I was running for my life. I knew he was right behind me and would catch me. I felt like an animal being hunted. I couldn’t run faster; I was scared and out of breath. He had only one thing in mind–to get me, again!
I felt humiliated and ashamed of myself as I ran. Two kids beat me up almost every day after school. There was nothing I could do. No one would stop it. Most of the adults just thought, “Boys will be boys.”
I felt his heavy breath on my back. He caught me from behind, pulling me backward to the hard ground. My instincts were to try to protect myself from being hurt, and not to fight back. Fighting back would only make him angry, and then he might really hurt me–as his brother did when he knocked out my front teeth with a rock the year before, and before that when he himself purposely ran into me with his bike. I ended up in the hospital that time with a severe head injury that has caused me problems to this day.
He pinned me down with his knees on my chest. Sitting on top of me, he began punching my face. I attempted to cover up my face with my hands; that’s all I could do. I felt so helpless!
All of a sudden, I felt a very sharp pain in my back– as if I had fallen on a hot needle. I jumped up without thinking, yelling in agony. A bee had stung me! I stood there for a moment in shock, trying to reach the wounded area with my hand. Then I remembered what had been happening just moments before the sting, and I felt an overwhelming sense of fear and dejection. But it suddenly ended when I realized that Vinnie, the bully who, along with his brother, had plagued me most of the way through elementary school, wasn’t beating me up. In fact, he lay stunned on his back about 10 feet away where I had thrown him when I had gotten stung. I looked down at him and felt a sudden surge of power. At that moment, I realized that I was strong and that I had let this person beat me up because I thought I was weak. I had thought of myself as a victim. It was an awe-inspiring feeling that changed my life from that time on.
Vinnie must have seen that feeling on my face, for his eyes became wide with fear. He moved away, crawling backward. He then got up and, still facing me, moved cautiously down the street. Without a word, he left me standing alone in the yard where only minutes ago he had been beating me up. Vinnie never beat me up again. He still called me names, like he always did, but that was from afar. He never even came close to me again.
I still vividly remember that day. I wonder what I could have done to stop being bullied. I didn’t want to fight and I wasn’t a fast runner, so I let myself get beat up. Perhaps, looking back on it now I might have used my brain to prevent myself from being bullied. Perhaps I could have tried to make friends with Vinnie and his brother, or tried to reason with them. Maybe I could have called a proper authority or tried to trick them, telling them that my uncle was a policeman or that I had an infectious disease they would catch if they came into contact with me. Or maybe I could have used humor and made them laugh, or perhaps I really could have stood up to them. It’s hard to know what would have worked. But anything my imagination could have thought up would have been better than all the beatings I took.
Maybe this all seems out-of-date today with all the conflicts you may have to face but I still think that resolving conflict without fighting by using what I now call “mental self-defense” is the best way because it is the most powerful tool we have. I realize that we can’t stop conflict before it happens with physical abilities alone. We need another set of skills to do that. We need to learn the mental martial arts, the skills of peacefully resolving conflict before it gets to the physical level.
I wish only that I could have studied the martial arts when I was young–not to beat up Vinnie and his brother, but to learn how to avoid a fight, to prevent it from happening. Now, after 35 years of taking and teaching the martial arts, I have discovered that if you learn mental self-defense along with the physical skills of the martial arts, you won’t have to fight or run away; you will be able to defeat the bully without fighting.