There are a lot of people in this world who have had to deal with bullying. I won’t speculate as to which ways of dealing with it are more positive and which ones aren’t. I’m not remotely qualified to do so.
However, I came across a story earlier about an Australian study that looked at how martial arts training was beneficial to the victims of bullying. That got my gear turning just a bit.
A well-established link exists between bullying and martial arts. In particular, using it to help a bullying victim. Your kid is being bullied? Get them in martial arts.
But there does appear to be an impact. The question is, can we agree on why that’s the case?
Researcher Brian Moore trialed a martial arts training program across schools in NSW as an alternative to traditional anti-bullying methods, and found the mental health and well-being of participating students improved in just one term.
“The program itself wasn’t designed specifically to protect kids from bullying,” he said.
“The idea of it was to build their resilience, self-efficacy and strengths and the idea of that is that you would develop resilience from bullying in a more general idea.”
Mr Moore, who is also a psychologist, said the foundations of martial arts helped children develop the ability to cope with, and not engage in aggressive behaviours, but he stressed it was not about “fighting back against the bullies”.
“Martial arts do a number of things different from regular sport, and one is it very much has an emphasis on self-development,” he said.
“Secondly, it comes out of something called social cognitive theory.
“You have a very definitive curriculum within martial arts where you are learning a particular skill over a certain period of time and you’re getting very regular feedback.
“So you develop this belief in yourself from martial arts training, from I guess developing a sense of mastery around skills.”
However, I think there’s something missing from this discussion. A big something.
For example, what about the idea of empowerment. It’s one thing to have to put up with bullies. It’s very different when you know you can put them down but have opted to restrain yourself.
That creates a psychological impact that’s not being discussed.
Much of the issue with bullying is the powerless feelings the victim experiences. They can’t do anything about it and they know it. They simply endure it.
I personally believe that much psychological trauma stems from powerless feelings. It’s not the event itself so much as being powerless to do anything about it.
(Of course, I’m not a psychologist. These are just my layman’s feelings on the topic.)
Bullying victims feel powerless, too. They aren’t able to stop the taunting and mockery. Lashing out verbally tends to intensify the bullying rather than ending it. That simply makes the powerless feelings more intense.
Yet when you take a kid going through that and plop them down in a martial arts class, things change. Now they’re learning how to deal with things. They’re learning all of those things in the quote above, but they also learn more.
After all, the bullies aren’t in the class. They’re relying on brute force or numbers for their power. The victim is now learning techniques. They’re learning how to deal with bigger and stronger people. Hell, they’re often getting bigger and stronger.
They’re becoming warriors.
Once that starts, they start to look at their bullies with disdain. Oh, they can deal with them. They can put the bullies on the ground. Hard.
They just don’t, necessarily.
Mind you, I’m of the opinion that they should. More importantly, I think the schools should encourage this behavior. If you want to end bullying, we need to watch the bullies learn that their victims aren’t easy prey anymore.
Regardless, though, knowing how to fight isn’t just about the politically correct answers instructors give to skittish parents. It’s not just about building positive self-esteem through the hard work being required. Don’t get me wrong, that certainly helps, but that’s not all of it.
No, part of it is knowing that the bully only gets to retain his teeth because the victim has decided to allow it.
That is empowering.
“Oh, but violence never solves anything,” I’ve heard some people say.
They’re wrong. Violence has solved plenty. It ended slavery and the Holocaust, for example. Knowing how to use violence has solved plenty as well. Why else do you think a carrier battle group parked off a country’s coastline is so effective?
For the kid being bullied, though, the stakes are lower. Yet, to that kid, they’re high enough. Put the right tool in his hand and watch how he changes. Whether he uses the art or not, he’ll not be a doormat, and that makes a world of difference.