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20/20 on ABC featured a story last night, Friday, October 15th on bullying. We have heard a lot of about various of forms of bullying this year, stories of intimidation and ridicule children over clothes, style, looks, sexual orientation, school associations or size. These are only a few examples of how children prey on eachother. I am sure most of your are aware of the recent cases where several teenagers have taken their own lives after being victimized by bullies.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, around 160,000 kids fear going to school because of being bullied. Most of us can remember witnessing this type of behavior. For me, experiencing being bullied when I was in third grade by a boy in my class (we will call him R). It began as mostly name-calling, but always in front of others. I didn't have a smart mouth, so I never had any come backs that aided me in responding to the situation. Then fourth grade came and R's relentless badgering became a bit more vulgar and always made comments about my mom and dad. They were crude and unbelievably hurtful. In addition, he always caught me when I was not looking and knocked my books out of my hand, threw my backpack in the puddles and even tripped me. In fact, during winter recess when the play ground was iced over he would prey on the weaker kids by knocking them down on the large ice patches - the smaller kids would hover next to the fence the safest place. Well, I did not make it to the fence quick enough one time and he grabbed the back of my jacket and whipped me down. I fell on my tailbone and it was fractured.
Then came the summer of fourth grade and finally my mother gave in and enrolled me in karate. Fifth grade started and I had been in karate for only a short period of time. At that age, my parents allowed me to walk after school to a ballet class that was 1 block from my school. It was a rainy fall day (so I has training martial arts for about 3 or 4 months) and R caught me on the corner and decided to pick on me. There were other kids there at the time and R decided to begin saying cruel things to me and taunting me - he was going to knock me into the puddles off the curb. He then started to insult my father (which now seems so silly). So I kicked R with a front kick to the stomach and smacked him with my umbrella. I was able to do this because of martial arts. And to be honest, that was the moment it all began for me. I have stuck with martial arts since then and the summer of 2011 will be my 30th year practicing. I have remained confident from that point and always stood up for myself. I realize many may not think my violent actions were the correct way to handle my predicament. But they were the right actions for me at the time. He terrorized me and it was a chronic experience. But martial arts also taught when to stop. I knew when I had the best of R, I had learned that once an opponent is down you stop. Karate gave me more than kicks and strikes, it helped form my moral code for disputes and where MY defensive line exists, the one that I will not allow someone to cross. This line is different for everyone.
Although my experience with R did not ostracize me like the poor teenagers in Ohio who committed suicide or 13 year old Asher Brown who shot himself because he could not handle being bullied, my experience is one example of how bullying exists amongst children as young as 8, 9 and 10. R continued to be a bully at my school for a couple years. But I was not his target anymore. I remember seeing him trying to whip kids down the winter of 5th grade on the ice, and I would go stand next to those that were small kids like me because he simply avoided me. Unfortunately, I know now that R being beat up by a girl probably fed his anger and perpetuated his desire to terrorize others and prove how tough he was - thankfully for many at my school he stopped growing by 7th grade and he was not so big anymore.
Martial arts is an amazing place for a child to develop self-confidence and self-defense skills. There are so many life long lessons that are presented through even the simple lessons of punches, kicks and blocks. Martial arts is layered with purposeful guidance that gives its students skills for conflict resolution, personal tolerance, humility and fundamentally respect for others.
If you know a child or young person who is being bullied, please reach out to me and I will help find them a martial arts school that will give them introductory martial arts lessons for free. In an effort to help stop the bullying, please watch the 20/20 special and check out these websites that campaign for education and programming to re-direct the actions of bullies and help for those who are victimized.