It is often pointed out that a bully will stop once confronted, but confronting a bully is not easy. The type of person who gets bullied is often shy or sensitive, perhaps smaller, weaker, or socially awkward. Often, the victim of bullying lacks confidence or a sense of self worth and is easily hurt or intimidated by others who are bigger, stronger, louder, more confident or aggressive.
The act of being picked on, bullied, or abused often pushes the victim deeper and deeper into his or her own withdrawn thoughts and feelings. Withdrawing and isolation often exacerbate the situation and attract more bullying. This makes it extremely difficult for the victim to break the cycle, being beaten down more and more with no obvious way out.
Bullies are attracted to certain types of people as victims and bullying itself seems to create the type of person who continues to get bullied. It’s a vicious cycle. How does the bullied overcome his or her own fears and insecurities to confront the bully and break the cycle?
My first teacher, Joe Sheya, grew up in a Lebanese-American family with an unhappy, physically and verbally abusive father. It was not a healthy environment. One day, as a young man, Joe’s father was berating him as he’d done so many times before, putting him down and yelling at him about one thing or another. After listening to this and putting up with it for far too long, Joe had had enough and he snapped back, “Hey! Tell me something! If I do everything you say, will I grow up to be as happy as you are?” From that moment forward, Joe’s father never bullied him again. They both knew something had changed. It was time they both moved on.
By this time, Joe was not a small guy. He’d taken up boxing and lifting weights. Ironically perhaps, the way I remember the story, Joe actually got into boxing because his dad bullied him into it, pushing him to get tougher. Joe never told me that learning how to box and getting stronger directly resulted in his ability to stand up to his father, but I suspect that it played a large role in the shift that took place in him, the shift that gave him the confidence to do so.
In my experience, the martial arts, boxing being one, have a strange effect on people. Martial arts may be taken up by kids as a hobby, as just another extracurricular activity, or as something forced upon them by their parents, but martial arts change people, especially children. In the right environment, with the right teacher and training partners, martial arts can create such a profound change in a person that they can actually change that person’s life.
In the late 70’s, Joe took up Korean hapkido as an alternative to the pugilistic arts, like boxing and taekwondo, he’d done until that point. For Joe, hapkido offered him a way to transcend violence and transform both himself and others. By the time I met him in the 90’s, Joe was an enthusiastic and dedicated carreer school teacher and martial art instructor. He spent his entire adult life empowering both children and adults. He was admired and respected for his character and his generosity of spirit by nearly everyone who knew him. He had a very strong sense of fairness and justice. No one could or would be picked on or bullied if Joe had his way. He would not tolerate it and he was not quiet or subtle about it either. If Joe cared about you, he was your defender, your champion, and your most loyal friend, but even if he didn’t know you, he would stand up for you if someone treated you wrongly in his presence.
On Friday nights after class, Joe and his hapkido ‘family’ frequented a local Chinese restaurant in Annapolis, MD. Joe knew and befriended the owners, something he did with just about everyone he met. One night during dinner, Joe looked across the restaurant and saw a man with a big coat on at the reception desk, hand in his pocket, pointing something at the owner. It was obvious to Joe that the man was attempting to rob the restaurant. Without the slightest hesitation or concern for his own safety, Joe got up and walked over to the man at the counter, put his hand on his shoulder and quietly said to him, “You don’t get to do that in here.” Shocked, the man turned around and walked out. Martial arts change people’s lives, beyond just the lives of those who practice them.
Robert Van Valkenburgh, Co-Founder of Kogen Dojo & Taikyoku Mind and Body