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Local Karate Students Use Words, Not Fists, To Fight Drugs

Eileen Pace

A special group of fourth and fifth grade karate students waging their own war on drugs were honored by county commissioners this week.  
Eli Guerra has been training students for 27 years in eight Bexar County school districts. He says he was inspired by Nancy Reagan to do something to help keep kids away from drugs. The Karate Kids of America program is different because the Tang Soo Do Karate Master has the students write letters to their friends, explaining the evils of drug and alcohol abuse. Guerra says the personal letter has more impact on the students than writing an essay. 
"It's just a personal thing, where you sit down, and tell your friend, 'I don't want you to be involved with those guys, because they're going to hurt you,’" he says.
Guerra says he started teaching drug education to about 20,000 students in the eight districts, but over the years has whittled the eligibility down to just 4th and 5th graders. All students are eligible whether they take karate or not. The F.B.I. and D.E.A. judge the letters, and first-place winners in each grade get an X-box 360 Connect. Second-place winners receive a Nintendo DS Cosmo, and special recognition is given in the form of gift certificates to local restaurants and other retailers. 
DEA Special Agent Armando Talamantez spoke to Bexar County Commissioners on behalf of the karate kids.
"Programs like this...students writing letters to friends, strangers, telling them about the dangers of drugs. It just helps our efforts tremendously."
Guerra also monitors the school performance of his karate students, and those who stay on the A-B Honor Roll are reward with the instructor’s “Shaman Medal.” The International Bank of Commerce provides support for the program along with Frost Bank and Sea Island. IBC’s Johnny Maldonado said the organization receives 400 to 800 letters each year and has served thousands of students over its 20-plus years of service. 
The winners of the letter-writing contest also are invited to attend ceremonies at Bexar County Commissioners Court and San Antiono City Council as well as before Governor Rick Perry. 

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.