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Martial Arts: Providing Options to Prevent School Bullying

Posted Jun 23 2009 4:35pm
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....
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