Playbook for success

Published 5:17 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

WINDSOR – Most people think about martial arts in terms of its physical aspect: the punches, the kicks, and other similar moves.

But there’s a mental component involved as well, and Bob Melton uses that to instill important life skills to young students who are learning martial arts.

For the past year, Melton has partnered with Bertie County Schools to teach his martial arts program to students at Aulander Elementary, Colerain Elementary, and Windsor Elementary. Currently, he has about 75 students, ranging from first grade to fifth grade, enrolled in the program. The goal is to help kids learn all sorts of useful behavioral skills as they practice martial arts.

“It takes discipline and consistency to be successful. And we teach them how to apply that to their schoolwork, to their homework, to their behavior, to how they interact with their parents, to their life,” Melton explained.

The practice of martial arts can help young students foster a number of useful skills, including anxiety and stress management, conflict resolution, focus, self-discipline, self-control, and social skills. They also learn about de-escalation, anger management, and how to build up self-confidence.

Melton said, for example, the students are asked to bow at the beginning and end of each class. That’s a physical way to show respect, but the repetition helps change their mindset too.

A typical class session consists of warm-up exercises, practice of basic moves, and then discussion about behavior and decision-making and other similar topics.

“I talk to them about how to be successful,” Melton added.

The students have to learn patience as well since they can’t master the moves without a lot of consistent practice first. Sometimes, the kids will want to quit, but the rewards of sticking with it are well worth the effort.

“It’s a long road. It’s a challenging road,” Melton explained. “But it just takes time.”

Over the past year, Melton said he’s seen the change in his young participants. At the beginning of the program, they’re running around, sometimes a bit “out of control.” But as time passes, they learn to settle down and focus on the class. Melton recalled a recent moment when a student forgot to bow and his classmates quickly reminded him.

Melton started learning martial arts himself at the age of 16 after moving away from Bertie County where he was raised. He’s earned black belts in Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do, and studied other styles as well. He spent decades in California teaching classes, and even a few years as a professional fighter. But after he eventually moved back to Bertie County, he wanted to be able to make a difference with the younger generation.

He noted that Bertie is a Tier One county, a designation from the state that indicates economic distress, and that there is a lot of crime. Some students come from dysfunctional families as well. But he hopes that students participating in the program will learn the skills they need to succeed at an early age, despite the hardships they may face.

Melton’s goal for the future is to expand the program to include middle school students as well.

“By the time kids get to middle school, they either become a leader, follower, or loner. We try to keep them out of those last two categories,” Melton explained.

As Melton describes it, the martial arts program gives the students a “playbook for success.”

For more information, visit Melton’s “Eastern North Carolina Youth Coalition” website at