Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Karate Provides Options

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

My initial exposure to bullying was from karate students who came to class and shared stories about their day. The students would talk about bullies, the fear of riding the bus and frustration because teachers often did not witness the taunting. The bullies were smart, sneaky and inherently mean.

My daughter was bullied in elementary school. It is agony to watch your happy, smart, kind child begin to hate school. In second grade, my daughter announced, “I am a clique of one.” In third grade, she suffered with stomach problems and told the school nurse, “The kids have been mean for a while.  Now that they are older, they just find new ways to be mean.” In fourth grade, the homeroom teacher explained how my daughter had a larger view of the world and the other kids “will catch up”.

Two examples from our dojo:

Student at a crossroad

A parent brought his 11 year old son to the dojo for karate lessons. The parent asked if we would accept his son as a student. He cautioned us that other parents did not want their kids around his son because he was in trouble at school. The young boy was constantly picked on and tormented by other kids in his class. One day, the 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 was hurt.

A young boy took a knife to school because he felt he had no other choice.

The father wanted his son to learn self-defense. We accepted the young boy as a student despite the protests of other dojo parents. The boy loved karate and found his place in the dojo community. He studied karate for 4 years. He was taught to use his voice, de-escalate or simply walk away. He knew techniques to escape and control. He learned options.

Target turned bully

A father brought his son to the dojo to learn self-defense. The pre-teen was bullied at school and on the bus. The father was excited to watch his son in karate class. After 8 months, the father informed us that his son had “learned enough”. He left the dojo. A few weeks later, we discovered the child became the bully. The father encouraged his behavior. We were heartbroken.

Whenever I research the topic of bullying and the role of a karate program, I inevitably ask more questions than find answers. Dr. Jay Carter, author and lecturer, suggests that traditional martial arts are excellent for the bully because it provides physical activity and a code of ethics. Dr. Carter led a program on anti-bullying at my daughter’s school for the students, educators and parents. His comment made me wonder who would be better served in a karate program – the bully or the target.

I would love karate training to a solution for the anti-bully movement, but there are limits to what a program can offer. Learning karate takes time. The decision when to use the karate training is not up to the instructor. Parents of school aged children need to be involved in the decision as to what is appropriate for their child. We do not use the words “You should” or “You shouldn’t” rather we present multiple options and levels of responses.

I can only speak from the perspective of a parent and a karate instructor. Through the years, I have witnessed shy children blossom into confident teenagers. At a wedding of former student, the father of the bride made a point to stop at our table. He thanked us for the time his daughter spent in the dojo. He believed karate training helped shape the self-assured woman who stood before us.  I watched my own daughter find her voice to stand up to bullies and help others in need.

My conclusion is simple. Karate can be a component in a bully prevention plan because karate training teaches us options. Increased confidence and self-esteem aid in the decision making process. We can decide how to respond – avoid, de-escalate, use your voice, walk away, escape or control. Perhaps a young boy wouldn’t need to hide a butter knife in his backpack because he felt he had no other choice.

Martial Arts Perth


Charles James said...

Outstanding Post!

Michele said...

Thank you! I am glad you liked it.

Journeyman said...

This is such an important topic.

I think Karate, or any decent martial arts schools with responsible teachers can be a huge benefit to bully and target alike. Many schools are starting to incorporate martial arts programs for this very reason.

The police community is now starting to provide free instruction to at risk youth. Some think it's teaching bad apples to be better at being rotten, but I've found, in most cases, the opposite is true.

Another important part that you touched on is the parents. They don't need to take the classes, but they need to be involved and have a positive attitude about it all. It is very hard to hear about the target who became a bully, but sadly, this speaks more to the influence from the home. You never know, the lessons the youth learned in Karate may lead him back to the right path.

Clearly, nasty bullies should have to prove themselves and teachers need to keep a close eye, but the dojo can be a great place to adjust perspective, if the student is willing.

This too, demonstrates how important it is to be a good teacher.

Great post. Important and insightful.

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The Strongest Karate said...

Itosu Yasutsune once said something akin to "do, without jutsu, is pointless". However, this is one of those life situations where "do" is perhaps more important than "jutsu" - especially pertaining to children with not yet mature minds.

My own experience of bullying was, I'm told, of the old-school type. Started with words and sometimes moved to fists. Sometimes we'd get in trouble, sometimes not. But in the end the bullies stopped. And I believe it is because I proved I was willing to give as good as I got (in words, and in violence).

The strange thing is that I'm also told that my experience was different. That bullies are different now. This is, of course, incorrect. After all, was the rationale that "things were different when you were my age", ever accepted when we told that to our parents?

Life is complicated and kids need a full "tool box" to handle complex issues like bullying. Sometimes you need "a ratchet set", and sometimes all you need is a "hammer".

Michele said...

Journeyman: Thanks for adding to the discussion! Parental involvement is so important.

Last night, a prospective student and parents stopped by to check out a class. The Mom was concerned karate would make their son aggressive. The Dad interjected and told her that karate would teach him the opposite...that there is an appropriate time/place for self-defense. It was a good discusion. I hope they come back next week.

The Strongest Karate: Thank you for your comments. I completely is complicated. One challenge for this generation is dealing with bullying via social media.

The Strongest Karate said...

Social media? I dunno. There is always the "ignore/block" feature. Sure other kids will see what the bullies write on their own profiles, but that is much the same as messages scrolled on bathroom stalls.

Regardless, kids definitely need a complete skill set to deal with the complexities of social interaction. Sad, though, that so many cling to what they think are simple (meaning draconian and absolute) solutions.

Michele said...

Brett: Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Social media...I think it is a different challenge...immediate and far reaching. When I was a teen, I did not have to worry about social media. My daughter is 13 and I worry.

I was backstage during my daughters play last weekend. There were a few parents talking about a bullying problem at the high school. The bullies were using Twitter to make their nasty comments.