Head of the Class

Sensei Michael O’Laskey teaches kids how to battle the bully with their inner warrior.

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    Heather David

Known as “Big Bang” on the mixed martial arts circuit, Michael O’Laskey has been delivering gut-busting kicks and powerful punches since he took to the mat at 2 years old. When he’s not flying high in action flicks or teaching at the studio he owns with his father in Burbank, the highly skilled fighter is helping children protect themselves against schoolyard bullies.

The sensei (Japanese for “mentor”), along with his dad, has teamed up with the Los Angeles Unified School District to share their anti-bullying techniques with elementary-aged students. The 12-week program focuses on ways to prevent physical confrontation, escape dangerous situations and ultimately seek help from an adult. “We don’t want to teach necessarily how to fight but instead how to not become a victim in the first place,” says O’Laskey.

The 30-year-old believes kids become less of a target for bullies when they exude inner strength. “It’s all about finding out what a young person enjoys doing and applauding them when they do it well. True confidence comes about when they’re part of something in the community, whether it be martial arts or a local book club.” 

Students also get a chance to try the fun stuff; more than a few come in asking to do moves they’ve seen on TV. “If you’re trying to walk away and it’s not a possibility, it’s time to use proactive self-defense,” O’Laskey states.

The style of fighting taught here is subtle rather than overtly aggressive. To defend themselves, students learn how to use their bodies to displace an opponent’s energy or balance.

There’s a reward for the teacher, too: Watching a once-timid student blossom “right before your eyes and ultimately seeing them take that high self-esteem outside of the studio.”

Empowering young people comes from a personal place for a guy who holds black belts in tae kwon do and Japanese jiu-jitsu. Starring in the 1990s hit children’s TV show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers didn’t exactly make him popular.

“You would be surprised at the flack one takes in high school for playing the red Power Ranger. I went through my own experience of being bullied, and I had to go through my own process of building up my self-confidence. I guess you could say that the work I’m doing with kids today is paying it forward.”