Martial arts gives Redmond native confidence to speak up for himself

Redmond native Trent Spangler spent his early school days being bullied, but martial arts helped him gain the confidence to speak up for himself and others. - Courtesy photo
Redmond native Trent Spangler spent his early school days being bullied, but martial arts helped him gain the confidence to speak up for himself and others.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

As a kid, Trent Spangler had been bullied off and on from the time he entered kindergarten.

While the Redmond native, now 20 and attending Western Washington University, admits he wasn’t completely innocent — stealing classmates’ pencils and returning them a couple minutes later just to get attention — things got particularly difficult for him when he entered Rose Hill Junior High School (now Rose Hill Middle School).

“Hateful words, laughed at, shunning and although I was never ‘beaten up’ I was pushed around once in a while,” Spangler said about the type of treatment he received. “Needless to say my self-confidence was far below average and (I) even contemplated suicide at one point.”

Spangler’s mother, Toni Benedict, said her son approached her one day in eighth grade and asked if he could go on steroids so he could be strong enough to get the bullies at school to leave him alone. Spangler and Benedict never brought the issue to the school’s attention because Spangler didn’t want to be labeled a “rat” for telling on his peers.

“As a single mom, I had no idea how to help my son deal with these problems effectively,” Benedict said. “My motherly advice to ‘just walk away’ was clearly not working for him. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see my child being victimized and the damage it was causing to his self-esteem, grades and general loss of feeling safe and happy in the world.”

In the summer of 2005, between Spangler’s eighth- and ninth-grade years, Spangler and Benedict discovered Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios in Redmond while driving around town. There was a man in the parking lot demonstrating various moves and he caught the then 13-year-old Spangler’s interest.

“Needless to say, it wasn’t just fun to watch but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the power and grace he commanded that I had longed for my entire life,” he said.

Sensing her son’s interest, Benedict approached the man, Z-Ultimate chief instructor Bryan Buckhorn, with her concerns about her son’s bullying issue and signed them both up for classes.

“They were my first students (in Washington),” said Buckhorn, who had just opened the Redmond studio at the time.

Once he started classes and began learning the rules and movements of martial arts, things slowly began to change for Spangler. He said he was less angry and felt more in control of his life and as a result, became more confident.

And as weeks passed, Spangler said he began talking to people who had treated him like a ghost just a month before.

“I walked taller and above all I learned how to de-escalate a situation, instead of creating conflict,” he said.

Spangler practiced Shaolin Chu’an Fa Kempo and although continuing to train regularly became too difficult with him moving to Bellingham for college, Buckhorn said before Spangler moved away, he was ready to test for his second-degree black belt.

Buckhorn said bullies often pick on individuals who they view as weak. One of the byproducts of martial arts is confidence and once this began to show in Spangler, the bullying issue disappeared.

Buckhorn described Spangler’s transformation from a small kid who never spoke up, did anything or went anywhere, to a “rockstar” who joined the Z-Ultimate demonstration team, participated in competitions, joined various clubs and teams in high school and moved away for college as the most perfect results a teacher could ask for.

With the impact Z-Ultimate had on his life Spangler said he would recommend any sport — but especially martial arts — to children dealing with bullying.

“I have known kids in (martial arts) who told me that they used to bully others but learned through martial arts about the mistakes they were making,” he said. “It is a great way for kids to get exercise, learn to be better people, and live a better life.”

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