By Staff Sgt. Robert Jordan
North Carolina National Guard
RALEIGH, N.C. (2/19/13) – Joe Pacheco, a mixed martial artist with Bellator Fighting Championships, can grab hold of about any body part you can mention in polite company.
Head, foot, leg, arm, wrist are no problem, but students at Central Cabarrus High School in Concord presented a more difficult target for the fighter: hearts and minds.
Pacheco, his coach Michael Allen and Army Sgt. Michael Graham with the North Carolina National Guard and a former student at Cabarrus High, taught a Healthy Living and Anti-Bullying seminar Feb. 12 for the students in Concord.
"I want to be a role model,” said Pacheco. “I was bullied as a kid and it makes it hard to stay focused in school.”
Pacheco, with Graham, taught the physical education class and stressed the importance of healthy habits and proper diet. The message seemed to carry a little more weight coming from teachers who fight for a living; a martial artist and Soldier.
"It is a fresh look and kids love a professional fighter they see on television," said Graham.
Pacheco, with an infectious grin and easy manner, encouraged the class to eat better with more fruit and vegetables, getting enough sleep and the other basics expected of an athlete in training.
"Once you get in shape you never want to stop," said Pacheco.
The benefit is not just long-term health but a more immediate need for the students, dealing with bullying.
"Bullies feed off fear and when someone is healthy and confident, they can defend themselves and it makes it easier to turn around and walk off," Allen said.
Having the confidence and strength is just part of the response. Graham led the freshman class gathered in Central Cabarrus gym in techniques for preventing bullying: telling the bully to stop, walking away and getting help from friends, teachers, school staff, police or other officials.
Sometimes these non-physical techniques do not work and that is where Pacheco shared his expertise.
With the help of some students, Pacheco taught them how to defend themselves from a bully's attack.
With the skill one expects of a professional fighter, he demonstrated how to use an attacker's force against him.
Playing the role of the bully, he grabs a young student by the shoulders and with a push of the arm, a twist of her hip, she escapes the hold and successfully managed to push Pacheco to the side.
"Bullies do not pick on people who know how to fight back," said Pacheco.
The demonstration continued as students practiced on the mats in the center of the gym. Cheers, laughter and an occasional gasp from their peers resonated through the gym as students practiced the techniques that were taught.
"It is amazing as a graduate to come back and make a difference," said Graham.