Friend or Foe?

When I was in grade school, I was bullied a LOT. I was befriended by several people that were nice "on their own terms". If they felt like being nice, everything was fine. If they felt like using me as their amusement, it was horrid. I was made to kiss poles, bow down, tell boys I liked them even if I didn't, and other stupid things that adults these days might think as "harmless fun by kids".

However, even at a young age, I noticed there was a pattern. Back then, I didn't know the word "Manipulative" applied to people. And these kids were just that....manipulative. They grew angry if I spent time with another friend. They said it was a rule that people could only have "one best friend", and when I actually spoke up to disagree, the verbal abuse, the taunts, the lies, and the rumor spreading ramped up. As an adult, I look back and think "why did I even agree to being their puppet?", and I'm sure other other adults will think the same. But remember, Adults, that we as kids had a different way of thinking.....think about it. You wanted to be accepted in a peer group, and part of you would do anything to be in that group, even if it meant damaging your pride just a little. Well, its time to watch out when "a little" turns into " a lot".

There were 3 groups of kids that bullied be regularly. A group of brothers and sisters that lived 2 houses down from me, a duo of girls that made me do the "puppet shows", and a group of 3 kids that followed me around and called me names and randomly slap me.

Finally, I got sick of it. I took up martial arts. I worked hard and years later I attained a black belt. I was 15 then, and STILL being bullied. Can you believe that? A martial artist who was bullied. Now, you might think "well, martial arts didn't do you any good then"......on the contrary. It gave me the confidence to know that if push came to punch, I'd be able to defend myself, and *choose* how much damage to inflict. It empowered me to realized that a simple flick of my foot could cause serious damage, or that a seemingly easy pass of my hand could crush a larynx. Because I learned what I was capable of, I avoided fights at all cost because I didn't want to hurt anyone. I practiced martial arts to develop myself, not to gain revenge against my bullies. The practice calmed me, and made me walk taller.

One day, teaching a beginners class (I was 16 at this time) at the local community center. I kept the doors to the classroom closed because we didn't want interruptions or distractions. We heard laughing outside the doors, then knocking, then loud thumping noises against the door. I told the kids in my class to ignore it. But the thumping turned into what sounded like full fledged kicks against the door. I had enough. I sternly opened the door, and there standing in the hallway were the 3 kids that used to follow me around and slap me. They looked at me, and I said "I know you". Their faces dropped. The oldest kid asked 'You the teacher? Are you a black belt or somethin'?"  "Yeah, I'm the teacher, and yeah I'm a black belt. I guess you're lucky I never fought back each time you slapped me. ". The youngest kid said "I'll kick your ass any day!". So I stepped away from the door, flourished with my hand in a "come on in" motion, and said "You're welcome to come in and try".

"Class, attention! These kids I know from school, and they want to share how they would fight against a Karate person. Would you like to see?"

The kids turned right around and ran out the door.

Each time I saw them walking around the neighborhood, they stayed clear.


Although I'm an adult now, 47 years old to be exact, I remember those days vividly. The embarrassment, the worry, the fear of going to school, planning different routes to school so you never see the bullies, having teachers brush it off....I know how it goes. But kids, you don't need Karate to stand up for yourself (although it IS fun and helpful!).....all you need to do is realize you have strengths that bullies don't. One of those strengths is self respect. Arrogance is NOT self respect. Self respect allows you to accept your weaknesses as well as celebrate your strengths, and that knowledge builds confidence. 

Do you like robotics instead of football? Great! Be proud of it. Like reading instead of video games? Be proud in knowing that beating enemies in video games doesn't give you the knowledge on how to do it in real life, and reading keeps your brain in a mode that helps you learn the real life skills that can help you survive in dire situations. 

Get out there, play, read, play an anything your heart desires, knowing that there are other kids that like the same things you do. You're not alone. There are also other kids that experience the same bullying you are....stand together and let the grownups know that what you are experiencing is REAL....its not just some childish play, its not something that grownups can say is something that the kids need to work out themselves. 

And adults....if you say "this generation is weak. When I was a kid I had to fight to get respect. If you were different you got harassed, deal with it and stop being so thin skinned", then you have NO IDEA. You think you got tough because you had to fight, and now as and adult you think that things are the same way as 30, 40 or 50 or more years ago. Well, wake up, adults! Today bullying is on the internet, its on the kid's phones. These days bullies can gain a crowd of other bullies in mere minutes with a simple text message. Where's your toughness when you face 10 other kids alone? Today, kids even carry knives....even firearms! Today's bullies don't understand that their weapon is more than just a status symbol or a prop to make them tougher....they don't understand that when they pull a trigger when they're challenged, that it changes lives or ends them.

Parents, listen to your kids. If they're being bullied, take it straight to the school. Keep badgering until something is done. Your child deserves an education free of harassment.

And kids, don't be afraid to tell an adult if you're being bullied. Its not "tattletelling"....its smart. If you speak out, then other kids might speak out too. This will out the bullies and hopefully, they'll tone down, knowing that eyes are watching them.

You don't have to be big and strong to STAND STRONG.

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