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....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Distraction and Yellow Page Scammers

I consider myself an observant person. I notice things and remember. My husband has called me at work to help him find something at home. Frustrating as this phone call can be, I usually remember where the item can be found. I try to keep myself aware of my surroundings and not be distracted.

This week I failed to be observant and aware because I was distracted. On Tuesday, my Dad had a cardiac catheterization. They were checking his heart to determine if he has a blockage. I was worried about him and waiting to hear the results of his test. The phone rang at work and I was expecting it to be my Mom with the results. On the other end of the phone was a Scammer who happened to call when I was distracted. The phone call went something like this:

Scammer: “This is a courtesy call to update your free online business yellow page listing.”

He read off the company’s name, address and phone number.

Me: “Yes, that is correct.”

Scammer: “Thank you for verifying the information. In order to update the listing in the computer, I need you to answer a few recorded questions to confirm. I will dial the number and help with the prompts.”

He dialed a number and continued.

Scammer: “Please answer the questions loud and clear. I will hit all the prompts.”

Faint Recording: State the name of the Company

I could faintly hear the recording.

Scammer: “Name of company”

I replied.

Faint Recording: State the physical address

Scammer: “They are looking for the address.”

I replied. A few questions were asked requesting basic information. Each time the Scammer would help by stating the question.

Scammer: “The final question verifying that you approve the update.”

Very Faint Recording: “….approve…..$39.95…..months”

Me: HEY! Wait a minute! I heard the recording mention $39.95.


The Scammer ended the call.

On a normal day, I would not have answered the questions. I know about the phone frauds for online Yellow Page listings. Why did I answer the questions? There is only one reason I can think of….I was distracted. It can happen so quickly. I let my guard down and gave a Scammer a window of opportunity.

I am irritated at myself and wondered how often I get distracted. Am I easily distracted? I did not think so…but maybe I am…I hope not.

I write this post as a reminder to myself...pay attention.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer is Supposed to be Relaxing…Right?

I could not wait until school let out. I imagined free evenings with no homework or after school activities. I thought I would have more time and less stress.

I must have been dreaming…

My daughter loves summer camp. She wants to go full time (M-F 8:15-5:15). I guess I should not have been worried. The original plan was for her to go to camp three days per week and her Nana’s house two days per week. Camp is full of activities, field trips, swimming and many kids. I am happy that she loves camp but the extra two days require more money and more driving.

In addition to camp, my daughter will be rehearsing for a play for the next five weeks. There were over fifty kids who auditioned and only twenty-five speaking parts. She was in the play for the last three summers but was not sure if she wanted to participate this year. She auditioned and was excited when she found out that she got a small speaking role. The rehearsals are Monday - Thursday from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm. The rehearsals during the last week are every day and last until at least 10:00 pm. Parents are required to volunteer and help with ticket sales, set construction (9 different scenes), raffle items and advertising.

I spend a lot of time in a car. Driving back and forth to camp, to work and to play practice. I did not even mention my full time job, dojo responsibilities, tai chi, the gym, annual karate seminar or housework. I have a few vacation days scheduled near the Fourth of July. During that time, I will be helping replace a roof on the garage. We have a detached three-car garage with office. It is a big roof but not too steep. I helped replace the roof on our house. The best part about this project is that we are getting a dumpster. It will be a great opportunity to clean out the house and throw things away.

Tonight at play practice, the parents will begin construction on a shark skeleton made out of wire, pool noodles and paper mache.

I am tired already.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review: Please Stop Laughing at Us

In April, I wrote a review of Jodee Blanco's book Please Stop Laughing at Me. It is the type of book that stays with you long after the book has been returned to the shelf. I have been searching the book stores for a few weeks and I finally found a copy of Jodee Blanco's follow up project Please Stop Laughing at Us. (I know I could have bought it on line but I like book stores.) The book chronicles Jodee Blanco quest to stop school bullying.

Similar to her first book, I sat down and read the book start to finish. She discusses how her life changed after writing her first book. Jodee was asked to speak to school students, parents and educators. She became an advocate for children. The targets of bullying found a voice through Jodee. They flooded her with emails, letters and requests to meet in person. She traveled the country and school bullying was everywhere. The kids were suffering, the parents were suffering and the school administrators and teachers were suffering.

Jodee Blanco walks into schools and tells her story. It is brutally honest and inspires change. Her presentations convey how it feels to be the target of bullying and the long term affects. She offers survival suggestions for Students, Parents, Educators and Adult Survivors.

Jodee Blanco's website is full of useful information. The following links are survival tips from her website.

Survival Tips for Students

Survival Tips for Parents

Survival Tips for Educators

Tips for Adult Survivors

This book is for everyone. It is a wake up call!

My personal wake up call was a phone call I received from my daughters school nurse during third grade. The nurse called me to let me know that my daughter was in the office again with a stomach ache. I will be forever grateful to the school nurse who really listened to my daughter. The nurse told me that my then eight year old daughter confided in her and said:

"Kids have been mean since the first grade. Now that they are older, the kids are finding new ways to be mean."

School bullying has to stop.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Self-Defense Classes are Like a Box of Chocolate….

….You never know what you are going to get.

I must begin with a caveat. The self-defense classes I am referring to are one or two session classes taught to non-martial artists. The classes may be for an organization, church group or business. The class covers basic self-defense techniques for adults. I am not referring to seminars taught to martial artist or women’s self-defense classes.

As far as self-defense classes go, I have been a participant, an instructor, an observer or an assistant. The truth is that you never know how a self-defense class is going to go until it is over. This is true even if you are well prepared with goals for the class and a lesson outline. Take for example two self-defense classes with the same instructor and identical curriculum. One class could be a great success while the second class might be unpleasant.

What is the difference? The participants. I have compiled a list of individuals or personality types that have made appearances at self-defense classes.

Regular Participant: This is the largest group. This individual is willing and interested to learn self-defense. These people come to the session with an open mind. They are excellent participants, pleasant to be around and a joy to teach.

Reluctant Participant: This individual was forced to attend the session. They do not want to learn self-defense and have absolutely no interest. This is the first person I spot among the group because they are usually standing with their arms crossed with a bored expression.

Over Enthusiastic Participant: This individual is the first to participate and often volunteers. They are enthusiastic for the attention not for the pursuit of information.

“I Know a Better Way” Type I: This individual has previous martial arts experience. The often do not divulge their background. He/she is polite and listens but you will find them practicing the releases/locks their own way. They may even show other class participants their variation.

“I Know a Better Way” Type II: This individual does not have martial arts experience but still believes they have a better way. They may have seen it in a movie or learned it through a different athletic pursuit. You will hear them exclaiming, “Well, I would do it this way.” There is an opportunity here for the self-defense instructor. If Type II demonstrates and their technique is faulty, they can learn a valuable and possibly life saving lesson. Type II will either get angry or accept the correction. In my opinion, it is better to find out that a technique does not work during practice than on the street.

Quiet Observer: I think it is important to look for the quiet observer. This person is an intense listener, participates but does not ask questions. They look like they want to say something but refrain. At the close of the self-defense class, we provide our phone number and email address. In less than a week, this person usually calls with a specific question or concern.

The Disbeliever: This individual does not think self-defense works. They ask many questions and look for the exceptions. They love to offer “What if?” scenarios.

Ok…that is my list but I am sure there are other characters that make guest appearances at self-defense seminars. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Meditation – Along Came a Spider

Tai Chi class began with meditation. We sat down on a mat, closed our eyes and focused on our breathing. We were to sit with our spine elongated and shoulders relaxed. The instructor told us to take our mind and place it inside the body.

Having a class on meditation was perfect timing. I am trying to adjust to my new summer schedule. I do more driving in the summer because I take my daughter to camp or to her Nana’s house in the morning. My mind is preoccupied because I have several family members’ who have health concerns. There is just a lot going on.

You would think that I would be able to take advantage of a few minutes to relax and meditate.

That is not what happened.

My first problem was that I could not find a comfortable seated position. Ever since my knee injury, my hip is not as flexible as it used to be. My right hip goes out of socket occasionally. I found a comfortable way to sit and began to focus on my breathing. This lasted a brief minute before I encountered the next obstacle to my meditation…a spider. Yep…I felt a spider crawl across my leg and my mind temporarily focused on the spider. I quietly took care of the spider and returned to my meditation. A few minutes later the session was over.

My Tai Chi instructor talked to us about being “in the moment”. I recognize that it is not easy to get there. My mind wanders to a large “to do” list, obligations/appointments I have to meet, not to mention family and work responsibilities. The class worked on the second section of the Yang long form and finished with push hands.

I should have ignored the spider. :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Worrying – A Mother’s Prerogative

Today I am worrying about my daughter.

It is her first day at Summer Camp. She has never gone to day camp before. My husband and I have always been able to make other arrangements for her care during summer vacation. My parents will be helping me out by watching my daughter two days per week. Since my husband and I both work full time, we needed to find a good place for her to go the other three days.

Not many programs accommodate part-time day campers. Most places want you to pay for the entire week. I found a camp that I was familiar with and has a good reputation. I signed my daughter up. An added bonus...one of my daughter's friends from fourth grade is attending the same camp.

This morning, I woke her and she exclaimed,

“I do not want to go to camp.
I want to stay home.
I do not want to go to camp.
I am tired.
I do not want to go to camp.
It is like school.”

She eventually crawled out of bed mumbling and grumbling. My daughter is not a morning person. During the car ride, she continued to voice her opposition to camp. When we arrived, she dawdled getting out of the car. We went to the registration desk and filled out all the necessary paperwork (signed in, ordered lunch, paid for camp). A camp counselor showed her to the lockers and took her in to the gym.

I turned around for my hug “goodbye” but she was already socializing in the gym. I finally received a very brief version of a hug. I lingered at the front desk for a few minutes and took my last peek into the gym before I had to head off to work.

Now…I am worrying.

Did I choose the right program?
How carefully do they watch the kids?
Is she having a good time?
Does she have enough to eat?
Did she put her sunscreen on?
Are the kids nice?

I could go on…and on…and on….

When I pick her up this afternoon, I am hoping to find a happy smiling face. I will know soon enough.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Daughter's Lesson

My daughter's last day of school was on Friday. I took a vacation day so I could attend the last school Mass and awards ceremony. Since school lets out at 11:00, it is a tradition for me to pick my daughter up and take her to Friendly's for lunch. After lunch, we drove an hour to her favorite large shopping mall. In the evening, my sister hosted a last day of school party.

It was a good day.

At Mass, the Principal and Monsignor announce the awards. My daughter told me that she was eligible for the National Physical Fitness award. She was tested in the fall but did not meet the time requirement for the half mile run. She talked to me about the fitness test and told me that she really wanted to meet the criteria. She was able to re-test the half mile again this Spring and succeeded!

My daughter's name was called to receive her certificate and patch. She walked back to her seat smiling and gave me the thumbs up. I was proud of her and happy for her accomplishment.

She set a goal - National Physical Fitness Award.

She tried but did not run the half mile within the time requirement.

She was determined to try again.

She ran the half mile for the second time.


I was proud of her determination. This accomplishment did not come easy for her. She has asthma and often gets winded when running. She knew that the half mile would be a difficult challenge.

She was determined.

She worked hard.

Success was not immediate but she persevered.

What a great lesson to learn at ten years old! I know she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. I hope she knows too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tai Chi - A Decision

I have been thinking about Tai Chi lately because I am at a cross road in my training. I need to decide whether to continue or to move on. Last month, I wrote that I was discouraged because I have not been to class. In total, I missed the last six classes: four cancelled, one sick and one scheduling conflict.

I needed to consider my purpose for taking Tai Chi classes. I am a student and instructor of Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo. I have been studying for seventeen years and there is so much more to learn and discover within Okinawa Kenpo. In addition to the fifty-one kata, there is application, self-defense, drills and sparring…a lifetime of learning.

Why do I want to explore another martial art? Tai Chi takes years to learn. I probably need to add a few extra years because I am training in another martial art. My Tai Chi instructor told me that it would take several years before a student could use Tai Chi for self-defense. My initial reason for taking class was my knee. I thought that Tai Chi would improve balance and strength in my ACL reconstructed knee. Oh how my knee ached during the first two months of Tai Chi classes! I pushed through the discomfort and eventually my knee became stronger due to the slow movement and one leg weight transitions.

Another reason for me to take Tai Chi is longevity. My knee is great now but who knows how it will feel in ten years. My surgeon told me that ACL reconstructed knees are prone to arthritis. If arthritis gets bad enough, a TKR is a possibility. What happens if one day my knee can no longer handle the demands of Okinawa Kenpo. What will I do? Will I have to quit martial arts completely? Alternatively, will I be able to continue with Tai Chi?

Last night I needed to make a decision about Tai Chi. I wanted to go to class but I was concerned that it would be cancelled again. I did not want to get my hopes up. What about the time involved? The time I set aside for Tai Chi class was gone in a flash. I spent the time with my daughter, at the gym or practicing Okinawa Kenpo. Fate seemed determined to throw distractions in my path. My sister called and asked me to go to the movies. My Mom invited me over for a tasty dinner – fried chicken, rice, vegetables and homemade apple pie with ice cream. I said “No” to the movie but “Yes” to the apple pie. I could go to dinner and still make Tai Chi.

Did I go to class or did I choose to relax on my parents’ front porch?

I am happy to report that I went to Tai Chi class. It was great being back in class. I was a little early and I asked the senior student to work with me on the second section of the Yang long form. I was able to remember the pattern up to needle at the sea bottom. In class, we practiced the entire form and I started to see patterns emerge such as white crane spreads its wings, brush knee, step, hold guitar.

I want to persevere.