MIDLOTHIAN — One Midlothian gym is helping at-risk and troubled teens turn their lives around through free martial arts lessons.

Champion Jiu-jitsu owner Randy Clayton started training at-risk students after becoming a mentor with the district’s Movement Toward a Future mentoring program.

“These kids have been beaten down by life,” Clayton said. “Here (at the gym) they have people they can count on and they’re all brothers. It gives them a family atmosphere where they can talk and gives them a positive perspective on life.”

It all started with four at-risk students with Movement Toward a Future. The students were in alternative schools for misbehavior, behind in the grades, skipping class and most were without fathers.

“When you first meet them they act tough and kind of stand-offish, but once you break through that harsh exterior, they start to make bonds and become humbled,” Clayton said. “It takes about a week or two weeks to gain their trust, but that relationship aspect is so important because most of them have never had someone they can truly count on.”

Clayton said he found the space for his gym just driving around Midlothian when he saw a space open at 1061-B Enterprise Road in Midlothian.

“It’s kind of a nasty, dirty place, but it fits the personality of a lot of the guys here,” he joked. “We plan on moving to a much nicer place in January, but right now this is where we sweat, bleed and mature together.”

Students at the gym are taught Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is a type of ground fighting in martial arts and encouraged to finish high school or earn their GED. The students learn life lessons such as patience, respect, honor, trust, control and honesty.

“All of these guys like to fight, so that gives me an in. We teach them to channel that in a positive direction,” Clayton said.

Clayton has seven years experience in martial arts and is joined by Kevin Garza, who has five years experience and is a student at Christ for the Nations Bible Institute.

One of the students, whose full names will not be listed due to confidentially concerns, talked about how training at the gym has helped him.

“I was sitting there in the cafeteria and this girl was all up in my ear, and I told myself to just be calm and keep a cool head. I used what I learned here and kept from doing something,” LeJonathan said. “I never would have been able to do that before, just ignore someone.”

Another student, Morgan, said he had anger issues before coming to the gym. He learned about patience, breathing techniques, self-control and how to remain calm.

All of the students talked about the family and brotherhood they felt at the gym and how it has changed their lives.

“Whether you come from a good situation or bad, we’re all brothers on the mat and it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Morgan said.

“These guys are the family I never thought I would have, and I’m so thankful to God. Not everyone has this kind of opportunity,” LeJonathon said.

Clayton invites the at-risk students to participate in Bible study lessons after their practice and has them eat dinner at his house.

“I had Daniel (one of his first students) over to dinner one week before I opened the gym,” he said. “He told me about selling drugs, living on the streets and showed where he had been shot and stabbed.”

Clayton said Daniel asked him why he would let him come into his house and eat dinner with his family.

“I told him, ‘you haven’t done anything yet that makes me believe I can’t trust you,’” he said. “Daniel told me he’d never had a sit down family meal before. That showed me that we can make a difference in these guys’ lives. They really need to see people love and trust them.”

In addition to the at-risk students, Clayton and Garza also teach adult and children classes at the gym.

For more information about Champion Jiu-Jitsu, contact Clayton at 214-775-4285.

Follow Aaron on Facebook at Facebook.com/AaronSchwadererWDL and on Twitter at Twitter.com/AaronSchwaderer. Contact him at 469-517-1456 or a.schwaderer@waxahachietx.com.