Bullying, Martial Arts and Finding a Solution

Vaughn1Like most people who began taking martial arts when they were children I did so because I was being picked on almost daily and I wanted to learn to defend myself. I used to stay up late and watch old kung fu movies and imagining myself using the same moves on the bullies that were messing with me. After hearing me talk about it for a while my mom finally gave in and took me to watch a karate class at the local rec center.  Word of advice

never take a timid child to watch an advanced martial arts class.

The brown belts were having class that night and all it took was me seeing one of them getting thrown over the instructor’s shoulder to stifle any desire to sign up for martial arts. It would be almost a year before I would step foot in another martial arts class.

Lucky for me one of my mom’s co-workers (at the time) had a child enrolled at the local Tae Kwon Do school and gave my mom a pass for a free month. She almost didn’t let me go because she thought it would be a repeat of the rec center, but after promising that I wouldn’t back out again she took me to try out my first class. I was instantly hooked. I took to the classes like a fish to water and found that I actually had some natural talent for martial arts, which for a young boy who didn’t have a single athletic bone in his body was a nice surprise.

I trained at Lee Brother’s Tae Kwon Do in Burlington, NC under Master Sang Ho Lee for almost three years and loved every second of it. Knowing that I could defend myself as well as the realization that there was a physical activity that I was actually good at did wonders for my confidence and self-esteem. I still carry those positive influences and good memories of my first martial arts school and my first instructor with me to this day and use them, as well as what I have learned from my other martial instructors over the years, as a blue print for how I teach and motivate my students.

stop bullyingIt’s safe to say that my experience being bullied as a child plays a large part in why I teach martial arts.

Whenever a parent brings their child to my school and tells me that their son or daughter is getting bullied at school I take it personally.

Children shouldn’t have to fear going to school. They shouldn’t have to walk down the hallway with their head down hoping and praying that the bully won’t notice them. School should be a fun, safe place for them to go and learn and be with friends, not a place that literally feels them with dread. As someone who has been where they have been and gone through what they have through I feel like I have an obligation to help these students just like my instructors helped me.

Having said that, I think there is one crucial area that most martial arts schools are missing when preparing their students to defend themselves against bullies.

While we do a great job at teaching our students how to handle physical attacks by bullies, most instructors don’t address how to deal with the verbal abuse that bullies give.

I ran into the same dilemma after I started taking martial arts. The other students and I were told by our instructor to only use our training if we were being physically attacked. We were also told that if he found out that we had gotten into a fight at school we would not only be in trouble with the school but with him as well. For me that meant that I was often stuck still having to endure the bullies’ verbal abuse because they weren’t actually attacking me physically. As annoying as they are bullies are also smart, they know how to work the system. They will relentlessly bully a child verbally knowing that if their victim does anything to them physically it will be the victim and not they who will get in trouble.

Gracie Workshop 2It wasn’t until after attending a seminar on Verbal Martial Arts by Master Chan Lee as well as studying the Gracie Bullyproof curriculum developed by the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy that I realized just how badly we were failing our students by not giving them the tools to protect themselves against verbal attacks that bullies often use. I immediately updated the anti-bullying talks that I do both in my dojo and in the public schools that I visit to include not only how to handle physical bullying but verbal bullying as well. I now teach that bully prevention starts as soon as you meet someone; in your eye contact, the tone of your voice and in the firmness of your handshake. These are just some of the ways that a potential bully decides whether or not you are going to be a future friend or a future victim.

While these verbal martial arts skills are important they are only half the solution. Studies have shown that students will only use these verbal martial arts to stand up to bullies if they know that they can, if necessary, back them up with physical self-defense without getting in trouble with their parents or their martial arts instructors. We must give our students some clear “rules of engagement” that they can follow when being bullied. Rules that will tell them how to assertively, but politely ask the bully to stop any verbal abuse, tell them what to do when the bully doesn’t stop, allow them to protect themselves using “school safe” techniques when the verbal abuse turns to physical abuse and if need be, how to justify their actions to their teachers and/or principals if physical self defense is required. Most importantly we must let our children/students know that as long as they follow these rules they will have our full support if they ever do have to defend themselves against the bully. Only then will they truly have the confidence to stand up for themselves.

MASTER BRANDON VAUGHN

KARATE INT. JONESVILLE / GRACIE CERTIFIED TRAINING CENTER

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