Kids who train martial arts are less likely to get bullied or be bullies. Here's why!
I’ve spoken to many people in the past who believe that martial arts aren’t effective for reducing violence in society, or bullying in schools etc as they simply equip people with the tools to hurt each other more. As a boxing coach, I’ve heard this, as a reason several schools don’t want boxing being offered as an extracurricular activity in their schools, or the reason some parents say they wouldn’t want their kids training in martial arts. When you think about it, like I have, this is a ridiculous point of view. It’s basically saying that, if you’re better at fighting than someone else, you’re going to beat them up! Obviously that’s not true, and it’s based on a misunderstanding of the results of martial arts training, and of the reason people bully, or physically attack each other.
Many parents are repulsed by the idea of training your kids to use violence against anyone, even if that person is potentially a risk to their child, citing the “violence isn’t the answer” mantra, adopted by many people who’ve never experienced real bullying, or those delusional enough to feel the utopia of their choice is within arm’s reach, if only their children be the first ones to step into this new world!
Violence is the answer sometimes…
Unfortunately, there are times when violence is 100% necessary when dealing with bullies, whether it’s as a child, or an adult. Some people just want to hurt others. They may have underlying issues that are causing them to act this way, they may be psychopaths, they may be under the influence of alcohol and can’t be reasoned with, they may be under tremendous peer pressure to engage in violence. In any case, there are times when having the tools to prevent yourself and others being hurt, using violence, is necessary, and potentially lifesaving. I have defended myself many times, and stopped others potentially getting hurt due to my training, not because I preferred violence, but because all other forms of negotiation had failed at the time. So, whilst violence should never be the only answer, training in martial arts means that violence becomes one of the options in the multiple choice quiz of unavoidable confrontation, should it be the only answer your opponent will accept.
Why do bullies, bully and why are martial artists unlikely to become bullies?
I remember being about four years old and being bullied at school, chased and beaten up by some kids for nothing. I can recall vividly trying to ride my bike, fitted with stabilisers on a path outside my house, at around the same age and being unable to go anywhere because some kids were holding the back wheel up, laughing as I tried to pedal forwards. I can still feel the pain of being punched in the solar plexus by one boy whilst another held my arms behind my back. At the time, these experiences, and many others, fuelled my obsession with martial arts. I didn’t want to ever feel powerless again, and I achieved that, I’ve experienced extreme pain, and pushed myself to my limits to make sure these kinds of people don’t have any control over me or the ones I love. But what about the bullies themselves, why do they do it, and how does martial arts training stop kids wanting to do it?
Social hierarchies exist in all parts of our society, with school being no exception. Many kids want to be in the “popular” group. For a lot of kids, becoming part of that group comes naturally, through their sense of humour, great personality, looks, or other valuable niches. For some kids though, it seems that they try to make themselves part of a certain group through other means; it could be through a kind of bribery, where they offer gifts in exchange for membership. I remember a boy who used to buy cigarettes for all of the older, more popular kids on our school bus. They allowed him to sit on the prestigious back seat with them, which was quite an honour. He must have felt like he’d been knighted…until they started beating him up whenever he didn’t bring them cigarettes, or sometimes just for their amusement. He was also pressured into starting fights with other boys on the bus, me being one of them. I was sat near the front of the bus on our first week of secondary school, so he didn’t know me, I just looked like an easy target. I’d been practising karate for five years by that time though, pretty much every day…so you can guess how that turned out for him. So this young man had become a bully through his desperation to climb the ladder of social acceptance. Note; the older boys also beat him up the next day for losing the fight, so he got a double scoop of justice that week.
So just as in the case above, where the boy was trying to commit physical violence against innocent victims to impress older kids and progress his ascension towards secondary school popularity, the same can be said for the vast majority of bullying in schools. It is this irrational, burning desire to be more popular that causes many of these kids to act this way.
So why would a kid studying martial arts not behave this way? When kids train, at a martial arts gym, whether as a boxer, wrestler, judoka, or anything, they are immediately part of a hierarchy, just like in school. Except this hierarchy is based on noble values such as the attainment of skills, strength of character, or winning competitions. They will reject the false social hierarchies in places like schools. They will not want to be a part of it, and will look down on those competing within it.
Then, as time goes by, they will be much less likely to be a victim of bullying as the risk : reward ratio will mean it’s not worth it to the bully for two reasons; 1. The kid who spends hours every week practising how to kick your ass probably isn’t the best person to pick a fight with. 2. This kid isn’t part of the social hierarchy the bullies are trying to climb. In other words, they’re not competitors, and so, again, this reduces the “reward” the bully perceives as the possible outcome to something that’s much less worth the “risk”.
Studying martial arts will also stop your kids getting into fights for reasons other than bullying. Lets think of older kids now, and even adults. Most of us have seen incidents where two young men have had a minor disagreement that has escalated into a physical fight, or where one driver has jumped angrily out of his car to challenge another to a fight over something as minor as being cut up at a roundabout. Sometimes these confrontations end very badly, even in death. These people have jumped into a physical confrontation, with no knowledge of their opponents technical capability, or willingness to use deadly force…they were just confident somehow, that they were going to prevail. Confidence without evidence, isn’t confidence at all, it’s ignorance. Studying martial arts makes you realise how vulnerable you are. I have been knocked out, choked out, defeated in competition many times. In each of these cases, I have to accept, that had this happened in a life or death scenario, I would have been at the mercy of my opponent. So if someone jumps out of their car, I apologise and try to calm them down. If someone bumps into me, and his drink is spilled, I buy him a new one and calm things down. I have violence as an answer, should the other options fail…but only as a last resort.
I have been studying that last resort for 30 years now. I have been studying violence for 30 years, but I am absolutely certain, that had I not, then violence and bullying would have had a much worse effect on my life, and the people, including bullies, that I have come into contact with.
In summary, martial arts training, including boxing, prevents bullying from both ends. It makes potential victims into stronger people, capable of defending themselves, and it gives potential bullies the chance to change their priorities and focus on positive goals in their lives.
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