Back-off, Bully

Christine Hennebury
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Martial arts program gives students tools to counter bullying

Instructors at the Mount Pearl School of Martial Arts (MPSMA) are using a carefully developed program to help bullying victims gain control over their situation.
Instructor Roger Miller gives an example of one student, the target of both physical and verbal bullying, who found almost instant success through the techniques taught in the class.
"Through our program, the student had learned that an important tactic with this type of bullying is to speak up for yourself. After school one day, as the bullying began, the student stepped up, screamed loudly at the bully from close range: 'Stop picking on me.' The bullying has since stopped. Of course, it's not always that simple, but in some cases this is all that it takes to shut down a bully."
Miller, who played a major role in developing the anti-bullying program, thinks that it is a natural fit for the martial arts.
"Every martial arts program starts with the principles that help avoid attacks by a bully, it has bully-proofing principles built into it."
Those principles include physical fitness, confidence and a calm, well-thought-out approach to danger and self-defence.
"In our programs, we teach avoidance of confrontation as the most appropriate response. There should be no need for physical or verbal violence; on the other hand, if avoidance is unsuccessful, we teach strategies for self-protection."
While developing confidence and self-defence are part of all martial arts programs, requests from parents and students led Miller and the other instructors to enhance the anti-bullying aspect of their program over the past five years. They weave direct anti-bullying instruction throughout all their classes, teaching kids when to take action and what actions to take.
The program gives bullying victims a measure of control that they didn't have before, and it helps them to create a plan to deal with the bully. Miller advises his students that their plan should be developed and put in place with the help of parents and school officials.
"We always tell kids that if they are being bullied, they have to talk to their parents, they have to talk to their teachers. That's where communication comes in."
Role playing is another important aspect of the anti-bullying program. Instructors play the role of bullies and allow students to practise the avoidance, verbal and physical techniques they have learned.
Tracey Osmond, whose two sons (ages 6 and 10) are in the MPSMA program, thinks the role playing is one of the most valuable parts of the anti-bullying instruction.
"Until you've been in the situation, you don't really know what to expect, you don't really know how to handle it. As a kid, I'd be petrified. But when you've been through it, through role-playing, you've been taught the tools, you've got a lot more confidence. You get over that initial fear. 'OK, what do I need to do here?' I think that's very helpful."
She initially put her sons in the martial arts program out of a family interest - her husband was involved as a child - rather than a concern about bullying, but she feels the program has helped them develop confidence in their abilities to solve a problem, especially after her eldest was bullied at a day camp.
"I know that after last year, when he had this one incident, it wasn't too much of a problem. He did have a lot more confidence that he could deal with the problem, that he had a lot more control in the situation than he had before."
Anti-bullying techniques are not just covered in the children's classes - they are included in all classes at MPSMA. But the techniques for older students have a different emphasis.
"With younger kids, you generally find a little pushing or shoving, name-calling, that's the sort of bullying they get," Miller said. "As they start to move into the teenage years, especially the mid- to late teens, bullying is a big problem. … The program takes an entirely different approach. It has to get more verbal and it has to get more physical, it has to get attention much faster than with younger kids.
"We changed our approach with beginner adults (and teenagers) to cover a lot of the bullying-tactic type things that would make them more street-ready faster."
Of course, Miller recognizes that the MPSMA program is only one part of the solution. Their classes are helping students handle the problems that exist right now, but he would like to see more prevention.
"People have got to stop putting up with it. There is just so much complacency. The schools need to have a zero tolerance policy on bullying, (they) just aren't willing to act as harshly as they need to. If you get in a situation where bullying starts, it is only going to get worse if something is not done about it."

Organizations: Mount Pearl School of Martial Arts

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