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Survival camp teaches kids confidence, self-defense

Eating bugs, building fires and learning how to defend against an active shooter might not be what comes to mind when thinking about the typical summer camp experience, but one group in Flagstaff wants to get kids comfortable with defending themselves against the elements or an attacker.

Daniel Pawlicki and his wife, Sarah, the co-owners of Build Your Own Body Personal Training and Flagstaff Krav Maga, began a Youth Summer Survival camp this summer, aimed at teaching elementary and middle school aged children about survival and self-defense.

“I’m completely blown away at the level of dedication, courage, and the ability to work through a stressful situation that I’ve seen in these kids,” Daniel said.

The pair offered five, week-long sessions throughout the summer, and said some students have enjoyed the camp so much, they have attended every session.

“We originally planned for about 20 kids a session,” Daniel said. “So far, our smallest session has been 32 kids.”

In addition to survival and self-defense components, Daniel said the camp emphasizes listening and self-discipline, a component that he feels is “missing in our society.”

The emphasis on listening and respect is palpable in the room as Daniel commands the students to get into “listening position,” meaning one knee on the floor with eyes on the speaker. Even in a room of 34 children, Daniel and the other instructors have no problem commanding attention without ever raising their voices.

“Parents come in and they see this, and it’s invaluable,” Daniel said. “Just about every parent wants their child to be able to control their focus.”

Camp inspiration

Daniel, who has a background in law enforcement and is a black belt in Krav Maga, said his experience in disaster scenarios as part of the inspiration for starting a survival-themed summer day camp.

“Seeing the dynamics in this world right now, this generation may have to be their own first responders,” Daniel said. His training sessions included dressing wounds, escaping burning buildings, CPR and self-defense.

Daniel said the pair started the camp because they wanted to provide a different experience than most summer day camps. He said, during summer, parents are looking for a good place to watch their kids for the day, but also want them to learn something new.

“There is a need to bring up the next generation to see that it’s OK to stick up for yourself and it’s OK to be who you are,” Daniel said. “The needs I see are confidence in oneself and confidence in how you fit into a team.”

Daniel said they wanted to provide a fun environment where campers would be away from technology, make new friends and engage in healthy competitions.

“We talked to the parents that train here about our idea for a camp, and they loved it,” Daniel said. “There’s a common anxiety of scary situations and of losing control of our safety.”

Sarah said she has been a personal trainer since graduating from high school, but got into Krav Maga more recently.

“I loved what it taught me as a woman and as a person,” Sarah said. “It teaches you to find more strength and confidence, and now we’re watching people and kids and women find that confidence.”

Sarah said people have expressed concern that preparing children for a dangerous situation may make them more fearful, but Sarah said she has found the opposite to be true.

“We are seeing more self-confidence in every area of their lives,” Sarah said. “We are teaching them to learn to use their body and their awareness to avoid a bad situation, and if they can’t avoid it, to get out of a bad situation and get home safe.”

Sarah said the pair originally wanted to center the camp on fitness, and added the survival components to improve children’s preparedness and confidence.

Camp activities

Tuesday afternoon, campers could be seen trying to perfect their cartwheels as part of a lesson on parkour, which teaches participants how to get over, around or through obstacles.

“A big part of the camp is having enough of the right coaches to teach at any level,” Daniel said. “If the kids have never done a cartwheel before, they’re trying it for the first time. If they already know, they’re trying it with one hand, and if they can already do that, they’re trying an aerial.”

After cartwheels, campers lined up in three lines to try to jump over piles of punching bags. Despite one boy taking a hard fall on one attempt, every student tried the obstacle several times during the practice.

Wednesday morning, the campers, armed with water bottles, sunscreen and gratuitous amounts of bug spray, hiked up Mars Hill, led by Eva Rupert, a primitive survival expert seen on the popular TV show “Naked and Afraid.”

Rupert said she wanted to teach the students basic wilderness survival skills, including building shelter, making fire, using camouflage and stalking and tracking prey.

“I have different games that use different skills,” Rupert said. “I like to create fun scenarios that teach survival skills.”

Games included an activity Rupert called “Fire Keeper” where a blindfolded camper has to use their other senses to point out opposing players trying to sneak away their “fire” which was a plastic bowling pin.

The game was designed to teach the keeper to use his or her other senses and the opponents to sneak up on a target, in case they should find themselves in a situation to defend themselves or having to catch food in the wilderness.

“We want to have kids get out into the woods and be comfortable,” Rupert said. “We want them to know that when they’re out in the woods, that it’s a safe, fun and comfortable place to be.”

Rupert said she hoped the camp and lessons would give the campers a sense of self-reliance, as well as showing them positive role models.

“Girls today are severely lacking in powerful, strong, balanced, female role models,” she said. She said she wanted to show campers, both girls and boys, that if they are put into a challenging situation, they have the skills and ability to get out of it.

Rupert also taught the students fire making skills, organizing them into groups and providing flint and steel strikers to practice sparking a fire. Rupert also taught the campers to use mud for camouflage and sun protection, as well as the importance of making a shelter.

Daniel said all the skills tested campers’ attitudes as well as their abilities, and said throughout camp, students competed for awards on an individual and team basis to recognize kids based on their strengths and their attitudes.

Parent reaction

Becky Forsythe enrolled her daughter, Lily, in every session of the camp after looking for s day camp that would be fun but also educational and challenging for her.

“We were looking for something outside the norm,” Becky said. “I wanted it to be fun, but I needed her to come out with new skills, too.”

Lily said the most important thing she felt she had learned over the course of the camp was self-defense.

“I can protect myself if there are ever any threats,” she said.

Becky said she is glad to see Lily learning self-defense techniques, as well as gaining confidence and self-esteem.

Lily said she enjoyed the physical fitness part of the camp.

“I love it,” she said. “I love all the challenges we do and all of the different games.”

Becky said Lily has come home from the camp exhausted every day after all the excitement in the camp.

“This has been one of the best things Flagstaff has going for it right now,” Becky said.

Daniel said the couple plans to host the camp again next summer, as well as smaller one-day sessions throughout the year. They will also be hosting an adult survival one-day session July 24, which will cost $50.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

“Seeing the dynamics in this world right now, this generation may have to be their own first responders.”

--Daniel Pawlicki, co-owner, Flagstaff Krav Maga

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City Government and Development Reporter

Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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