One Brooklyn dojo has been training kids and adults in Japanese jiujitsu and self-defense for 56 years. For many parents, those skills are especially important now as the city sees an uptick in crime.
So far, in 2022, the city has seen a 25.6% increase in crime compared to this time last year. There’s also been a 23% jump in overall crime in Brooklyn so far this year. And while crime is low in Bay Ridge compared to other neighborhoods, the 68th precinct has seen a nearly 18% increase in crime.
At Bay Ridge Dojo in Dyker Heights, kids as young as five years old are trained in Japanese jiujitsu and self-defense.
“It’s nice to know that if they ever have to defend themselves, that they’ve had some training and they’ll be capable and confident to do so,” said Casey Meyers, a retired NYPD officer who started training in martial arts when he was six-years-old.
Now, this Bay Ridge dad is passing on the tradition to his son.
“Now that my son is seven, I wanted him involved in the program,” Meyers said. “You’re gonna have the confidence to go out and deal with situations. You’re not living in fear. And being in the big city, it’s nice to have that comfortability to go out and enjoy your life.”
He’s one of hundreds of people from Bay Ridge who trained at the Dojo in its 56-year history. It’s a constant here, although its location has changed
The dojo opened on 86th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1966, then moved to 88th and Third Avenue. When the lease was up in 1988, the rent tripled — a sign of the times during a decade that brought nearly 70,000 new residents to Brooklyn.
That’s when the owners moved to neighboring Dyker Heights. Still, the Bay Ridge name, instructors and even much of the clientele remain.
“They’ll bury me in this, in my samurai suit,” Michael Junsch said, the senior chief instructor and co-owner of Bay Ridge Dojo. “I’ll be doing this, as long I’m healthy, I’ll be doing this for life.”
But martial arts is a side gig for Junsch. All the senseis are working professionals, from teachers to social workers and psychologists to lawyers.
“We don’t run it as a money-making operation,” co-owner and professor, Nicasio Alonso said. “It is part of our lives. It’s giving back to the community. It’s part of who we are.”
“We come down here and give our time and it’s costing us money,” Junsch said. “But we really feel that this is something really important for our youth.”
That feeling shared by these Bay Ridge parents who are concerned for their kids’ safety amid an uptick in crime citywide.
“First and foremost, we’re in New York City and I think it’s really important to defend yourself,” Lisa Constantino said, whose son is a student at Bay Ridge Dojo.
She and her husband Daniel say they feel relieved knowing their son is learning not just self-defense, but life skills as well.
“It really keeps you grounded and makes you know who you are as a person and to be a good person. So just because you have the power to hurt someone, doesn’t mean you should, or you will,” she said.
“Words can’t express how proud I am of him and all the hard work that he put into being the best martial artist that he can be,” he said.