Bullying and the Arts

I have been asked on a few occasions how martial arts can be an effective tool to combat bullying. At first it all seems clear. I’ll put my child in class so he can learn to fight. However, nothing could be further from the truth. I recall a number of years ago in class Master Mason asking the students the following question: how many of you joined the school so you could learn how to fight? Of course with great eagerness, a number of the new students immediately threw up their hands. Much to their surprise Master Mason told them that the Peaceful Warriors’ (and for that matter, martial arts) were not about fighting. The look on many of the student’s faces was that of surprise and confusion. That statement has remained with me and has caused me to spend a considerable amount of time reading about bullying and how and where martial arts can be an asset, and not in the way the majority of society would think – fighting.

The following represents some of the issues I think parents and students may find informative about this topic and how martial arts fit into this problem.

First, what is bullying? Is it something that we need to define? Don’t we all know what it is and how to recognize it? I’m not so sure. What some may call bullying, others may just call a game. So what makes a particular incident a case of bullying? For one thing, certain conditions must exist. Many children joke around every day with each other, call each other names, and some times take part in some fairly physical play. Yet these incidents are not considered bullying. The difference between this type of play and bullying is the relationship between the bully and the victim. Bullying is a wilful, conscious desire to hurt, threaten to frighten another person. Most often there is a power imbalance between the two. Bullying is not limited to the physical world, bullying can come in many forms of intimidation. It can be verbal, touching or just a sneer or glance. Bullying knows no boundaries and can affect everyone in society. It can last a short or period of time and can leave lasting impressions on all who have experienced it.

So how can martial arts help outside of teaching self defence techniques? There are many benefits to martial arts training. These are not new to our society. Martial Arts have been empowering people for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Here are a few of the benefits particularly relating to “combating bullying”.

  • Mental focus – learning in class how to execute kicks, punches, blocks and foreign self-defence techniques will require a significant amount of mental focus by the student. This focus will become a part of the student and spill over in both academic and social settings.
  • Respect for self and others – the students are taught that one of the basic foundations of martial arts is that of respect for others. By bowing when entering and leaving the school, and paying proper respect to other students and instructors students also develop a healthy self respect.
  • Self-esteem – martial arts have been shown to increase the self-esteem of those who join. As new students progress, small successes follow and soon they are able to accomplish things that only a short time ago seemed impossible. These achievements can not be under stated. It is these accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to the instructor or parents that develop pride within the student.
  • Discipline and self-control – martial arts provide a forum, which is very structured and focused on discipline. This atmosphere will instil a certain work ethic in the student, one that is important not only in the dojang but also in life.
  • Sense of belonging – martial arts schools develop a spirit and a sense of camaraderie that is important to the student. Making new friends is often important for the development of adolescents.
  • Physical fitness – martial arts training provides a cardiovascular workout as well as muscular strength. Those who train also develop a greater sense of balance as well as techniques to avoid injury.

Self-defence – although martial arts is not about learning to fight or to be the aggressor (the bully) it will, with the proper training and dedication, allow one to learn how to defend themselves.

So how do these points relate to bullying? Statistics show that most victims have few friends and have low self-esteem/self respect. These children are often viewed as a perfect target. Further, how they react to their first encounter will often dictate whether they will be a victim in the future. Children who can develop physical fitness, discipline, mental focus, self-esteem, respect for self and others, friendships and self defence awareness will gain an edge and will not look or react like a victim.
One last thing, notwithstanding all of the benefits to martial arts training, there should be continuous and open dialogue between parents and their children. Children are often embarrassed and/or afraid to talk about this subject. One of the most important things that parents can stress to their kids is that;
1. It’s not your fault if you are being bullied, and
2. You don’t have to face it alone.

Master Kevin Miller
4th Dan Black Belt Hapkido / Tae Kwon Do
St Clair Beach Instructor

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