“He saw the bully coming, fists clenched by his side, a look on his face that meant only one thing! His fists instinct when seeing the bully was to freeze out of fear.
Then he felt his heart beating fast, his breath shallow and rapid, his mouth dry and his body go tense. He wanted to run, to escape the beating he knew was going to happen.
As the bully reached him he instinctively covered his face to protect himself. He felt a painful blow to his stomach that knocked the wind out of him. He collapsed gasping to the ground. The bully was atop of him hitting him in the face and head.
There was nothing he could do but be beaten up. Inside he felt a powerful mixture of fear and rage. All of a sudden the rage exploded and he grabbed the bullies hands and with a terrific surge of energy rolled the bully over sop now he was on top!
Exploding with the pent up rage he began screaming and hitting the bully with the strength of a crazed animal. He was completely out of control! He wanted to kill him, beat him senseless! The bully was crying and yelling. A teacher pulled them apart. Both were bloody and shaking.”
This is a scene that happens all too often but usually with the bully prevailing.
Rarely does the victim fight back as in the above case. But it does occasionally happen because it happened to me. I was a victim of bullying and suffered for it, physically and emotionally. And I was full of rage, which came out later in fights.
When I was growing up outside New York City in the ‘40s and ‘50s there were no martial arts schools. (I officially started martial arts in 1961 when I was 21) But what if there had been? What if I had been taught physical selfdefense, which is what the martial arts teach? What would the above scene be like if I were the victim? Let’s go over it again. “I see the bully coming, looking to beat me up. So I freeze, do I feel trapped and react out of the fight or flight instinct?” Probably I would be affected by it but the confidence gained through learning physical self-defense would allow me to keep my cool and not be overwhelmed by this natural survival instinct. I probably would have stood my ground, gone into a martial fighting stance in preparation for combat and defended myself in need be. But what would this accomplish? It would obviously protect myself from getting beaten up, or I would hope it would depending how tough and skilled a fighter the bully was. Growing up in New York I knew that some street fighters were very good at what they did. But knowing martial arts physical defense skills might also really hurt the bully. A well placed kick to the groin, a palm heel to the chin, or a strike to the temple area might be potentially very damaging or even lethal! But the bully asked for it, didn’t he? And that was all I could do because that was all I was taught to do.
Now you could say that knowing physical self-defense I could have had the confidence to walk away from a fight. Well, in the above case there wasn’t a chance to do this, there was no other alternative but to fight. But could this scene have been avoided? What about being able to do something before it got to this level? Could I have avoided it in the first place? Could I have resolved it using verbal skills in the “second” place if I couldn’t avoid it? Was my only alternative to fight?
There are people who believe that if a child is taught only physical selfdefense he or she has the skills to avoid and resolve conflict before it becomes a physical confrontation. In other words, they think that somehow a young person has the sophisticated skills and presence of mind to understand and avoid conflict and the ability to use clever verbal skills as a means of self protection (what I would call “Martial Art Mental Self-Defense”) to resolve conflict peacefully if they only practice defending themselves physically. I think that they are assuming too much to make a case for physical self-defense to do all that. Physical selfdefense is just that— and can be employed only when it becomes a physical confrontation. That is not to say that physical skills are not important. On the contrary, they are very important because they give the student the foundation of confidence not to react unnecessarily to a fight or flight situation, to then have the presence of mind to use their first two “lines of defense” — to avoid and resolve conflict by nonphysical means. But physical self-defense is by itself only one small part of a martial art. The first two “lines of defense” need to be learned and practiced equally along with the physical. This is what is meant by A.B.C.™ – that is, to cope with conflict by learning how to:
- Avoid – by being aware of the potential for conflict and preventing conflict
- Bargain – by using nonviolent verbal skills to resolve conflict
- Control – by not letting the bully intimate you into fighting
Now, let’s for a moment go back to the original scene with the bully and victim. We are now in the 21st Century. Times have changed since when I was a kid. Let’s place a gun in one of their hands, a not so uncommon thing today. Perhaps we put it in the hands of the bully. Say that the victim has been trained in physical martial arts. What is he or she to do in the face of a lethal weapon? Do we as martial arts instructors expect our young students to disarm this person? Now what if we put the gun in the victim’s hands, a person who has been picked on for years, harassed and humiliated by bullies, full of rage at being beat up. We know that there have been many documented cases of victims killing either themselves, turning their rage inwardly or killing others when the rage explodes outwardly. In either case, no one wins. But in both cases, if each person was trained in the martial arts as a complete way to cope with conflict then the potential would exist for each to have a greater opportunity to be successful in handling their problems more peacefully.
Isn’t it time that we educated our students so they can have the full set of self-defense skills, mentally and physically, to help them cope with conflict intelligently, effectively? I know that as a parent this is what I would want for my children as all parents naturally want for their children. We want them to be safe and the intelligently way to insure that safety is to teach them to protect themselves in ways that are non-threatening and nonphysical, leaving as the last resort physical means.
But this means that as martial arts instructors we take a more comprehensive view of the martial arts as an education in conflict for our students, specially our young students, so they can understand and resolve conflict nonviolently, which is what the martial arts is really all about. This is our ultimate goal and why the martial arts can play a tremendous role in society in addressing the #1 social issue facing us and our children. Putting aside the tournaments and the sport aspect of the martial arts, which has a place, can we see that these arts were primarily developed to educate and protect ourselves and our children from harm, to find peaceful ways to relate to each other? And can we see that learning these arts in this manner can help us cope not only with the school yard bully but also with the bullying that occurs domestically, socially and internationally?
Everyday I get up I am thankful that I, as a martial arts “educator,” can help young people understand and resolve conflict peacefully. I was not taught the full range of skills when I was young, not taught to use mental skills to defend myself to cope more effectively with the bullies that haunted me throughout my youth. What I was taught, and is still being taught, is an “eye for an eye,” to learn how to fight so I could beat up the bully. Perhaps when I was young that might have worked to stop the bully, since fighting then was not a serious affair. But today bullying and fighting are much more serious. Can we then prepare our students to cope with today’s challenges, to educate them with knowledge so they can, through the martial arts, peacefully reduce the violence that is so predominate today? The good news is that we can help them. We have created conflict by the wrong education. With the right education we can empower our students to end it.