Parents usually tell their children not to kick and punch, but that's kind of the point in martial arts class -- though it would be a mistake to think it's the only thing students learn.
Master Earl Absher, owner and instructor at Order of the Dragon, also sees instills discipline, respect and self-confidence in his young students.
"The biggest transformation I like to see is a shy kid come out of their shell and all of a sudden act like a true martial artist," Absher said. "They're no longer scared -- they're confident that they can do what they have to in a real-life situation."
Order of the Dragon is one of more than 100 vendors that will be featured at KidsFest this weekend at the Kern County Museum. The Californian event (sponsored by American Kids Sports Center, First 5 Kern, Heritage Christian Schools, Gianquinto OrthoArts, Children's Hospital Central California and Community Action Partnership of Kern County) aims to connect kids and parents with information on local health services and activities for kids.
"It's just a great way to get the whole family together to enjoy a day of activities, food and information," said Shauna Rockwell, advertising traffic manager at The Californian and one of KidsFest's organizers.
In addition to vendors like Order of the Dragon, Harmony Road Music School and Planet Bambini offering information or selling products, there will be arts and crafts, Condors hockey lessons, and vehicles on display from the Bakersfield Police Department, Kern County Sheriff's Department, Kern County Fire Department and Hall Ambulance.
The $5 entry comes with two tickets for activities in the Fun Zone like water slides and bounce houses. Parents can give their tickets to their kids. Guests can also buy an all-access Fun Zone pass to the Fun Zone for $13.
California Hot Dog Company, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, King Kettle Corn and more will sell food at KidsFest.
For Absher, who participated in The Californian's Healthy Bakersfield Expo earlier this year, KidsFest was "a perfect match" for his school, since its emphasis is on children as young as 4.
Teaching martial arts to young kids is different from teaching older students, Absher said. Approaching the two as if they were the same is a mistake some instructors make.
"You can't teach kids the same way you would teach a teen or adult," Absher said. "You have to be softer with what you communicate with them. They might be scared or nervous or want to quit."
Kids also require a balance of fun and discipline. Absher said he and the other nine instructors at Order of the Dragon do not allow their students to goof off, nor do they allow them to use the skills they learn to start fights in or out of class. The latter will get a student kicked out of the program.
Parents are "concerned that they might use it to start fights and beat up brothers and sisters," Absher said. "We overcome that by emphasizing in class that it is for self-defense purposes only, (that) you fight for real only when there's no choice. We don't teach bullies."
Absher has 43 years of experience in martial arts, starting with wrestling when he attended Bakersfield High School. His favorite form is tae kwon do, and he teaches his students moves from a variety of martial art forms.
Order of the Dragon started as a small business 23 years ago. When Absher, a retired police officer, saw the benefits of his tutelage in the first group of youngsters he taught, he knew he wanted to expand his school.
"Seeing kids and helping them learn life skills made me want to go to the next level, so we became a full-blown business," he said, adding that he estimates around 1,000 students attend Order of the Dragon classes.
Since its beginning, Absher has used a unique model for his martial arts school: Instead of settling in a permanent building, his classes are held at three different locations (Central Church of Christ on South H Street on Mondays and Thursdays, Green Acres Community Center on Calloway on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and Thompson Junior High on Planz Road on Wednesdays).
Because this model keeps Absher's overhead down, he's able to offer low prices and no contracts for his students. Kids can enroll at any time.
"Parents like that; some kids are flaky," he said of the flexibility that dispensing with contracts provides. "You don't have to pay an arm and a leg to get top-notch training."
If parents enroll their child in Order of the Dragon classes at KidsFest on Saturday, Absher will double the typical first-time student deal: Instead of three months plus uniform for $99, parents will get six months plus uniform. With that deal, kids can attend as many classes a week as they want. Or for $29 a month (not including uniform) they can attend one class a week (same day and location).