Kelly O’Keefe was bullied as a young child, but that all stopped when he joined the Boy’s Club and learned to box. Today, O’Keefe teaches martial arts at a new location in East Peoria. In late November, he moved his business, Kelly O’Keefe Martial Arts, to Fondulac Plaza. “This location is awesome. It’s big. I can accommodate more kids,” O’Keefe said. “There’s a lot more traffic here.” One of the programs O’Keefe offers is called Bullyproof Your Child. The program is a year old. “It’s a program that really helps the kids that are shy and get picked on,” O’Keefe said. “All the kids that come to this school go through that program. O’Keefe said the program builds confidence and teaches both verbal and physical skills. “We give them the verbal tools to talk to the bullies. Then, if it becomes a physical attack, the kids have the confidence to defend themselves,” O’Keefe said. However, O’Keefe stresses the first rule of the program, which is to avoid a fight at all costs. “The second rule is if they are attacked to defend themselves,” he said. Students learn the “three T steps” — talk, tell and tackle. “Tackle is better than punching and kicking,” O’Keefe said. Bullying tends to start off mentally with name calling and other remarks, O’Keefe said. “That’s why we teach them the verbal skills to go that way first,” O’Keefe said. Role playing is done in which O’Keefe’s students react to different scenarios. “They tell them, ‘Hey, you need to stop bullying me. You don’t have a right to speak to me like that. They don’t point their finger, but they point their hand. They talk with their hands,” O’Keefe said. O’Keefe also stresses to the students that getting called a name once in a while is not really bullying. “I think bullying is something that happens every day. A kid doesn’t want to go to school because as soon as he gets to school, Joey’s on him,” O’Keefe said. Bullying is something that happens more often in grade school, but O’Keefe said it also happens in high school. “It happens to adults,” he said. O’Keefe knows firsthand about bullying. He is a North Pekin police officer and has been an officer for 20 years. “As a cop I see it all the time,” he said. O’Keefe grew up in the south side of Peoria. He lived at the Harrison Homes. “I was bullied until about 7, 7 and a half, then, I got involved in the Boy’s Club,” O’Keefe said. “After that I didn’t let it happen anymore.” “They had a silver gloves boxing program up there. That’s when things started to change for me,” he said. O’Keefe’s daughter Heidi, who started karate when she was 2, was also bullied in school. O’Keefe said three girls jumped her on the playground. “They had her down and was banging her head on the asphalt and kicking her. Then, she did what she’s supposed to do,” O’Keefe said. O’Keefe said it is important to document instances of bullying. “You tell the teacher and when you go home, you tell your parents. You tell them to write it down. If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen,” he said. “The first rule — avoid the fight at all costs, but once they’re physically attacked, they have to defend themselves or it’s going to continue to happen over and over,” he said. “And when they’re bullied as a kid that can effect their whole life as an adult. And if the bully is not checked, he’s going to end up being a bully his whole life. It’s a vicious circle that goes around. It’s sad.” A bully, O’Keefe said, is usually “not the toughest kid on the block.” “They pick on kids that are weaker than them and when a kid stands up for themselves, bully usually backs down,” O’Keefe said. Parents have given O’Keefe feedback that the program has helped their child. One young girl was picked on last year and after the second time, she applied what she learned at O’Keefe’s and it stopped. “I’ve had kids on school buses and the same thing happened,” he said. “If they stand up and they look serious and talk serious, it will usually end,” O’Keefe said. In addition to teaching verbal and physical traits, O’Keefe said he teaches character, and if a bully comes to his program ... “That changes right away,” he said. “We work on developing their character. That’s probably the most important thing that comes out of this school,” O’Keefe said. About 40 kids take courses at O’Keefe’s. They mainly take Brazilian jiu-jitsu. “They learn how to get into the mount and sit on top of a kid. They learn submissions, how to put someone in a hold,” O’Keefe said. At the school, O’Keefe feels at times like a counselor, a dad and a role model. “I think most instructors are. That’s something I take really serious. My occupation makes me do that too. My instructors here are the same way. I can’t have anyone here who would not be a role model,” O’Keefe said. O’Keefe said he has always been protective of the underdog. “That’s basically why I became a cop is because I had a nephew that was killed because of gangs,” he said. “That was in Indianapolis.” Kids can start the bullying program as young as 5, but they must go through a screening. O’Keefe said the best age to start his class is at 7. The bullying course is about 18 months long. “It’s something that all kids should learn — to be bullyproofed,” O’Keefe said. For more information, call 657-5643 or stop by at 2514 E. Washington St. in Fondulac Plaza.