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.