Choosing a School for a Child Being Bullied, pt II

Why do you want a Martial Arts School again?

Let’s review our reason for finding a martial arts school for your kid again:

X  He needs to lose weight

X  I need after school day care

X  He needs more discipline

X  I want my child to win a few UFCs

X  My kid needs a Black Belt

–>  Ding! Ding!  We want to stop schoolyard bullying

Okay, so now that we remember why we were looking for a school for your kid, Ronald McSensei can save the sales pitch about his wonderful Black Belt in three years program, or Coach Beatemup Wannabe can save the talk about how Gracie used to pound on guys 50 lbs heavier with this art, and the “Program Director” can keep those fliers advertising their new Teenaged Minja minja Turtle classes. We want to stop your kid from getting hurt by  names at school, or so that he can eat his lunch in peace for a change. The school must have something to address that. We’re not here so that your kid can make good grades. If his grades are slipping, Karate won’t help with that; take away his Playstation and close his Facebook account and put his butt in tutoring and make him do his homework.

Schools offer many things, and you want to find the one that has what you want. There is a certain atmosphere you need for your kid to have for the purpose of building his sense of self, self-worth, and the confidence that if another kid wanted to hurt him, he’s got the skills to ruin that kid’s day. It shouldn’t take a 12 month contract to assure him of those goals.

Choosing the Martial Arts School

The martial arts school is not a substitute for strong parenting, but it can help. The environment you want for your kids is not necessarily an intimidating one, but it should not be so friendly that he might as well be at a Cub Scout meeting. I may step on some toes with this one, but I don’t think you want to run down to the nicest gym with the mirrors and cartoon characters in the window. At the same time, you don’t have to join the school whose Sifu looks like he just got out of prison either. However, there are some benefits to all martial arts schools and instead of judging a school by its cover you might consider judging a school by its sales pitch.

The first thing you want to ask is how big the children’s class is, and if the ages are separated. An age-specific class will be more directed at your kid’s needs than one that just lumps all the children together. I believe that each age group should be dealing with the martial arts at its own rate. So the challenges that a 16 year old would face are going to be vastly different than those your 10 year old would face. The two are so different that if you addressed one in class, the other group will be wasting their time. In a school that is adult-oriented, there may not be enough children in the school for them to really having a good system of teaching kids. While their martial arts are valid, you cannot treat self-defense among 12 year olds the same way you would teach a grown man to defend himself. I would advise finding a school that specializes in teaching kids.

The environment should be one that is competitive, fast pace, somewhat aggressive, yet fun. Another reason I don’t recommend adult-oriented schools. I am an adult-oriented teacher, and I admit that although I consider my martial arts to be top notch–I suck at teaching kids. I lecture, I get mad, I don’t have much patience. One of the best business decisions I ever made was to hire a young teacher named Daniel Cook, who was not just a good martial artist, he was a master at teaching kids. He was stern, detailed, and tough. Yet he was also a fun teacher who made the kids laugh and enjoy coming to class. The fact that the kids would leave sore, but in a good mood, meant that they were coming back next week and getting in more training. The kids would get on the floor and bang, and when one got his pride hurt or got hit too hard–he was very good at toughening up the children to get up and keep at it. Kids aren’t like adults. They need the technical side of the art. But unlike adults, they must be entertained and the activity needs to be fun if they are to keep at it. The teacher must balance play with work, and this is how kids will learn their lessons–at an age-appropriate level.

I believe that a school should also have a good mixture of soft kids, and tough kids, kids from both sides of the train tracks, and kids of all physical sizes and abilities. I have seen schools where only white children were there, and schools with only black or only asian kids. This does not teach an important part of bullying–how to mingle with those unlike themselves. If you take two young kids–rich and poor, black and white, foreign and American–they will play as if there were no difference between them. But as they get older, they will notice things, like race, accents, etc., and who do they learn it from? Us. They will be taught all the little nasty things that grown ups say and think, and eventually, you get the discriminatory behavior and beliefs. And many of those things lead to social problems, including bullying. “Watch out for the Mexican kid, he might steal your stuff.” “That white kid thinks he’s better than us.” While we may live in segregated neighborhoods and communities and schools, the martial arts school is one place that your social status, your race, where you live–nothing matter. If the school has a familial environment, your kid who has never been around Black children will have good friends from that side of town. Your kid who has never experienced immigrants will have dojo brothers fresh over the border. Your kid who has only been around other upper-middle class kids will have friends from neighborhoods with gang bangers. And in the end, your children learn to be comfortable around everyone, even those who are unlike themselves. This comfort level will make your kid more relaxed all the time, and will become less of a wierdo to other children.

And adding to the idea of the martial arts school being a melting pot, kids at elementary school tend to hang around other kids like themselves. Athletes hang around athletes. Rich kids hang with rich kids. Etc. But in the dojo, everyone belongs to the same group, regardless of their background or interest, because the one interest they have in common–martial arts–binds them together. So in that group, you have the tough kid, the pencil neck kid, the athlete, the immigrant. They are learning social skills, and in an adversarial environment. So when they have had to spar a couple of bigger tougher boys, with martial arts training, the bigger boy at school with no martial arts training at all is going to be a cake walk.

Finally, I believe that the school should encourage some type of competition. Of course I am biased towards the karate tournament, but anything is good. There is a level of discomfort and anxiety you will experience in fighting competition that is unmatched by anything at high school, and when you are not just at ease with it–but unmoved by it–a fist fight at school is nothing. This is not to say that you won’t get good anti-bullying skills from a school that doesn’t compete. But your child will be more prepared for adversity when he has had about 15-20 fights under his belt. And not that I’m hoping that your kids will be challenging bullies to a fight! On the contrary, when your kid is more confident with fighting, he will find it easier to stand his ground and avoid a fight. Especially since most bullies don’t fight that often; they are masters at talking about beating people up.  I have a student, Malik, who had been bullied a year earlier, approached in high school by the kid who use to taunt him in Middle school. Malik responded by promising to kick his butt afterschool for the fight they had a year earlier. Of course–being California–the school suspended him. But those boys never messed with him again because they realized that he was not the same kid. Bullies rarely want a fight. It is the threat of fighting–and the fear that it causes–that gives them their power. Being one of the kids who are not affected by it–whether because of a change of personality or fighting skills–will ensure that your child robs those bullies of that power.

And I am reminded of two sayings:

  • don’t just speak loudly, carry a big stick
  • don’t let your mouth write a check that your butt can’t cash

Bullies prey on the weak, those who refuse to fight back, and those who will accept bullying. It’s that simple.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Choosing a School for a Child Being Bullied

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine to recommend a school for her to take her son, who had been bullied at school for the last year and a half. I applaud her for taking the initiative to getting her son some help–since her son’s father doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything about it.

I have a few things to say about childhood bullying, and then I want to share with you my recommendations for a good school for the purpose of stopping bullying behavior.  After all, there is a difference in what criteria you would use to find a school, and it depends on what you are looking to get out of a school.

Understanding the bully

I’m no psychologist, but I know a few things about people. The kind of person who bullies others is not “insecure”, like most people would think–he is self-assured. But to a point. The bully is confident that he can defend himself, but he only looks for people who project being defenseless to push around. That is why you don’t see the bully trying to prey on the popular kid (popular kids usually don’t look they can fight, but they have strength in numbers) or other bullies. No, for them, it’s a weakness thing. They get pleasure in pushing around the weak, those who have no “back up”, the kids who seem like they would accept it. The victims are not always small frail kids–a victim is nothing more than a person who won’t stand up for himself. So, for that reason, even a big strong kid can be bullied by a small, ratty boy.

The “Bullied”

As I stated, the kid being bullied isn’t the victim because he is incapable of defending himself; he is merely chosen because he won’t defend himself. You can teach him drills and defenses all day long, but if the boy (or man) refuses to stand up to the bully–it will never stop. But why does a kid accept this kind of behavior? Are all kids who stand up for themselves trained in self-defense?

No. The type of person who stands up for himself simply values himself and his desires more than he is willing to please. Some kids will give up a toy he wants to play with because he doesn’t want to say “no”. Others will give up a toy because he is afraid to refuse another kid’s demand. But on the other hand, you have some kids who will put your eye out trying to keep you from taking his toy. If you are to stop the bully from getting his way with your kid, you must find a way to turn your kid into the selfish brat who has no problem saying “NO”.

What can be done about it

That being said, ending bullying behavior is more of an internal change than an external one. You can stop bullying without learning a single self-defense move, just by changing the way your child thinks and interacts with his peers. I believe that by rough housing with your kids (male and female), wrestling, sparring, slap boxing, challenging your kids to a game of hoops and trying to kick their butts even with a dance competition–you are developing that sense of indominatability in your children. You are teaching them how to overcome another, and helping them get a sense of comfort with competition. You are getting them accustomed to going one-on-one with another person and striving to outdo him or her, even to defeat their opponent. Your kids are learning how to struggle to get to the head of the pact. The kid who wants to be the fastest sprinter, the king of the hill, the best dancer in the house–is not going to accept another kid trying to get over on him. Bullying is not always physical, by the way. It can be in the form of teasing, insults (you’re ugly/fat/talk funny/etc.), or by ignoring your child (don’t be his friend/you’re not going to be on my team). When you give your kids a sense of self-worth, few external factors will ruin your kids’ day.

I would also like to add that your child must feel completely comfortable with coming to you to tell you about his problems, and he must know that you are in his corner and will do something. My son had a problem with a bully when he was 6, and he came home the first time it happened and told me that another boy was pushing him and “being mean” to him. The next day, I went to the school with a vengeance, and demanded a meeting with the boy’s father (which they denied) and demanded action from the school about the bullying. I was not going to accept anything less, and if they didn’t stop the behavior, I was going to confront the parents and their child myself. That foolishness was dealt with immediately and my son never had a problem with it again. Regardless of what kind of school you put your child in, if he or she feels alone in dealing with problems, they will always be a target for bullies.

In part II, we will discuss what you want in a school to solve this problem.

Thanks for visiting my blog.