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Gulf Coast Academy students learn Japanese fencing, kayaking

Gulf Coast Academy eighth-grader Hailey Huffman, 13, left, faces off with classmate JoAnna McKinney, 13, during a Japanese fencing sparring bout. The class has been studying these skills for three weeks with Gulf Coast field activity coordinator James Kaufmann and field activity teacher David Peitzman.
Published Nov. 29, 2012


A strike to the head was one point. The arms, legs and wrist, one-half point. Chest, throat and waist, one point.


Gulf Coast Academy field activity coordinator James Kaufmann wanted to make sure his eighth-graders understood the scoring before they commenced sparring.


Fully suited in protective gear, the students took turns facing their classmates with bamboo swords, or shinai, for a little kumite — Japanese fencing. They were on a field trip to Kaufmann's Karate studio in Spring Hill (an after-school business of Kaufmann's) with field activity teacher David Peitzman.


The two had been working with students on Japanese fencing for three weeks leading up to the sparring, showing them basic strikes, how to stand and how to hold the swords. Lessons included self-discipline, some Japanese terms, a different culture and a new sport.


During the sparring, students were observed for technique and self-control. The class as a whole was divided into two teams, each trying to amass the most points. They helped each other don the protective body gear, and each took a turn sparring with one member of the other team.


JoAnna McKinney, 13, said the sparring was fun, challenging and exciting.


"It was different from what you normally do in school," she said. "It helps kids get out there and learn different things. It could also be a form of self-defense."


Hailey Huffman, 13, sparred with JoAnna.


"It felt good," she said. "The armor was heavy. But once you got out, it was pretty fun."


She said that Kaufmann and Peitzman introduced them to Japanese fencing "to teach us things in life that are different, the different experiences you can have in life."


Philip Bambauer, 13, and Jason DeBello, 14, also faced off.


"It's a lot of energy," Philip said.


"It's a lot of team-building skill," he added, referring to the way the teams helped each individual put on the protective gear.


Jason said the exercise was "amazing. My adrenaline was going through my body."


When it was done, with Team 1 winning 11-8, Kaufmann praised all of the participants.


"We're trying to teach you guys teamwork," he said. "Everybody worked together really well."


• • •


During another recent — and unusual — field trip involving Gulf Coast students, 22 sixth-graders sat on folding chairs in the cool morning air in the woods bordering the boat ramp at Lake Townsend Regional Park. They were arranged in a semicircle to listen to Joe Gatti, the school's curriculum and instruction director, teach them about kayaking.


"We actually do a lot of activities that include kayaking over the next three years," said Peitzman. During this activity, he said, students would learn the parts a of kayak, the types of strokes and "safety, of course."


During their three years at the charter school, the students will have opportunities to visit the Rainbow River, the Springs Coast Environmental Center on the Weeki Wachee River and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Townsend is just off the Withlacoochee River.


"A lot of times when we go out kayaking, we're water-quality testing," said Kaufmann.


Kayaking also gives students access to the natural world where they can study aquatic and marine life.


"Normally, what we're doing in the field coincides with what they're doing in the classroom," Kaufmann said. "These kids get to do in three years what some people don't do in their entire lives."


Kaitlyn Schultz, 11, said she understood why students need to learn about kayaking.


"Because we do a lot of water activities," she said. "So we should learn to do this because it's a good life skill."


The students headed down to the water's edge, and for some of them it was the first time they had stepped into a kayak.


Rose Leventhal, 11, was a little worried, but everything turned out okay.


"I thought this was going to be really scary," she said.


She said she could see the value in learning the skill.


"You could be stranded on an island, and there could be a kayak and a paddle, and you need survival so you would to get to a place where there are humans," she said.


Bryan Stafford, 12, saw another reason.


"So when we go on a family trip to kayak, we go the right way," he said.


Zoe Owen, 11, also saw the benefits.


It could be useful, she said, "if we want to do it in our own free time."

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