There is quite a bit of focus these days on ensuring bullied children have the tools to remedy their situation. That’s all very well, but it seems very little is said about what should be done about the bullies themselves. The outcome is that it is the victims of bullying who have to shoulder the further and unwarranted burden of trying to fix circumstances not of their making.
Listening to talk-back radio recently, I heard a comment that the bullies should be named and shamed. I’m not sure whether I agree with this, since it is clear that children (and adults!) who are bullies have their own set of demons to deal with, often being victims of unpleasant circumstances of their own.
One of the most common solutions to help bullied children, it appears, is to have them learn a martial art. It does help of course—and while it may not normally be considered as an approach to this problem, my view is that it helps to ‘fix’ the bullies too.
I give bullied children the option to invite their antagonist/s to come along to class, although I completely understand it is unlikely—even if the offer was accepted—that they would want to see those people in the space where they are learning skills and strategies with which to address the issue. Nonetheless, I still encourage it. It gives a bullied child great confidence to be in the position of being able to assist a former enemy with learning a tricky technique. During such a process, it’s possible for a bully to become the friend of their erstwhile victim, who is already fully aware of what it feels like to be helpless. The whole process empowers them both.
It is, of course, not the complete answer to solving the problem of bullying, but it is a healthy option.
The process of learning a martial art does address some of the underlying causes of bullying, since students regain a sense of some power in their life, gain an understanding of how to deal with jealousy and frustration (often manifesting in anger), learn how to deal with a bully (for those who ‘pass it on’), regulate emotions, and so on.
I have mentioned in an earlier article that a significant portion of self-defence, the way we teach it, is control of one’s behaviour, especially as a student moves into the higher levels. We make it clear to them that progress is dependent equally on technical ability and emotional control; it can be a part of the reason that some students take perhaps a little longer to achieve their next level. In the end though, it is an awareness that the individual gains with continued training.
We promote this awareness also through encouraging higher-level students, from as young as 8 years, to be involved in teaching. This is done informally in class with an informed expectation that students respectfully assist a lower-graded training partner, and formally through involvement in our Leader & Instructor Program, which goes into considerably more depth. (This Program has exceeded even our high expectations, we are very proud of the results.)
The larger issue of the community tackling the causes of creating bullies in the first place is for another time and for better-qualified individuals, but in the meantime, we will keep teaching people how to be their better selves.