Sanano Martial Arts
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Bully Prevention Posts

The posts below are in chronological order with the most recent posting at the top. 

You are also welcome to follow the postings on Facebook at Verbal & Physical Self Defense

The adult self-defense and protection along with verbal strategies and tactics will be on the Defend Yourself page.


Can we help a young mind? 

(Part 2)

The Process of Communicating Effectively      2012 June 9

People have communicated well or poorly, according to their own gifts or the lack of them for countless centuries.  In the last few decades we have actually made a science of how the process works and it makes perfect sense if we just break that process into understandable pieces. 

Depending upon the specific education to which you were exposed the terms can differ. There are the sender and the receiver, the coder and decoder, speaker and listener, or even A and B, so let’s just refer to them as Alice and Bob for the sake of simplicity. 

When Alice speaks there are several things happening all at once.  First Alice has to realize what she wants to say and then figure out how to say it so it will be understood by Bob.  Alice will “code” the information in her mind and this coding process is based upon her language skills to include her choice of words, sentence structure, and her biases, both good and bad, before she opens her mouth to speak.  As the words are spoken by Alice the second half of the process gears up as Bob decodes the information, or screws it up entirely because Bob’s decoding is literally based upon the same criteria as Alice used to code the information.  If they think differently it can get rather messy.  The actual process is referred to as the exchange of meaning – or what Alice actually wants Bob to “get” from the exchange of words. 

Technically, there are additional influences afoot that complicate the process.  Internal noises are how they perceive the other person, their physical looks, the way they dress, what they know about each other, and their mood at the time of the exchange, and if they are speaking under the same context – or what they both know about the same topic. The biggest culprit for missing meaning is the reaction to tone of voice but more on that later.

There is also external noise, described as anything outside the exchange that might disturb, however remotely, the clear interpretation of the message.  It can be the  sounds of a car driving by, a telephone ringing, other people talking in the background, and you get the point. 

All this is horribly boring but important in understanding why we sometimes miss the meaning behind the words.  The biggest reason is because we take for granted that others will understand as we understand.  Truly, nothing is farther from the truth. 

When you speak, have you given any consideration to the differences between you and the other person?  How they are different from you?  Do they have similar experiences on the topic, do they have a similar education, do they understand the words you will use, even race or culture or upbringing can cause confusion.  Perhaps where you both grew up as children, your cadence and rate of your speech can alter or confuse the process. 

Because we are on the topic of children and parents communicating better our concern here is regarding age and differences in perspective.  L.E.A.P.S. is a tool that will bridge the gaps in the process.  Use them to your advantage, and theirs, 

More to come… 


Can we help a young mind?   2012 June 6

Part One

A child’s mind is fertile ground.  What will they grow within it?  Will they dream thoughts of what they will someday become; will dreams cultivate an idea that will change how we understand science; build a better building or road?  Or perhaps they will become a leader of a company or possibly even a nation?   Or, what if by our lack of attention children will not dream but spend their time closing their minds to keep out the nightmares of being bullied? 

It’s not our fault if children don’t turn out perfect.  We are busy and earning a living is tough and consuming so our time is precious.  We have so little of it to share.  We would be there for them if they would but ask.  Yet, often the victims of bullying remain silent.  Sad is when we assume the most a bully might take is a day’s lunch money, or stop at a shove to the ground.  We rationalize to ourselves being bullied, just a little, can teach children to stand up for themselves and make them stronger for the experience. 

But, what a bully takes compared to what they give is rather stark: they take self-esteem, provoke and promote fear, reducing good will and instill thoughts of revenge, or worse, the idea that the victim would do anything to stop the victimization.  Anything!

I wonder if listening has ever cost any money.  People say talk is cheap and silence golden, but if by our silence we encourage our youth be silent; to keep their problems to their own council and not seek adult guidance, we do them a disservice. 

Children need to be taught how to speak out; and maybe we need to be taught how to listen.  Close your hand into a fist – the perfect symbol of anger or frustration.  No ask, how do we open the fist back into a hand for helping someone up?  Count the fingers and thumb and ask yourself five questions as you unclench your fist.  Count off the digits with the following points: Can you listen and make someone believe you are really listening; can you empathize and understand how you would feel under identical circumstances; can you ask the right questions with a strategy so they come out in the right way; can you paraphrase so you’re spot on with what you understand; can you get to the bottom line and summarize what you have just heard so you project you are there for them?

In the Verbal Judo program we explain a strategy called L.E.A.P.S.; an acronym that symbolizes the best of how to engage in a conversation and gather information from anyone and on any subject, and then act appropriately.  I will break the acronym down in the next few posts, dedicating one to each letter.  I encourage your comments and thoughts.


The following article was published in 2010 but recently a similar situation developed so I thought it worth another viewing.    2012 June 2

Can we help kids build a safe place?   

   Maybe they will build their own.

Ironically, as a martial arts instructor who initially resisted teaching children but was “guided” into it I often found that much of the teaching was not just physical, but psychological.  The teaching of the philosophy of the fighting arts came after they had begun learning how to hurt.  The philosophy was to teach how to heal.  Only then did I understand their pain and heard their stories of how some wanted to use what I had taught for revenge.  I did not always like the stories but well understood the reasons.  To protect yourself and to protect others; a central tenant of any martial arts school education and we as instructors would be remiss if we did not teach it.  What they now needed was an adult to bounce ideas off and to give them an ethical line they could stand upon. 

It was also ironic that so very many of these children students did not want me to solve their problems.  Nor would they ask their parents to do so.  They did not want a fix, but someone to listen; to take them and their problems seriously; to offer guidance only when asked.  I found it interesting they knew better than I how to resolve the problem if they had the skills and the tools.  I often asked myself what I was truly teaching. Was it to fight, or to simply be safer in an unsafe world?  What would they build with the tools I gave them?

A bully cannot offer the foundation or the creativity to build upon it, or can they?  Take a careful look at the photographs I offer below as they were offered to me.  They are from the mind of a child that needed a safe place, so he built one.  A club house with rules. 

Rule 1 No hitting or punching
Rule 2 No fighting
Rule 3 No saying bad words

His mother has just enrolled him in a martial arts school.  So now we wait, to see what he builds next. 
                                                      Perhaps it also reminds me of a quote by Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


To make a new friend, look for something in common
.    2012 May 28th

It was Memorial Day yesterday and the President of the United States was standing with his hand over his heart at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier.  A little boy saw me stand up from my table with my hand on my heart while the music played, and copied me, standing and placing his hand on his own chest. 

When the music stopped he looked at me and asked if I had been a soldier?  I replied I had been in the military for twelve years.  He asked if I knew any of the soldiers buried now in cemeteries.  I looked at his mother and she nodded so I replied again with yes, I knew too many.  His mother began to form a tear as her son told me they were getting a drink and then going to visit his daddy in the cemetery because he had died serving his country in the war. 

Now there was a tear starting to form in my eye as he asked me if soldiers are ever afraid?  Sure they are I said, but courage is often found in the people we are with who are maybe all afraid but stand together anyway to face whatever is in front of them.  I asked him if he was afraid of something, because it is always okay to tell his Mom.  He said sometimes he got a little scared when he was alone and he didn’t really have a lot of friends.  When I asked if he had any ideas on why he did not have more friends he said he just didn’t know how to just walk up and ask someone to be a friend.  His next question was predictable, “What if they don’t like me?”

I looked again at his mother and again she nodded it was acceptable to answer.  I was surprised by the level of trust in my offering suggestions to an impressionable youth after meeting me only thirty seconds earlier, but we apparently had all developed a temporary bond so I agreed walking up to people is hard unless you can find something in common to talk about.  Any topic would do from school activities, to what games you might like to play, or even a television program.  But the best way is to just talk, and then watch to see if the person you are talking to is interested.  But it was also important to remember that there is a reason adults tell you not to talk to strangers.  I asked if he could think of any place where people are not strangers when they first meet.   Maybe, during an activity where other parents are with their children and they know it’s safe.  He didn’t really get it until I mentioned it happens just like it happened with us, here in the coffee shop.  Sometimes you just ask a question and the conversation just rolls on its own. 

He smiled and said, “Cool.”  As I looked at his mother I mentioned this was a slippery slope we had just entered and now the hard part starts with explaining when and where and with whom it would be acceptable to start a conversation and in whose presence it should happen since safety is the first priority.   It also brings up a conundrum. 

How do we teach social skills and yet maintain a safety first priority?  I teach in a martial arts environment.  We create a safe place and parents trust mostly because other parents trust us to watch over and teach their kids the skills necessary for human development.  We teach the social skills necessary to meet and greet people and how to handle verbal conflict when the eventual disagreement arises.  Kids interact easily when they have structure to work within and a place where everyone has something in common besides just being a kid.  Time together in a martial arts studio provides a common place and learning discipline creates confidence, and in turn less fear the unknown.  


Winning and Losing - Part 2        

Sticks and Stones…

It was a saying from my childhood. 

To complete the phrase, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

I am afraid this statement reassures no one who has been the victim of a torment, or a slight no matter how mild.   Our comments and critiques of others, when made within earshot cause damage.  What we may not realize is in addition to the intended victim, there is collateral damage done to anyone who hears such commentary.   Those in agreement use such words to reinforce their biases and validate existing feelings.  Others may unconsciously sway their own future comments in a like manner because of a manifest connection, a bridge of sorts where “like-mindedness” gives birth to a pattern of self propagating behavior.  We may not see the damage initially but we actually impose negativity onto others, like an ear-born virus.  Without immediate correction, the subconscious mind either accepts as we laugh at the comment or we suffer the ignominy of shame later for not correcting the statement.

Oddly, research has discovered that pain suffered emotionally from social shunning has the same impact on the human body as physical pain.  Our physical neurons cannot distinguish a difference.   The connection between mind and body govern sickness during times of social inadequacy and the feelings of well-being during times of social inclusion.  Depression is linked to chronic pain, so happy = feel good; sad = feel bad.  Friends uplift us when we are injured physically.  The pain of a post surgery rehabilitation was lessened considerably by my fellow military members as we all encouraged each other to push the limits of our endurance; their positive comments quelling the surge of discomfort as each of us would complete one more repetition of an exercise or one additional set before resting or ending the session.   

The emotional trauma of injury is now likened to social rejection.  Pain is pain.  “Social Insult” as studied by Geoff MacDonald at the University of Toronto has noted the surge of stress hormones are released, likened to those during a “fight or flight” event can cause physical numbness and when the event is over the sensation of pain sets in.  MacDonald discovered that test cases were less sensitive, not more as one might believe, to the social pain for several minutes (like a form of shock) and as the insult fades subjects described “powerful feelings of hurt.”  

We can also work from this for our base line as the mind begins to search for a rationalization for the tearing of the “social fabric,” searching for what mistake in behavior we, or they, violated in the social covenant of playing nice with each other.  What might be most disconcerting is the downplaying of the hurt by the person feeling the pain.   Perhaps we believe we need to “tough it out” when we get slammed verbally or emotionally?  Perhaps the aggressor does not truly understand the effect or the damage wrought by the comment?  What of the bystanders?  Where is the empathy?  Surely there is no one who has not suffered a similar fate so should it not be self-evident to speak up and correct the speaker of the insult?  Even as a bystander?

It is difficult to be “one’s own man”, or woman.”  It requires great strength to stand separate from others and being different can be polarizing.  To be an individual requires us to step outside of our desire for acceptance and pave a road separate from those whose attention and company we crave like an elixir.  To be accepted by peers we choose we try to envision something in common: beauty, intelligence, the right label on our clothing, live in the right neighborhood, come from the right family, or even excel in the same type of physical activities or enjoy the same hobbies.  Lacking these, we must seek a deeper level, and it is hard for a child or adolescent – and not so much easier even in adulthood. 

The phrase of "sticks and stones," is still said on the streets and heard in homes across America.  Even though I understand the meaning of the phrase and as well-intentioned as it may be, words cause pain.  Social rejection "hurts" because it creates a barrier to a happy development during childhood and the teen years where peers and social acceptance can outweigh even the pull of a close family unit.


Winning and losing and knowing the difference. - Part 1 
(Posted on 3/26/2012)

Just being alive some days can be frustrating.  When disappointments measure greater than the day’s joy we are in trouble - serious trouble.   The anxiety of life can get the best of even the strongest, because we forget we are strong.  We tend to think of our skill sets as compartmentalized and we must put away one box of skills in order to take another off the self for our next task.  Inner strength comes from willpower and the desire to win.   The desire to win comes from being competitive.  We may well have made a serious mistake in the societal objective that showing up to play is the priority and winning is not important.   The world is a very competitive place.  While preparing our youth to lose graciously we are casting them into the perdition of mediocrity.  In games and in life there are going to be winners, and therefore losers.  Losing is not wrong, but it should never be the objective fall-back position, nor should we allow ourselves to become comfortable with it.   The self-esteem of a human being is indeed based upon winning, yet our teachings are often so very wrong because we need not win over others as much as learn to win over ourselves.   But, can winning make us happy?

I used to thing losing was stressful, until I realized winning creates the stress of increased expectations; problematic as consistently winning is difficult, especially when we reach outside of our comfort zone – a place I find myself so frequently I no longer know where it is most days.  Born as a classic introvert I found that everyone “seemed” to be having more fun, know more people, have more things fall their way, and be generally happier.  It was then no big surprise when my best friend in junior high school, also an introvert, mentioned one day that we are behind the curve in getting what we want.  I responded that the statement would only be true if others had something we truly needed.   He countered that if we don’t have what we want, how do we know we don’t need it?  Perhaps the best choice was to venture into the realm of the extroverts and find out for ourselves.  Two forced extroverts were born as we both found in each other a friend with which to bear the disappointments of failure or rejection, and the united path of self-discovery became more valuable than any other education.  My education became the tool I would use to give my personality the persona of invulnerability.  The rest I would leave to fate, luck, or chance.  Oddly, if I ever needed professional counseling or therapy is was from my victories, not my failures.   All I knew at that time was failure was dangerous.

In failure we always feel alone.  Even surrounded by friends or teammates, failure is personal.  It is dramatic and boldly etched onto our character.  An old man once told me that the wrinkles of age were the lines of his failures and proof of his ability to survive them.  He warned me that the true damage of failure is to the backbone of a person.  The stronger and straighter we stand the better we can see what is far ahead so we can prepare.  Pride might be a sin, but self-confidence is an imperative in life.  When we win we look and feel differently, walk differently, we think differently, and accordingly we enter our next challenge with greater confidence.  When we fail we become afraid of our next step and therefore easily stumble.  Failure is both repetitive and contagious. 

Often failure in not only inevitable it is a way to close off certain paths.  I have found I will never play classical piano (not enough finger span and the pesky issue of no ear for music), I can harmonize but will never be a rock star singer (I cannot carry a tune except if written down and placed in the proverbial bucket), I will never be a painter (I can draw two intersecting lines but require a ruler and good supervision), I will never a professional football quarterback (the issue of fingers not long enough to span  a football for proper control), nor a professional boxer (having a terrible aversion to being hit in the face, repeatedly).  Yet these are not failures so to speak, they are limitations I accept.  I enjoy music, I appreciate quality art, and I can throw a football well enough for a backyard game. 

Certain paths close to us in order to open others to our view.  I found an artistic approach as a photographer if not a painter, I am an international speaker and trainer of over 400,000 people on three continents with a program called Verbal Judo (not a rock star and no women throwing hotel keys onto the stage but I prefer it that way), and I have the distinct privilege of operating a martial arts school with a Grand Master of the Filipino Fighting Arts and one of my finest friends, which is a lot more fun and rewarding to me than throwing a football for a living. 

Yet, none of these are, to me, victories.

All of these accomplishments are the continued adding of the tools I use to shape my world.  The martial arts gave me the strength and confidence to become a public speaker, the physical training and willpower learned in the martial arts gave me the ability to enter and flourish in the military including the rehabilitation and recovery from several injuries to the defiance of doctor’s  belief who are perhaps used to dealing with a less than winning mind-set, the martial arts gave me the confidence to stand tall as I met Presidents and Princes, and the martial arts gave me the ability to look within myself to find what is important to make me happy or, at the very least, content. 

Winning and losing will always be with us and usually, “in our face,” as people use ego to gloat and profess their personal greatness.  But so very many times I have seen what lay under the façade of temporary gain for people, and the ever present fear of a failure that looms just on their horizon.   Such people have often asked if I am really as confident as I appear, and together as when they hear me speak with authority.  In the simplest language - no, I am not.  I still have doubt.  I still awake and sometimes stare momentarily at the seemingly immovable, insurmountable walls facing me.  I still fail.  Yet what does not change is my ability to use what I have learned to speed my recovery from failure and loss. 

What winning taught me is to be gracious and protect those who los; to protect their ego from the fragility of failure, to encourage they try again and as many times as they can.  Success taught me that I am not special when all I really did was work harder that the next person.  Victory taught me that I have an obligation to help others to learn how to win so we populate the world with winners who will in turn help others.  We need be magnanimous in victory and use it as a springboard for protecting others not because we have to do so, but because we can.

We must teach the young that winning is important, but only winning over the right opponent will have meaning other than a transparent prize for a shelf or wall, or a larger bank account, or title.  Winning should be about giving hope to others to follow until they can lead.


Walking tall even if you’re small - Part 2   2011 December 28th

Since you have been practicing sitting up straight and walking with better posture I can give you another hint that will help you look more confident when you meet people or walk by them in the hall at school.  They will notice, believe me.  Train your eyes to look straight ahead when you walk.  It sounds simple but most people don’t do it.  While walking, look where you want to be, not where you currently are, by changing your sight to a point father ahead of you.   Don’t look at your feet.  You don’t need to look down very often anyway because your feet know what to do; they have been doing the walking for you for most of your lifetime.  

Here is an example: If you ride a bicycle or bounce on a trampoline you don’t look at your feet or you will fall.  You always look forward to keep your balance.  It’s the same with walking, plus it improves your posture.  Now for the hidden benefit; while looking where you are walking instead of down at the floor you will be less likely to bump into people because your peripheral vision helps out.  Peripheral vision is what your eyes see  on each side of you and it isn’t really in focus but you mind still picks up signals if things get too close.  This type of vision actually improves your reflexes and is four to seven times faster in helping your body react to things moving toward you than if your are staring directly at the same object.  Looking ahead you can notice all the other things around you instead of your feet.  The shoes you are wearing look the same as when you put them on this morning so you can relax and have more fun.

Confidence is a learned trait of our character.   Sadly, there is so much that can destroy confidence if it’s not reinforced constantly.  Success at anything runs over to other projects or ideas that can increase the chances of additional successes.  Belief in ourselves reinforces skills but more importantly it creates momentum.   Confidence allows us to try new things.  We can still fail but confidence reduces the amount of time to recover our composure.  If we have skills in one area it is easier to have a sense of humor you can use to laugh off a small setback.   Your children have the same feelings.

To others watching and judging our self-worth as we walk by, how we hold our head when we walk can say much about our confidence.  It creates a great first impression that cannot be ignored.  If the first impression did not go as perfectly as hoped we can get a second chance.  Confidence has momentum, so does success.  The emotional connection to feeling better about ourselves flows and ebbs constantly and so requires constant reinforcement.   Think about how you felt when you succeeded at anything.  You felt better, stood taller, and it gave you a high that made you feel as if you could do other things you wanted to try.  

It is NEVER too late to positively comment you your children that they look good.  Casually watch their behavior after a compliment.  We all act happier when complimented.  Praise reinforces, and specific praise creates positive thinking.  To correct a self-image positively you are also modifying a personal process of how your children think, and therefore how they act.  One lesson, even a good one, is not enough to change behavior permanently.   Keep at it. 


Walking Tall, even if you are small - Part 1   December 26th, 2011

It’s hard to forget with your mom and dad always reminding you to sit up straight, but it’s no surprise that posture is important.  In fact, good posture shows people you feel confident, even if you are not exactly sure of yourself at the moment.  Feeling and looking confident will make you more popular, get you noticed more, and change how you think about yourself.  It makes you feel stronger and more positive.

Practice your posture.  Try sitting in a doorway with your back up against the frame.  Slide back until your feel your back touching.   Raise your head slowly until it touches the frame.  Now you are aligned.  Athletes practice good posture because it improves balance witch increases speed and agility.  Now, go sit on dining room chair that fits you properly.  See if you can push your back flat against the chair back like you did on the door frame.  Next, bend at the waist or rock forward when you put your head closer to your plate to eat, but don’t roll your stomach, which curves your spine.  If you can’t do this easily then push your chair closer to the table.  Lastly, when you stand up try rolling your shoulders slightly back.  To practice this idea, lean against the wall this time with your back touching and try to touch both shoulders to the wall.  

Keep in mind perfect posture is not exactly how we walk or stand.  It is exaggerated and really looks kind of silly because it is so stiff.  But now that you understand the principles you can adjust and adapt to your own style of standing and walking in balance.  Look in the mirror from the front and the side view.   Watch how other people walk.  Who looks confident and powerful?  Who looks weak and like someone who would get picked on?  Don’t walk like the latter.  
Keep telling your children to sit up straight; stand up straight, because good posture is healthy.  Physically, proper posture keeps the spinal column properly aligned.  This is good for your children as they age so the muscles and spine stay strong throughout their lifetimes.  Psychologically, better posture is a signal to others of confidence; making the prospect of being bullied less likely than if your children exhibit a “victims” walk and stance.  Emotionally, studies have shown that when students sat in a class environment with good posture they felt better about answering when asked a question, even if they did not know the correct answer.  The same study quoted students who said their fellow students looked more confident and secure when they were not slouching.  Good posture equals a big step toward being more confident so keep telling them; just remember tone equals attitude so when you ask them always act like it is the first time you have ever asked.  


December 25th, 2011

On this Christmas Day I wish to offer the knowledge that words can heal as much as they can hurt. A kind word, a smile, and the gesture from a friend or stranger meant in kindness can make a the moment, the day, or set the tone to change the sad, the injured, or the angry for the better. The self worth of a human being must not be measured by financial means but by the size of the heart that primes an act of making the life of another arm higher that the clouds. Aim for the stars. Elevate others to elevate yourself. Be the inspiration for change.


Even a superhero needs to have friends.       2011 November 5th

A youngster came in the Starbucks this morning with his somewhat embarrassed mother.  Possibly, because her young son was still wearing his superhero costume.  Granted, it is a few days after Halloween, but perhaps he had a good reason.  I asked; and, he did.  He told me that superheros never get picked on.  They stand against evil and do the right thing, always.  He continued with, "Because superheros have super strength they never get shoved or or made fun of in front of others, especially when they are in costume".  His mother's look changed to something more grim and sad.  Apparently this was the first she had heard of his troubles.  I noted that superheros rarely tell their mothers when they have a problem, but that most superheros have allies.  

I also noticed he was dressed up as Superman.  I asked him if they still had Superman cartoons on television.  He nodded his head yes.  I asked if he knew that Superman was part of the Justice League with a lot of other superheros and that had not changed from when I was his age.  I told him that even superheros need friends to talk to, and Superman had adopted parents who raised him here on earth.  I added that as Superman's alter ego Clark Kent he probably talked to Ma and Pa Kent all the time about what bothered him and they probably had a lot of good answers.  I asked him if he was willing to try that someday, because even superheros can't make the world a better place all alone.  It is, after all, a really big world.  

I looked up at the mother and she now had a smile, said thanks.  She asked how I understood her son's situation so well?  My response was her son is far from alone but he understands what is wrong and right, so now he just needs a little direction and a solid base of rules to govern his next actions because the door is now open.  She did not need all the answers, just where to start.  A persona, the Greek word for mask, occurs when we need to live vicariously for a time.

Empathy is the ability to "feel" the pain of another person - how would we feel if what is happening to another was actually happening to us.  Adults look to the distance and see how things might turn out because we are tall enough to see over obstacles.  A child's view from a shorter elevation is restricted, seeing only the obstacles and what might be far into the distance can only be imagined, or hoped.  


Scars will always leave a mark even if they cannot be seen.    2011 November 4th

A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform.  She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up- but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was.  

She then told them to tell it they’re sorry.  Even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind.  And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it.  That is what happens when a child bully’s another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars remain.  The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.
  Posting from Linda Vath


Gaman and dignity.
    2011 November 2nd 

In what seems now like ancient history, it had been a particularly tough day.  I had won the match only because my opponent had walked into a reverse punch.  I had blocked a low kick in the last seconds of the semi-final round of a karate tournament and my shin went immediately numb.  I thought it might even be broken.  I wanted to favor the leg but after a glaring look from my instructor I bit my lip and walked as best I could out of the taped ring.  He grabbed my uniform to help me balance and said, “Gaman.” 

The muscle and shin bone was damaged and swollen and without the ability to maneuver properly, my next opponent well used it to advantage.  Defeated both physically and emotionally,  I approached a chair to sit and apparently I hung my head for which I received a sharp slap to the chest followed by the word, “Gaman!”

I had never heard the word and I asked later if I had embarrassed my teacher by my injury?  He laughed and told me the word gaman (pronounced gma in Japanese) means to endure with dignity, whether from pain or misfortune, stand, walk, and speak with self-control; with fortitude.  I committed the word to memory.  It did not take long for me to find a use for it.

John’s mother brought him to the karate club one day after picking him up from elementary school.  He was seven years old, being bullied by someone in school and she felt unable to help.  His self-esteem was in tatters, hanging off him like a torn garment.  He could not even make eye contact with me.  We began training and he started slowly, punching and kicking hesitantly.  Whenever he was not doing a technique properly he would hang his head, dejected.  I walked by him in ranks placing my hand on his shoulder and saying, “gaman.”

After class John asked about the word and the meaning.  I said proper technique will come with time but gaman can be learned now.  I noted that his inability to do things still above his skill level this was not failure and no different than someone running faster in a race or quicker to get the answer in class at school - no different than being bullied by someone larger or stronger.  Mental strength is the will to endure and continue with dignity - gaman.  I asked him to have patience; learn to project strength, not fear. 

Within weeks I witnessed John, once tormented at school, stand taller, move with more purpose, speak and act with more confidence.  I asked him if he was still being bullied.  He responded, “Not really.”  He said, “He still threatens me but he never hits me anymore.”  I asked why he thought that was and he said, “I feel different now.  Maybe he is afraid of ME!”  He continued with, “I feel kind of sorry for him.  He really doesn’t have any friends.”  I asked if he thought the bully deserved a friend.  He replied, “Everyone needs friends.”  When I mentioned perhaps someday they might become friends, he answered, “I don’t think so.  He was mean to me.”  I smiled and said, “Gaman also means tolerance.  By showing others we are strong others become strong so they will not be bullied when they are near you.  Bullying is weakness but maybe even a bully can change to become a better person.”  He walked away from me repeating the word, gaman. 

To help a victim of bullying, confidence is needed. 

If we could help a bully, would there be fewer victims?


A treatise on Bullying              2011 November 1st 

This will be by far the longest posting on this site.  It is at length because it is the forming of a treatise on reducing the effects of bullying.  It is at length because it is the foundation of why we must act and how we must act, not with undirected outrage outrage but with a solid determination and a relentless focus on resolving a problem that has likely existed long before written language and may well endure well past our lifetimes -  but now without making our mark on a society where such behavior goes questioned and yet unanswered.  It is no crime to stand by and wait.  It is not a crime to wish someone else would do something about it.  It does not require legislation, for there is always a way around a law; it does not require the masses to congregate in opposition like a crowd chanting to burn another witch at a stake; it requires us to act whenever we witness bullying behavior in progress, and not after the fact.  Only when bullying is seen by the bully as unproductive and ostracized by the general public will it diminish, and eventually stop. 

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, nor is it going away anytime soon.  But the methods we can use to combat the effects and the lasting damage can change as we learn to see it through a different perspective, and bear witness to the terrifying conclusions that we see as of late in the news. 

Search your own past for the empathy needed to understand bully behavior and its consequences.  It may begin physically by tormenting those more helpless, but in time, and without some catalyst for behavioral change, the bully grows bolder in the approach because of its simple and easy success rate, turning the event sequence over time into psychological pressure and intimidation.  It can be seen, felt, and heard in the workplace, creating fear of job loss or becoming ostracized by complaining to an authority, or being given extra workloads to keep a position or gain a promotion; even the outrageous taking of the credit for work not their own.  It can shape its ugly head as financial pressure in the home if the bully is the major wage earner for the family or in a relationship by towering over spouse and children who take the path of least resistance for emotional survival and physical safety.  The power gained by the bully while in control feeds a cycle of behavior that initially sees no reason to change since the bottom line is getting what they want.  It is paramount to winning and totally “fair play” in the American, or even on the world stage.  Open confrontation is distasteful and the repercussions severe.  And sadly, there are times when direct confrontation can indeed be fatal.  Without skills we can lose even if we are in the right.

In a school yard or neighborhood the old argument was a bully takes a smaller or defenseless child's lunch or money because they have no sense of honor and that they have low self-image.  From practical experience I can tell you that I agree with the no honor concept but I noticed the bully felt just fine taking what they wanted from others and seemed to demonstrate little remorse then, or at any point in the future.  Another interesting point was the code of silence among the victims.  Even when others bore direct witness to the event they were afraid to “get involved” for fear of becoming the next target.  They could clearly see themselves in a similar situation so empathy was not the issue here but often the embarrassment of knowing the behavior was wrong yet feeling powerless to change the outcome and a repeat occurrence.  A small crowd of friends would perhaps gather around the newly minted or recurring victim without verbal consolation but a strange and eerie silence on the issue to preserve the bruised feelings, if not the visible ones.  Inside they might all acknowledge the wrongful behavior and vow a sacred oath to not act the bully themselves.  It’s a start but of little assistance in the here-and-now. 

Teachers were often useless, not because they would not enforce rules but because they were often oblivious to the situation.  From the student's point of view and a teacher’s defense, we simply did not tell anyone.  The "I'm not a squealer" reputation seemed more important than metaphorically crawling like a sniveling and whipped dog to a teacher and begging for mercy and protection.  I am certain to this day that a teacher would have attempted to intervene in their own way, usually by open confrontation and perhaps even punishing the offender.  Ah, justice has been met out and the righteous shall prevail, until the bully could corner the victim again and exact a greater toll.  Better to take the hit in the stomach and move on- until tomorrow.  I personally found that a trusty Davy Crockett lunch box made an excellent too for both carrying food and personal defense.  Not exactly a Verbal Judo moment, but effective for its time. 

Cowering versus fighting seemed to be nothing more that an excellent way to step up the level and frequency of a beating.  The solace of friends, with empathy but no plan other than to avoid the notorious bully and their preferred and self-proclaimed land grants on sections of the school grounds which are sometimes passed form one bully to the next.  Bullies are territorial.  They pick certain spots in the school or the neighborhood to control turf.  The water fountain, the open space in front of their locker, the not assigned but well understood seat in the cafeteria, and let us not forget, the back seat of the bus by directing where everyone else must sit and thereby leaving only the seat directly in front them available for your inconvenience and their enjoyment. 

The territory of the bully is actually mobile, moving to a spot where the victim can be assaulted or verbally harassed in a public venue.  They can often send out invitations to draw a crowd in advance.  The victim invited as the special guest of honor, informed by spineless messenger or “toady” to be at the designated place and at the appropriate time.  This also gave the victim plenty of time to store up a stomach full of anxiety before the main show, reducing concentration on studies or the enjoyment of a friendly conversation as such talks only focused on, “Jeeze, what are you going to do?”  The lack of appropriate answer or plan did not add to the dialog in any positive way, only that running or not showing up simply delayed the inevitable.  A friend would attend with you, the noble squire to the traveling but inferior armed Knight, to watch the pummeling and when the crowed had dispersed, pick up the pieces of a shattered ego and offer moral support in that you took it like a man.  Is there a moral support band-aid one could offer?  Probably not, but is it not still better than facing it alone?


In retrospect it was the show of force that was the point.  Beating up a victim without an audience made the exercise wasted effort.  There would be no emotional reward for a show of strength in private.  Privacy was only for threats.  Conquest requires followers, those that will spread the tale, growing the reputation of invincibility for the bully. The reputation must precede the event or it is not effective.  Many times the fear for your general welfare from a friend made the matter worse, reducing your own confidence and disabling the ability to win or even create better options than the fight.  And, confidence is everything.  It emanates from the body like a force field.  A bully can feel it.  They fear it.  But if challenged they still must fight.  I often think they had actually grown tired of hitting me but since I kept showing up…

So how do we make our children confident?  How can we instill the moral and ethical, and inalienable right to defend ourselves if we promote school policy which is based upon no tolerance?  Fighting back will result in expulsion.  The consolation of dignity and the pride generated by not being a hapless victim must be worth something?  The explanation to parents of the event culminating in the question of what would they do usually results in a mother declaring that walking away is the best solution and fighting is not the answer.  This followed by many fathers who tell sons to fight back even if you lose.  Just don’t get caught and get kicked out.  On occasion the father that has not seen school yards in a century but may have seen bulling mentions that you cant be a wimp so fight back, creating an interesting contradiction in the family value program as they inform the mother that it will make us stronger in the long run.  I never knew that dad had read Friedrich Nietzsche and his “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” quote.  Dad was probably never bullied, at least as school.  He dropped out int he 4th grade during the depression because the farm produced food and school was an unknown.  I was perhaps an early achiever, bullied even in the first grade and without reason that I could even understand at the age of five.  I would have been happy to fight, anyone know how to do that can can you teach me what you cannot do yourself? 

As an ex-military tactical officer I would never have sent people into harm’s way without the skills to survive.  I would never have let them go in without me.  You lead from the front.  A military tactic that has been lost for the most part since the Civil War because the idea cost each side a lot of Generals.  Even facing insurmountable odds there is still a way for superior skills to prevail, for the imaginative and the bold there can be victory.  As a martial artist for over thirty years I found that bullies will not fight if they have nothing to gain.  With superior physical skill they can be trounced, and the fearsome veil of their invincibility is shattered.  That they can be beaten is the cry among the masses and the new victor is now the champion of the downtrodden.  Maybe this is why the fable of Robin Hood has endured and propagated for so long.

The concept of the hero is solidly placed when the few, or the one, stand unwavering against the many; so deeply against the odds they appear heroic even in defeat as the great Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae.  To prevail is the hope, but even in defeat there is honor, and in honor is the lasting imagery that makes for a memory, and when people remember there is a legacy that will endure and possibly even be embellished over time.  It gives one hope.  But this is still not the answer because we cannot even as martial artists teach everyone to stand against the dangers that are now commonplace and in my youth were a rarity.  I will not have a child die in a knifing to preserve dignity or honor for that is folly.  It is dangerous to teach the young to place themselves in harm’s way to defend others as well, no matter how much I believe this is on the path to a better society.   The results remain tragic as the victor is still expelled, and worse, my sitting belief that the bully truly learns almost nothing from the defeat.  They will in time simply locate someone else to inflict their anger upon, likely increasing the intensity if not the frequency.  I often noted that it is the same bully picking on the same victims as long as they are available.

Yet we are not helpless.  We need not become victims.  But first we must choose not to be a victim, and then act.  We must look at the odds, then the stakes for losing, and finally stand in stark judgment of ourselves as to if we should make a stand.  I still believe that there is right and wrong, and it must be as much to us inside as demonstrated to others if we are to create the platform for social change.  We must choose not to be the nameless sheep, and yet not become the wolf, but to stand in between as the defender and protector of those who cannot yet stand by themselves.  If we leave no other legacy then this should be it.  So then, exactly how should we begin this monumental event?

I offer an apology to the man many years ago that gave me this saying for I cannot remember his name but do remember the African maxim he gave me and it has has lost none of its power.  “It takes a village to raise a child.” 

To combat bulling effectively it will require a community effort.  Children shown how not to become bullies and parents not to provide the examples of poor behavior children in turn emulate.  It will require that schools stop being forced to curb this behavior but do so willingly rather that the current trend toward legislation.  It will require more than acknowledgment of the issue but a proactive effort toward accountability upon the aggressor and less on the reparation to the victim.  Not that justice should be its own reward but that a true context of what happened and the preceding event sequence that led to the final showdown.  The courts can act and met this punishment but in my opinion it will fall short.  Money cannot be the guiding principal for teaching a lesson to a bully or the family of one.  As citizens, even those without children we must take an active interest in bettering our community by active participation.  Perhaps less vicarious living through television and more focus placed on mentoring by adults with integrity, and demonstrating as the living embodiment of what it should mean to be an adult in society is a good baseline. 

No one is asking that these mentoring adults have all the answers, after all I am still waiting for my talk on sex from my parents and I will be 55 years old next summer.  Adults guiding by positive example will be a good start.  It begins with time spent to build a bond.  The youth of this nation will gladly take a parent’s money but what they truly want is our time.  The statement of quality time is ridiculous.  A bullied child informed he will get a beat down tomorrow morning before school does not want to schedule quality time for a talk three days from now.  If we allow children to mentor children we better hope the ones they choose to follow are mature for their age.  No more "haters."

The martial arts teaches the discipline to not fight for the sake of fighting, or even winning, but for a better purpose, and only when absolutely necessary.  After school activities help more than most parents understand.  The mentors children can find in martial arts schools are an extraordinary path to inner strength.  Parents that can gather as a group and talk to kids in an open table forum will be of great use, providing the parents have the skills to not disagree or verbally abuse each other (point made earlier) and can help shape school policy.  Why not?  Public schools are paid for with tax dollars and we have a right to know children are safe within their walls and grounds; and we must not blame the schools for failures without knowing the facts first.  We have for too long used the schools as day-care centers because of our so very busy lives.  Parents can learn the skills necessary to deal effectively with anyone they meet.  We will help teach them on this forum.

Teachers need to be trained in how to observe bullying behavior and literally patrol the “bully zones” and provide a true open-door policy where a student can come and talk openly without a teacher being forced to immediately act upon the threat to avoid liability.  No student unless hopelessly desperate will confide in a teacher that does not have their back.  Our modern teachers and parents must be trained to recognize the victimization of our youth and use the techniques we teach in the Verbal Judo program to persuade youth as a culture that they can go to authority and that they can stand unified as a collective to walk in a place of education; a neighborhood; and in our cities without paralyzing fear.  Gang activity aside, which will be a matter of much greater intensity and will require both community and law enforcement intervention on a severe scale, we can, and must, start here, as a village; as a collection of villages; as a nation.  If we want to lead the world to a better world then we can start anytime.

Just say no doesn’t work.  But saying no backed by a village that says no, will become a wall that our children can grow up in safety until they in turn become the wall, protecting their own children and the old by not considering it an obligation but part of the cycle of life.  Like the ripple of water with the dropping of a pebble, the ripple grows large.  Sadly it will eventually lose its power.  But, what if we continued to drop pebbles...?


Bruises heal, on the outside anyway.
    2011 October 31st   

Halloween Night.

It is the beginning of the Holiday Season.  It is Halloween and children are everywhere, collecting snacks and parading in costume, and yet even through the happiness of a sugar-filled euphoria there are some that are sad this night, afraid to walk where they may be approached by someone in their neighborhood or school who bullies them repeatedly.  Whether the act is a shove or a punch or language that demeans as a purposeful power play to destroy their confidence, the damage done is critical. 

Physical bruises may heal, in time, but the emotional scars left by words are forever.  The emotional lethality is too severe for the mind to ever forget, but there is still a future for every bullied boy or girl, a future that includes self confidence, a solid self image, and the ability to make their way on a path to a future worth living.  There is just one catch; children cannot make this happen alone.  They need our help.  Mentor a child, if you can find the courage to make a real difference in the life of a boy or a girl who can use a real role model.  You don’t need to be perfect, no one is anyway so just be someone they can look up to, talk to, or ask a question and get an answer that does not include criticism or blame.  This site will also be a posting ground for answers.  We will help you, in turn take the challenge to help someone else that truly needs a smile and some confidence.  Challenge yourself.  Make this challenge the gift you give yourself this Holiday season.  It will be the best present you will never unwrap.  I promise.

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Lee Fjelstad and Andy Sanano
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and these posts at Verbal and Physical Self Defense
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