I remember the first time I was bullied. Five years old, rake thin, timid, buck teeth and a shyness that bordered on being ill. My tormentor cared not as he cruelly hurled abuse at me much to the joy of our class mates. As the day drew to a close I slept fitfully praying there would be no more of it the following day but sadly it went beyond that. A day became a week became a month became a year and I became so week that the year became many.
I became a victim of all that wanted to vent fury on me. Childish punches escalated into violent assaults as the skinny kid grew into a skinny teen. Sometimes the beatings were by a solo attacker but more than once the attackers were several in numbers and as I was knocked to the floor kicks stunned my head. For some though it was not enough and a knife was bought into play. Luckily I escaped and survived and through it all hid my horrors from my parents…most of the time.
Looking back I realise the knife incident was the onset of my agoraphobia. I hid from my attacker and thus the world. A social life was impossible and many months were spent in the solitude of my room with music for company. At age 17 I started to come out of my shell and discovered the fighting art of Karate. Desperate for something, anything to rescue me from this doom I threw myself into Combat and surprised the hell out of myself by becoming good…well good at something other than being somebody’s punchbag.
Through the hard training a confidence was born and without throwing a single punch in anger (that would come later) I suddenly stopped becoming a victim. I was given respect and not because I paraded around in a Tapout tshirt, bloodied knuckles for all to see. I was given respect because I had survived adversity and then flourished. I walked softly but surely, eye contact no longer a problem and it was summed up beautifully by a friend who observed that I now “held myself differently. You aren’t the same anymore Simon,” he said.
And therein lies the point of this article. I applaud any efforts made by anyone who tries to combat bullying, be it the teacher honest enough to admit the school has a problem and the kid who tries to change his path as a target. What disturbs me is some of the ‘answers and solutions’ the powers that be offer. More often than not we are presented with ‘experts’ whose experience of bullying and violence is gleaned from behind the safety of their desk and the comfort of a book and whilst I am sure their intentions are honourable they sometimes have an adverse effect or no effect at all. Wearing a rubber band on your wrist will not stop an ill doer doing his/her ills. Sporting a t shirt of a chosen color on a dedicated day? Nope, that is not going to deter a thug from taking from you what is yours, trust me I know. As for a conference or sit down with our tormentor, half the time they won’t even show up for said talk and why should they? There is nothing in it for them and it takes their precious hunting time.
So what is the answer? Before I give you my opinion I know that some of you will be up in arms before the end of my first sentence on my suggestion but take this on board; my opinion is drawn upon many years of suffering and later on successfully dealing with violent people from the pastures of the school playing field to the violence of the workplace, taking in street situations and alcohol fuelled attacks. It is real, empirical and not shackled by political correctness. It is also a hard pill for the victim to swallow but it is this; they (we) must take control of our situation, become master of our own problem.
The first thing we must do is build confidence, a confidence that shines without blinding, a confidence that we hold dear but we don’t let turn to arrogance, arrogance being the down fall of many a man (and woman).
Getting confidence is not easy, it is never easy but then when has gaining anything worthwhile ever been easy? To obtain this elusive confidence we need to face difficult situations and stick with that situation until we own it. Mine was Martial Arts, terrified every time I entered a dojo but entering it anyway. I have had good friends stand on a nightclub door in their quest for a better spirit and I have seen gentler folk pick up a guitar and take to the stage for their salvation as butterflies occupied their stomach unseen by the watching audience.
It matters not what we choose to do to gain our esteem as long as it frightens us to start with (and maybe years later on still does) but every time we do it we chip away at the voice that says “we cannot” and adds to our strength. You cannot buy that kind of confidence, you cannot get that confidence from reading books and you certainly cannot get that confidence from a Play Station game but then again would you want to?
So if you are bullied, if your child is bullied, if your friend is a victim take solace that you, they, we can overcome our predicament but it takes courage for courage producers confidence and a bully will give a confident person a very, very wide berth…believe me.
Wear your bands with pride, your colored t shirt even more so but remember this; they are at best a placebo, a support, a comfort. The real solution is to take your own control and say “not me. You will not bully me.” My very best of luck to you.
Simon Morrell is a 6th Dan Black Belt, 2 time Hall of Fame Winner and the author of five books including his life story ‘From Bullied to Black Belt.’ http://www.simonmorrell.com