Bullying Defense: Martial Arts for Kids

Everyone is talking about bullying. School shootings, which are happening at an alarming rate these days, often cite peer abuse as a root cause. Even a 300 lb. lineman is out of the NFL after claiming aggressive mistreatment from a teammate. Though increased awareness has resulted in new rules designed to prevent such behavior in schools and workplaces, they can only be applied after the fact.

The victim is already hurt, embarrassed or both. The aggressor, regardless of punishment, will still be aggressive. So, what do we do about it?

Whether your kid is a bully, getting bullied, or neither, martial arts—Jiu Jitsu and otherwise—are great ways to redirect energy and develop confidence. As a matter of fact, Neutral Ground exists for this very reason. Jon Friedland, our founder and fearless leader, actually started training Jiu Jitsu for self-defense while in the army (see him talk about it in a video made by NG student Elaine Disbro here).

During regular fights for “entertainment” with fellow soldiers, his relatively smaller size was often taken advantage of. Shortly after learning some basic Jiu Jitsu, this was no longer the case. In fact, once he learned to defend himself, he rarely found himself in the position to need to do so.

This is hardly a unique story. The Gracie Bullyproof program, which is rooted in Jiu Jitsu, emphasizes verbal and non-violent techniques as means to diffusing physical confrontations. It has also been featured on CNN, ABC, NBC, and Oprah as one of the few effective counter-measures to bullying for children.

Even without the self-defense aspect, parents will find martial arts supremely beneficial for the exercise alone.

It’s a strenuous and fun pursuit, which is the perfect combination to teach kids about the positives of healthy living—especially for kids who find traditional sports boring. Even if your kid does love to play team sports, martial arts offer a different look at hard work and accountability that he or she might not get from, say, Little League. There’s no team to shoulder the burden: it’s all yours. When you put in the effort, youget better. When you pay attention to what you’re doing, youlearn faster. When you try your best, youfeel better.

Martial arts aren’t all about the physical, though. There’s a mental aspect to training that is hard to overstate and even harder to come by in an increasingly remote world. When drilling, sparring or “rolling” in Jiu Jitsu, you’re forced to focus on the task at hand. You’re present and in the moment more so than almost any other time throughout the day. This is especially true for younger boys with older brothers. They’d listen to a four-hour lecture on Botany if you promised it would help them avoid getting headlocked by a hormone-driven, 16-year-old maniac.

Even if your kid has no intention of challenging for a UFC title, there’s plenty of reward to be found in Martial Arts for just showing up and participating. Learning is an accomplishment and success is measured by progress. Some people might say that’s an “Everyone gets a trophy” mentality, but those people shouldn’t grapple with technically sound 13-year-old orange belts. Arms, legs and necks are their trophies. And, yes, everyone gets one.

Gearing up: What gear do I need to start training jiu-jitsu?

Compared to other combat sports, the equipment investment for jiu-jitsu is pretty low. You still need a few things though and, with the holidays just around the corner, there’s no better way to show that special person in your life you care than a gift that says “I want you to get real good at choking people.” Bring them with you next year in case Black Friday gets out of hand. Win-win.

Gi: Sometimes referred to as a kimono, this is the uniform of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also a key piece of equipment. Many techniques involve gripping the Gi for control, which is why they are often more expensive than Gis for other martial arts (i.e. Taekwondo) that don’t involve grappling. If you’re looking for that high-quality, high-fashion look that’s super hot on the mats these days, Neutral Ground is practically best friends with two local companies that make excellent Gis: BJJ Life (http://thebjjlifestyle.com/) and Combat Corner (http://combatcorner.com/). Tell them we sent you and they’ll be like “Niiiiiiiice.”

Belt: The belt is used to track your progression from beginner to bad ass. You’ll start with a white belt, work your way up to blue, then purple, then brown, then black. In between belt colors, you also earn stripes to show how close you are to that next level (four stripes per belt color). Your instructor will promote you to the next belt color which, be prepared, may take a while. Jiu-Jitsu has one of the most rigid belt promotion systems, so it can take more than 10 years to achieve a black belt. Unlike other martial arts, you’ll never see a child that’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu. If you do meet a child that’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, just do what they say.

Rash guard: A rash guard, originally worn by surfers, is a tight-fitting spandex shirt that can help protect against cuts, mat burns and even skin diseases. Though not essential, it does provide some added mobility off your back—particularly when you’re sweaty. Plus, it shows off how buff you are. Whaddyabench?

Shorts: Though you’ve probably got at least one pair of shorts that will work just fine, two styles that really caught on in the grappling/MMA communities are Vale Tudos (very short, very tight) and board shorts (long and loose). Personally, I try to avoid anything with pockets. When feet weren’t getting caught in them, I’d always be pushing them back in. Save yourself my headache.

Mouth guard: This is optional and worn by about 50% of grapplers according to a survey that I just made up. A basic boil-and-bite mouth guard only costs a few bucks, but they can get pretty costly for a pro-level, custom job. If you’re not doing any striking, there’s no reason to get too crazy with the cost. I like the Tiger Claw Single Mouth Guard (sold on Amazon) which is very thick, forms much better than other mouth guards I’ve tried and only costs about $4—a very cheap investment compared to missing teeth.

Cup: Again, optional—but preferred by many for obvious reasons. Combat Corner sells a Muay Thai-style steel cup that provides awesome protection even if it’s not the most fun thing to put on. You’ll see what I mean.

Water bottle: Even if it’s below freezing outside, the inside of a packed jiu-jitsu gym will feel like Miami in July. Stay hydrated.

Neutral Ground shirt: The equivalent of a “Beware of Dog” sign for your body. Off the mat, we don’t want no mess.

No shoes: No shoes on the mat. Don’t even think about it.