A video recorded at a boys martial arts training academy in Detroit has recently gained worldwide attention for an inspirational message about coping with emotions.
Nine-year-old Bruce Collins III is in the middle of an initiation test involving breaking boards with punches. When he has to break one with his left hand he fails three times. A pained expression flashes across his face and his voice cracks. It’s a point where some might give up. Not a single laugh or smirk comes from the other boys in the class as they watch intently.
Shärath Jason Wilson gently guides the boy through the test helping him deal with his emotions and offering encouragement to find new strength.
Servant or minister in Hebrew, the word Shärath echos Wilson’s mission behind the Cave of Adullam training academy and his non-profit life skills organization The Yunion founded in 2002. They hold classes at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit immigrant welcome center (111 E. Kirby Street) near the Detroit Institute of Arts.
One of the main tenets of Wilson’s academy involves emotional stability training where the boys express their feelings and learn how they can lead to disobedience and failures at home and at school.
What was going through Wilson’s mind when the boy started crying? “I got on my knees so he knows I love him,” said Wilson who reassured the boy, “It’s okay to cry. We cry as men.”
“I said fight through it. This is what it’s about now,” explained Wilson drawing an analogy to how the boys may face a bully or a test at school and they break because they feel the initial pain. He feels that breaking the board can be symbolic for pushing through a barrier in life.
Eventually Collins breaks the board as onlookers applaud.
The viral video has garnered calls from all over the world. “It’s been overwhelming, but in a good way,” explained Wilson. He has had calls from Fox Sports, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, ESPN and Steve Harvey.
Encouraged by the positive response to his video Wilson said, “this country desires change and hope.”
The Cave of Adullam started in 2008 teaches Wilson’s own brand of martial arts Mūsar Rū (Discipline of the Spirit) which according to the academy’s website aims “to comprehensively train and transform boys emotionally, mentally and physically.”
From 2008 to present Wilson claims his student’s overall grade point average has increased from 1.6 to 3.0. In regard to lower grades some of the boys have, he will ask, “are you an average person?” No, is the always the resounding reply.
Wilson says some boys come to the academy broken with ADHD, unresolved anger and needing a father figure. “I gave you what I longed for,” he said noting how he grew up without the guidance of a father. “He was in my city, but not my life,” he added.
An influence of Eminem’s — Wilson was the Mystro of the Detroit rap duo Kaos & Mystro. Tired of the glorification of crime and incarceration, he quit the music business. “I walked away. I quit cold turkey,” he said.
Although the response is overwhelmingly positive — there is a measure of criticism in the YouTube comments for Wilson citing the struggle of African-Americans, “Being a black man in this country. You’re going to need mental fortitude,” he tells the boy in the video.
“I respect their opinion, but it’s insensitive to bring up race. It’s clear there is a deficit. It’s the truth,” said Wilson defending his comment. The Cave of Adullam is open to any ethnicity.
Though the academy is based on biblical principles, Wilson focuses on relationships and affirmation rather than religion.
Teaching sensitivity is a key for Wilson. When a boy in the class complained of a cat dying, some of the other boys laughed because they live with the worry of gunfire outside their homes. Wilson tells the boys how insensitive it is to look down on someone else’s pain.
Wilson is excited to expand his model with the help of donations from a GoFundMe campaign he recently started. $16,000 have been donated in only a few days. “When someone has sacrificed a potential meal. You owe them the insight into what you’re doing,” said Wilson.