Little River martial arts entrepreneur turns the tables on bullies

For Weekly SurgeSeptember 10, 2013 

Gerry Egan: Empowering others on the Strand

Irishman Gerry Egan, 36, moved to the Grand Strand 15 years ago with his immediate family, and recalls that the winter months brought with them a ghost town feeling. “You could go the length of [U.S. 17 Business] and not see another vehicle on the road,” he says, adding that his father knew about Myrtle Beach through friends and acquaintances in Ireland who had already visited or worked here. “We go to the beach in Ireland when the weather is warm, but until you come here, you’ve never seen beaches like this. The majority of my family moved here within a year after we did.”

When he was growing up in a small village near Dublin, he was bullied on a daily basis, even when he began taking up martial arts at age 11. “I was doing what I needed to do,” he says. “I was fighting to protect myself and trying to stick up for myself.”

He continued his martial arts training and eventually went to work for a school here before branching out on his own as an instructor five years ago. He opened his own enterprise, Coastal Academy of Martial Arts, three years ago in Little River. He is affiliated with and continues to study under sensei Dean Sutzer of Shingitai-Ryu Bujutsu, also in Little River.

Coastal Academy of Martial Arts offers numerous programs encompassing all age groups, starting with children from three to six, the Little Dragons. “This is a great age group to teach,” says Egan. “We focus on gross motor skills, discipline and focus – running, jumping and hand/eye coordination – along with very base level martial arts.”

The next level is the youth program for kids aged six to 11, where Egan says they get into the meat-and-potatoes of martial arts including nonviolent anti-aggression/anti-bullying techniques. But sometimes in the real world, additional training is necessary. “We actually teach full-blown self-defense and how young students can deal with grown assailants.” Egan is 6-2 and weighs nearly 200 pounds. “They learn how to break free of somebody that size and build. It’s all realistic with no sugar coating. They understand what they are learning and why they are learning it.”

The last level is 13 years and older with an unlimited age cap. “This gets into the realm of kickboxing, traditional weapons and close-quarters combat.” Egan is happy to say that he is teaching two seniors as well. “They are both ladies, and they both kick ass and take names. They perform on a level easily comparable to somebody half their age or less.”

Coastal Academy also offers cardio kickboxing and private self-defense classes – and has held seminars and workshops centered on anti-bullying. “Knowing what I went through and seeing what kids are now going through, bullying has become a very, very hard issue in schools and neighborhoods. I have spoken to parents who have started homeschooling their kids because what they are going through is far too extreme. A lot of stuff escapes notice – and this happens in our own neighborhoods as is does in any other neighborhood nationally.”

“There are three categories,” asserts Egan: “Kids are being bullied, they are bullies, or they were bullied once upon a time and by way of coping and dealing, they turn around and bully someone else in return. They find weaker people as targets. It’s a morale booster and self-esteem builder. They find someone they can pick on. If they can’t beat them, they join them.”

Last year, Egan ran a monthly, hour-long anti-bullying seminar, free of charge and open to the community. “We’re putting it together for fall and spring coming up, and try to run it through the school season once a month.”

Coastal Academy of Martial Arts participates in other community events as well, such as public demonstrations for events such as Relay for Life. “We go out and do this to help out as best we can – to raise awareness and contribute what we can – time or finances.” The Academy has also put on demonstrations at Field during Pelicans games.

He sometimes marvels at the progress of current and past students. One young student had to break away to focus on academics, graduated from high school a year early and has now returned to continue in martial arts. “I’d known this young man since he was three feet tall. A lot of kids have grown up and they can look me square in the eye. He’s one of the few that I actually have to lift my head to look up at him. He’s got incredible heart, character and intelligence.”

Egan lives in Little River with wife Elizabeth Egan and three-year-old son, William. “My lovely wife Beth is awesome in supporting what I do, and William is absolutely fearless.”

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