Martial arts, Self-defense, and Bullying
Dawn White of Satori Dojo in Phoenixville, PA, raised a timely and important topic over on the “Suggest Future Topics” page — namely, What can martial arts teach kids about how to handle school bullies? Here’s what she wrote:
“I had an issue raised to me today that has caused quite some thinking. I have a friend whose 10-year-old daughter was physically assaulted by another girl in school. This is what she told me [D=daughter]:”
D did nothing to this girl but ignore her. Never said a word. The girl started giving D trouble and D ignored her. Didn’t even look at her.
This went on for 1 class and part of lunch. When she was being verbally assaulted at lunch, threatened “do you wanna be smacked?”, a teacher heard the girl and told her to go sit down. Can you believe it? That’s all he told the girl!
At their next class the girl was running her mouth at D. D continued to not look at her or say anything to her. On their way out of the door, D was talking to a friend and the troublemaker told D to “quit being smart with me.” D said nothing.
Girl said to her “So now you have nothing to say?!!”
D said, calmly, “I’d rather keep my mouth shut.”
Girl said, “I told you to not smart off to me.”
Then smacked her in the back of the head, pulled her hair, and smacked her across the mouth!
D went to a trusted teacher, crying, who called in an administrator to help. Then sent D to another administrator who told D that the girl will “probably be suspended.”
Dawn goes on to observe that many of the physical techniques we teach in traditional self-defense classes, and even sometimes in kids’ self-defense class, are designed for use in extreme circumstances (against would-be rapists, kidnappers or child molesters), and wouldn’t be appropriate for school bullies. I’d add that even the “milder” martial arts techniques we teach our kids (blocks and counters) can be risky to use against bullies — not just because of the chance of escalation, but because in schools with “zero tolerance” policies against fighting, the victim who defends herself will be given the same suspension meted out to the bully. This is a source of great frustration to bullying victims and their parents.
Let me add one more item to stir the pot before opening up the discussion: I’ve heard it said that martial arts is the wrong answer for bullying, because “it only teaches more violence.” Needless to say, I think that reflects ignorance about martial arts. But maybe we need to be clearer about what we teach kids, and how it applies to situations like the one Dawn’s friend described.
I have much to say, both on the specific incident described above and the general topic of martial arts and bullies. But before I chime in further, I’d like to invite instructors, as well as teachers and parents who’ve dealt with these issues, to let us know what you think.