Beating the bully

What began as lessons in self-defence becomes a journey of self-discovery

By Chandrea Serebro

Here’s a story of a kid named Jake, an active five-year-old kid, climbing trees, scaling scaffolding, and scaring his mom out of her wits. But what scared her even more were the beatings Jake was getting from the neighbourhood bully, which started at just seven years old and escalated through his primary school years. Jake’s mom decided enough was enough. Enrolling him in self-defence training, she in essence entered Jake on a journey that would not only see him beat the bully, but define the rest of his life. Jake, aka Yaakov Pinkus, went from being the victim of dangerous emotional and physical bullying tactics – “I had been hit over the collar bone with a tennis racquet while sliding down the jungle gym pole, thrown into walls, had a chair thrown into my face, and more” – to a kid with what he sees as “superhuman” abilities in “power, reflexes, and speed”, and a world competitor in martial arts.

“I was taught from a young age that hurting others was not okay. This is what always held me back from retaliating. I was going through a lot of other hardships at this time which is what made me vulnerable to the bullying from the start. My brother was very ill and my parents were getting divorced and obviously this is what the bullies picked up on. Once I began martial arts, it not only taught me the actual techniques to skilfully retaliate, but also that someone else hurting me was not okay. It boosted my self-esteem and brought me to the point where I was confident enough to defend myself, thus forever ending the bully’s power over me.”

But, says Jake, this took him on a much more beautiful journey after that, a journey which would give him a sense of personal achievement, a strong discipline and focus, and strength beyond even the wildest imaginations of that five-year-old boy nimbly navigating trees. “Chinese martial arts is a truly beautiful art of movement and self-perfection,” says Jake. And indeed, soon after those early self-defence classes he recognised that, as well as an innate agility, he had a strong inner desire to pursue the path he had embarked upon. “I started training more frequently and before I knew it my new coach took me on a trip to China to achieve my first Dan in what at that time I was told was Kung Fu. This is what changed my life forever. There, out of the corner of my eye, while practising techniques, I spied a 14-year-old boy – a boy the same age as me – flying through the air doing what I would later learn was a flying front kick. To me, he seemed suspended mid-air, his movements powerful and quick. It was as if he was doing a deadly dance.”

On his return to SA, Jake enrolled in what he discovered was the art of ‘Wushu’, which means Chinese martial arts. Wushu is made up of explosive acrobatic flips, wrestling, and stand-up boxing, kicking, and throwing. In essence, it is every kid’s dream of becoming a ninja, with the only outer shell being the tone and form it gives your body. Jake soon began to prepare for his first National trials, where he would go on to win four golds on four different occasions. What followed was a hero’s journey into the world of martial arts – return trips to China, World Championships, training at the top academy for Wushu. “I was 16 years old, but was put with seven year olds who were mopping the floor with me and pulling off superhuman abilities. The power, flexibility, and speed is awe-inspiring, and the discipline, focus, and control over my body that I learned training nine hours a day is unspeakable – it changed my life.” Jake competed in Malaysia at the First Ever Junior World Wushu Champs where over 200 countries top athletes compete for gold, returned to China to train with the Beijing Olympic 1st team, and competed in Bali at the Second Junior World Wushu Champs where he was placed in the top 10. “I was now living my dream, flying through the air alongside my heroes. At this stage I realised I should actually say thank you to my childhood bully because without him I would never have realised I had such a passion and talent for Chinese martial arts.”

“A few months after I began my self-defence training, I was given the skill, the self-esteem, and the courage to beat up my bully. For me, from those early days of being bullied, the martial arts became my healthy coping mechanism that gave me something to look forward to when I was going through a lot of difficult times. In today’s time, ‘millennials’ have few coping mechanisms, and often turn to social media, drugs, or drinking as an outlet for their emotions, their challenges. This is why today I teach the martial arts.” After suffering a quad bike accident which left Jake bedridden for a year with a torn ligament in his knee, Jake achieved his Personal Training Diploma, and with the knowledge he gained, willed himself to recover in 5 months – just half the usual time. “I was soon back at training and was even stronger than before. I realised that I had an innate understanding of the body and a talent to help others.”

After training with Israel’s national team for a year, Jake returned to SA, completed his undergrad in Bio-kinetics, and began coaching for the next four years as a mobile personal trainer in martial arts, known as Tiger Trainers, in a bid to put this realisation to good use. Now Jake has reinvented Tiger Trainers to ‘Marvel Health’, a Wellness Centre with a full system of medical professionals, therapists, and trainers, hoping to provide personal training, martial arts, strength, and rehabilitation at the centre, as well as full corporate wellness programmes. And he hopes to give others, whether they are being bullied by others or just looking for the tools to believe in themselves, the same inspiration he receieved as a young kid who found solace in the knowledge that he could stand up for himself, and be what he wanted to be. Jake now runs a bi-annual tour to Beijing, to take clients to train among the top athletes in the world at the Olympic School, with group training sessions as well as a bit of touring to enjoy the sights and sounds of Beijing. It’s like a modern day fairy-tale, where the defenceless find their strength. For Jake, this was becoming a ninja, and now, in his adult years, he is helping others to do the same. For more information contact Jake on or visit:

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