Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Martial Arts: Providing Options to Prevent School Bullying

Several posts on this blog have been focused on the topic of school bullying. I read and reviewed Jodee Blanco's books on her quest to prevent school bullying. I have had discussions online and in the dojo regarding school bullying. I searched the Internet for bully-prevention programs and found few that uttered the word self-defense. I keep asking myself the same question. What role can martial arts play in the prevention of school bullying?

I came to the conclusion that Martial Arts Training provides options.

I am a parent, a karate instructor and co-owner of a traditional dojo. School bullying is a complex topic that affects children, parents, teachers, school administrations and medical professionals. In studying a martial art, we learn control, self-defense and courtesy. Students are taught to be respectful, kind and compassionate. In our dojo, kids who start fights or engage in bullying behavior are asked to leave.

Parents walk through our door searching for help for their child who is a target of school bullying. Here are a few examples.

Student at a Crossroad

A few months after the dojo opened (1995), a parent brought his young (10-11 years old) son to take karate lessons. The parent approached my husband and asked if he would take his son as a student. Before my husband could answer, the man continued his story. His young son was in trouble at school. The young boy was constantly picked on and tormented. One day the young boy took a butter knife to school in his backpack with the intention to use it against the school bully. The teacher found the knife and luckily, no one got hurt. The parent wanted his son to learn self-defense. He gave us a warning that local parents did not want their kids to be around his son.

What did my husband do? He accepted the young boy as a student. Members of the dojo were upset by my husband’s decision. My husband stood firm knowing that this type of kid would benefit the most from the martial arts. He was taught options as an alternative to violence. The young boy loved karate and found a place in the dojo community. He made friends and his confidence and self-esteem improved. He worked hard and eventually received the rank of brown belt.

A few years after he began training, the teenage boy attended a local carnival. He was standing up for his sister and was jumped by five older kids. Our student was badly bruised and suffered a compound fracture. He told us that he kept fighting even though his bone was sticking out of his arm. He did not return to karate due to the injury and subsequent bone infection.


Students that Miss the Point

A parent brings his young son to the dojo. This young man was bullied at school. The father was overly enthusiastic and excited to have his son learn martial arts. After eight months, we were informed that the boy had “learned enough”. The student left the dojo. A few weeks later, we discover that this boy has become the bully. He made his father very proud. We were heartbroken that we did not realize the hidden agenda.


Students that Blossom

Parents bring their shy, intelligent, compassionate children to the dojo. They are hoping that karate will give them confidence and make them self-assured. When these students first arrive at the dojo, they are afraid to demonstrate individually. I watch these students emerge as role models. They lead drills, help beginning students and assist in class.


This blog post has been sitting in the draft folder for over a week. It does not feel complete but I decided to post it as it stands. I did not like the word prevent and struggled to find a suitable alternative. Perhaps the words deter, stop, thwart, foil or avoid could have been used. I will continue to research and discuss the topic of school bullying. The post reflects my current opinions and I realize my beliefs may evolve.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Can martial arts help prevent school bullying? Is the benefit self-defense, confidence, self-esteem or a combination of all three? Is karate training perceived as violent and aggressive? Should school age children learn self-defense? Does your dojo advertise bully prevention? Have you taught students who became the Bully? What can we do as parents? What can we do as karate instructors? Has your child's school presented a bully prevention program?

So many questions....

8 comments:

John W. Zimmer said...

Hi Michele,

As in all of life, it is a mixed bag. One strives for the best and prepares for the worst (a good description of karate training).

Kids are influenced by a lot of external factors and if they are not in agreement - who really knows the outcome. In the case of the dad proud that his kid was the bully - that is sad.

The other example of the kid standing up for his sister was a good example what can come from the proper guidance. Although he got beat up - he survived and helped his sister!

This post has just pointed out that karate training mirrors real life issues I think. You and you husband are doing good work in your community!

Mr. White Tiger said...

I think there's a few things here...

As I said in one of my first posts on here, any martial arts training is like insurance: you pray that you never have to use it but you are prepared in case you do have to use it.

As far as the whole bullying/preventing bullying/etc., like anything else in life, the student will get out of it what he/she puts into it. You can teach someone all of the anti-bullying, "karate is for self-defense only" aspects you want, but it is ultimately up to the student to apply what is taught. Of course, that doesn't mean that we as instructors stop teaching the right way, but we do have to keep that in mind.

elizasmom said...

This is a great post — lots of think about, and I agree that's it's a balancing act, and you never know quite how students are going to use what you're putting out there.

It's been so long ago that I always forget that I started karate in part because I was being emotionally bullied/harassed at work, and I absolutely credit karate with improving my situation even though I was never even close to physical conflict. Within 3 months of starting, karate gave me the emotional wherewithal to stand up to my bully — I confronted him verbally and, as many bullies will, he crumpled completely and left me alone from then on.

SueC said...

Michele - I have two bullying scenarios to share with you that have happened to members of my family.
1. When my husband was a young boy (about 11)he was physically bullied. Initially he passively accepted the beatings without fighting back, though this made him feel wretched. Then one day he snapped and tried to bang his bully's head on the taps in the boy's cloakroom - fortunately a teacher intervened. However his street cred went up and he was never bullied again.

2.When my eldest son was about 12 he was accosted by a larger boy as he walked home from school. The boy was goading my son and threatening to beat him up. My son just stopped and looked at him. After about 10 seconds when the bully did not react my son just said to him 'if you were really going to hit me you would have done it by now', and then walked off. The bully left him alone after that.

The point I want to make here is that my husband had no martial arts training at that time and the only way he was able to stop the bullying was to fight back (but not until a lot of emotional damage had been done to him first). Whereas my son, who does both karate and jujitsu training didn't actually need to fight to stop his bully. I think his martial arts training prepared him to diffuse the situation in a calm and confident manner. Perhaps this is how martial arts could help your daughter?

Diver Daisy said...

From a classroom teacher point of view, I have a couple thoughts on this.
1. I think any child who takes karate benefits from it in one way or another, whether it be learning to following directions, learning discipline, learning to control their body, or learning how to not be afraid. That being said, even the disheartening story of the boy who became a bully has some further thought - he will be able to stand up to his dad if the need ever arises because no doubt his dad was a bully too.
2. My sensei constantly talks about the distances - arm reach, in close, etc. His (and my) favorite is the "thinking distance" where fighting doesn't occur at all. If you are teaching this, you are doing well :)
3. On a more personal note, the feeling that you just might be able to protect yourself in some way (or at least be able to come up with a plan of defense, etc) DOES contribute to a general sense of well being and positivity. I lived afraid for a long time and no longer am afraid because I feel I can do SOMETHING at least - and I am adult! It has to help a child's mind.

Cheri said...

Hi Michele --

Thanks for this post; it's definitely a topic that needs to be discussed.

I'm coming at school bullying from a different direction -- Dynamo was the school bully. He's not a tall kid and he's extremely thin, but the gets his Tasmanian Devil act going and people tend to capitulate.

It took some time, but I'm cautiously optimistic that he's finally moving beyond that. Tae kwon do seems to have helped a lot, with its emphasis on self-control and discipline. I'm guessing that the "zero tolerance" policy I implemented at home has also helped.

You hear lots about how to help your child who's being bullied, which is how it should be. It's an issue that needs all the awareness we can shine on it. It would be nice, however, to also include ideas on how to help stop your child from being the bully.

ronsan60 said...

I love this post. So many questions and in my years involved in the Arts I have come across a number of cases just like the examples in your post. As matter of inspiration: When I was a young boy (in the early 1970's) during the time the Show "Kung Fu" was popular, there was another young boy who tormented all the others in our class with his "kung fu". He would run in doing "flying side kicks" and knock people out their chairs etc. No one said anything to the teacher since we were all afraid of him. This torment is one reason I always wanted to learn "karate". The young tormentor was actually a begining student at a local Dojo, that I now know is a very respected school and was so then as well.... Just as parents we do our best to raise our children but still sometimes the child does not respond to our love and care and it is a mystery why this happens. Sometimes the same happens to our martial arts students.... we have all good intentions do the all the right things and still sometimes a studnet "goes bad" but on the bright side: maybe there is some other child like I was who becomes inspired to learn the arts, and it changes their life for the better...

Michele said...

Thank you for adding to the discussion on martial arts and school bullying. The various perspectives and stories illustrate the complexity of the topic.

On a personal note, I strive to be a good role model for my daughter and the karate students. As a karate instructor, I am looking ways to reach out to people who would benefit from self-defense training.

Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to write. Your comments are appreciated. :)