliated with the iwitnessbullying.org campaign, which aims to stop bullying.
Along with advocating and sticking up for others at his school, Brethren Christian, Demman, an eighth-grader, helps at his jiu-jitsu gym that holds classes for kids being bullied.
Demman has used jiu-jitsu to lose weight and gain confidence. But the one thing that he focuses on is helping and encouraging others by setting an example of overcoming bullying and rising above it.
Demman looks forward to attaining his black belt in jiu-jitsu. He hopes to one day use his love for teaching kids to open his own gym to pay it forward.
JUAN CARLOS GONZALEZ is a contributor to Times Community News: Follow him on Twitter: @JGonzalezSports