Knocking some sense into teenage boys
Two champion boxers are traveling around Victoria to teach troubled teen boys that there are better alternatives to physical violence.PT1M55S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-358b5 620 349 March 21, 2014
It is so easy to beat up on kids these days. They are stupid, lazy, drug-addled, violent and selfish.
Unlike us, the hard-working generation who never do anything wrong and even remember to wear clean socks on leaving the house.
The unspoken message is clear: tough guys know how to walk away
We cross at the lights, donate to charities, never take topless selfies and we bake casseroles for sick neighbours.
Tough lesson: Boxers Sam Soliman and Samuel Kaldjob Colomban Photo: Pat Scala
And yet didn't our parents collectively shake their heads at us? Didn't they think we were spoilt because we hadn't lived on bread, dripping and road tar during the Depression?
We would sit in front of the black-and-white TV watching Gunsmoke, gorging ourselves on gourmet fish fingers, when we should have been using ferrets to hunt down introduced species to be boiled in the laundry copper for tea.
Those were the days when fish was cooked, rice was thrown at weddings and gluten was a kitchen lino adhesive.
(Memo Attorney-General, anyone beginning a sentence with ''in my day'', should be sentenced to a three-year jail term.)
So it is with some relief we watch real grown-ups with real passion try to help real kids navigate real problems.
It is at the Copperfield College Sydenham campus where year 10 students are given a crash course, not on academic subjects but modern-day survival skills.
The five speakers are not cravat-wearing do-gooders there to trot out cliches to bored teenagers interested only in glue sniffing and train surfing.
Each has a different story to tell, but more importantly the students are clearly there to listen. About 50 boys are seated in the large gymnasium as part of a session called ''Choices'' while the same number of girls are in a nearby classroom as part of the ''Live No Fear'' young women's program.
It is part of a Department of Justice initiative to deal with kids before they do something stupid and become victims or offenders. We have all read about the high-profile cases where a young man loses his life from a one-punch ambush delivered by a drunk, drugged or enraged coward.
But there are thousands of cases where the lines are blurred - the injured party has contributed to the confrontation and the winner loses because he is charged with assault.
In most cases there are moments when the ultimate conflict could be avoided but the participants are either unable or unwilling to change course. Just as it takes two to tango, on the street it takes only two to tangle.
The truth is, of course, no one wins in a street fight. It proves not physical strength but mental weakness and a reckless lack of common sense.
The speakers at the young women's program bring with them unique life experiences. The girls hear from singer Candice Monique, hip-hop and jazz dance teacher Jacinda Richards and barrister and amateur boxer Simone Bailey. The three engage their enthusiastic audience as they discuss social media, cyber bullying and how to ignore being baited into a verbal, electronic or physical fight.
Without a hint of finger wagging, Bailey explains the court process and how one bad decision can create a criminal record that dogs you for life.
Monique says that as a teenager she was once attacked by seven girls and chose to run. If she had lashed out she wonders would her life have been different? Perhaps, she says, a rap sheet would have stopped her touring and recording overseas. She tells them how she refuses to engage in slanging matches with keyboard warriors who bag her online. ''Be the bigger person,'' is the message.
We leave the group as the girls are shown some modern dance moves. It proves a wise move for these days our version of hip-hop simply means that with every hop we risk slipping a hip.
Over at the gym the boys are listening to middleweight boxing champion Sam ''King'' Soliman and Australian welterweight contender Samuel Kaldjob Colomban.
The boxers do a quick pad session with a blur of jabs, hooks, uppercuts and blocks to show the students the (non) bleeding obvious - these blokes are pretty handy with their dukes. The unspoken message is clear: tough guys know how to walk away.
Colomban tells of the street violence in his native Cameroon. How a neighbour secretly taught him to box and that his mother didn't know until he won a junior title, aged 11.
It would have been easy, he says, to use his fists in a street gang, but he made the choice to get out and ply his trade in Australia.
In Australian boxing, Soliman is a legend. Nearly 41, he is a fitness freak and remains on the cusp of a world title fight. In his career he has held more titles than Prince Charles and taken more shots than Dean Martin.
He talks of his sacrifices, swearing off alcohol and bad foods, resisting peer pressure to take short cuts and reaping the rewards by refusing to be diverted from his goals.
He tells them of the battle to return to the ring from potentially career-ending injuries. ''Not a single part of my body hasn't been broken or torn.'' Is it strange to have men who make a living punching others deliver an anti-violence message? Not really.
Boxing is not about rage and hatred: it is about skill and tactics. Lose your temper and you lose your way. Soliman tells the teenagers that after a fight he and his opponent will often have a barbecue together and will share a respect won in the ring.
More importantly, boxing is about strategy - anticipating your opponent's moves and making sure you don't get caught in the corner. It is all about not getting hurt. The last thing a boxer hears from the referee before the bell is ''protect yourself at all times''.
(This correspondent learnt that lesson in a charity bout with former world champion Barry ''Boy'' Michael in an event often referred to as the ''Fight of the Century'' by people who know nothing about boxing.)
Soliman says idiots have wanted to take a swing but he will defuse rather than inflame the situation.
It is called an exit strategy.
Soliman tells the boys to read the signs of tension, don't let ego dominate common sense, refuse to cave in to peer pressure and to remember that justice can be delivered more subtly than with a hook to the head.
''Three seconds is how long you have to think of what will happen.''
He lays out the consequences. You may win the fight but lose the battle, ending with a criminal conviction that sabotages career prospects and overseas travel. Lose and you can be seriously injured or worse. ''A bully will always get his in the end. He will pick on someone who can beat him or he will hurt someone and get arrested.''
A couple of years ago there was a video of a kid in a NSW school being bullied. The smaller aggressor throws a few punches until his ''victim'' snaps, picks him up and body slams him. The shocked bully, whose leg smashes into a bench, limps off defeated.
The video went viral with more than 20 million hits as we embraced the fairytale of the underdog fighting back.
As late as a week ago someone posted online that the bully (a small misguided kid, caught on camera and exploited by the media) deserved to be stabbed.
The boxers bring up the video. There is a murmur of recognition from the boys. ''What if he had come down on his head instead of his leg? Then maybe he [the victim who fought back] would have been facing manslaughter charges,'' Soliman tells them.
Copperfield College is no western suburbs Blackboard Jungle. Campus principal Sue Minkevicius says the students are largely motivated, responsible and respectful.
But Soliman, who gives about 20 ''Choices'' lectures a year, says some students at other schools are not so quick on the uptake. Asked what they should do when confronted by a bully, more than one kid has responded: ''Stab him.''
So there is much work to be done.
Minkevicius says the message on making the right choices is nothing new - the trick is in who delivers it.
''If this stops even one of our kids getting into one of these situations then it is worth it.''