Archive for the ‘Martial Arts & Self-Defense’ category


December 20, 2010

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Anti-Bullying Tips for Coaches & Teachers

August 30, 2010

If you teach or coach children, your job goes beyond just conveying course material or building skills.  You’ve got to know some psychology, be familiar with complex social structures,  you’ve got to motivate and most importantly, you’ve got to be in full control of your self.

This past summer, I ran another Martial Arts Day Camp, and had the opportunity to work with dozens of  new  kids.

In regard to bullying, (as opposed to normal conflicts and insanity) I’ve noticed three primary situations.

  1. There’s a kid that everyone seems to single out and pick on
  2. There’s one  kid that bullies a lot of other kids in the group
  3. Social power-plays, usually among girls.

Here’s how I handled each situation in turn.  I’m not going to lie and say that my amazing interventions instantly fixed all problems forever. .. New behaviors need to be conditioned over and over.  I will say that by being pro-active, consistent, and setting high expectations,  even the children who were having problems were able to be civil and get along.

ONE-(The Scapegoat)

I called a huddle and sat down with everyone.  I asked what it meant to be part of a “team”, and fielded answers, highlighting the best answers.  I reiterated that everyone is important, and looks out for one another. And yes, everyone in this camp was a team mate.

Then I asked if anyone had ever been chosen last to play at a game,  or been “ditched” (left out, left behind, or excluded by their peers)….which is a pretty universal phenomenon, and feels universally crappy.  Again, I went around and asked “how did that make you feel?” I validated their input, and confided that it had happened to me as well.

Then, looking around, I made prolonged eye contact with the main offenders and stated, “You understand how much that hurts. You understand how cruel it is. I don’t ever want to see anyone playing another kid  for a punk.  We take care of each other.  Got it?”

TWO- (The Mean Ones)

After the first few instances of name-calling or physical intimidation came to my attention, I’d pull the kid aside, get on his level, and say, “Tell me what just happened”.  If another child had reported something to me privately, I’d say, “I heard that XY or Z happened.  I wanted to ask you- is it true?” (No accusations, just fact finding).

Depending on the situation, the offending kid might get a light verbal reprimand (“You know better than that.  I expect more of you.  Don’t do it again”) or a stronger one (“Why would you think that was a good idea? Bullies act like that.  Animals act like that.  Do not ever pull that again.  I expect more of you”) plus a time out for them to consider their actions and consequences.

If the bullying child hurt the other kid or made them cry,  the bully would be made to take his victim to the bathroom while the kid washed his face and got his composure back.  That often makes the offender feel the his victim’s  pain as his own.

If the bullying continued, it would be time for a “conversation”.  Again, I’d take the kid aside and say, “I’m really ticked-off right now. I don’t know what’s going on in your life, or why you’re so insecure and angry, but you better get over it.  I understand that you’re only __ years old, but you better start controlling yourself NOW. Because I’ll tell you something – everyone in here sees what you’re doing, and they don’t like it.  So if you’re wondering why the other kids don’t want to be your friend, that’s your reason.  You will sit out until you can behave yourself well enough to play with the other kids.”

Tone, pitch, volume and cadence are paramount.  While its sometimes necessary to yell “HEY” or “WHOA” across a room or field to stop something dangerous from happening, its NOT appropriate to yell directly at a kid (at least if its not your kid).  For disciplinary conversations,  my voice is low, firm and precise.

In any case, after I made my point, and the child did his time-out and apologized to the offended child, I’d give him a gentle shoulder squeeze to let him know that things were cool.

THREE-(The Social Manipulators)

Relational bullying can be  trickier to deal with. Girls can make friends, form alliances, and turn on each other with amazing speed.  In these situations, I often did the “mediation” thing, asking what was going on, and why.  I’d encourage them to talk about their feelings, and subtly take the ‘queen bee’ down a notch or two to even the playing field of power.

With girls, discussing problems in the open is often enough to disinfect the wounds and start the mending process.


… they call for extreme measures.  These were last resort tactics for repeat offenders.  As with all very powerful medicine, there may be serious side effects.  Be judicious.

Public Embarrassment– On a very rare occasions, I’d feel compelled to call a kid out in front of their peers. These are one shot gambits.

  • “Everyone, stop what you’re doing.  Ben is at it again. Ben, please explain to us why you’re picking on someone half your size. Does it make you feel like a tough guy? Would you like it if a bigger kid bullied you?  Aren’t you embarrassed?”
  • “Julie, why are you intentionally excluding Beth from everything? Tell us why you think you’re the most perfect girl in the world.  The fact is that you are NOT a perfect princess, are you? Would you like it if your friends started gossiping about all your faults?”
  • “Terry, tell us what you know about insulting people and name-calling. Its not cool – exactly.  So why are you doing it? Do you feel so bad about yourself that you have to put other kids down?”


Obviously, if your an academic teacher, this isn’t an option for you.  But if you’re a coach, there are dozens of ways to adapt this strategy. As an adult, you can’t lay your hands on a child – but one of your “enforcers” can.  (Again, this is a one shot gambit)

“Enforcers” are that have earned “trust equity” with you.  They’ve put in their time, worked hard, shown good character, and have developed superior skills.

So if there’s an aggressive child that habitually insults and victimizes others, and they simply don’t respond to logic or time-outs or appeals to empathy, a beat-down is in order. Sometimes it takes the form of sparring (where I privately remind the enforcer not to underestimate any opponent – and score one clean shot to the other kids tummy) – or grappling ( no submission locks, just execute a series of uncomfortable/ tight pins).

I stand impassively and watch the match.  The bully winds up crying.  The group watches silently for a moment or two.  I tell the kid to go wash his face, compose himself and come back.  (I also keep an eye on the clock- if he’s gone for more than a few minutes, I send the enforcer in to make sure he’s alright).

Lesson Learned.


This has been a long post.  And I’m sure you’ll want to have your say.  As always, I welcome your comments.

Be Excellent,


5 on 1 Beat-Down: What Would YOU Have Done?

June 1, 2010

“Me and you.  We’re going to fight.  Right now.”

This wasn’t going to be a fight.  It was shaping up to be a hard-core beat-down. When its 5 against 1, it doesn’t matter if your the UFC champion… you’re going to get seriously busted up. Trey quickly figured his options. None of them were very attractive.

Not a chance he could take them on physically.  In spite of being short and painfully thin, Trey (just 15), probably could have taken care of himself against one tough-guy.  He’d done it before.  But dealing with multiple attackers was a totally different world.

He doubted he’d be able to escape, either.  They’d run him down.  Even if he could get away, they’d come looking for him, and they wouldn’t have to look far – three of the kids in this gang went to his school.

Use reason? Try some kind of bluff?  Pray? Absurd.   Not worth one precious second of consideration.

Trey made eye contact with the kid standing in front of him, and made note of where his four friends were. “Yo, we’re going to f*ck you up” one of them said.  Another laughed. This was going down fast.

Trey took a deep breath and looked down at his sneakers. He knew that in the next few moments, he was going to get hurt.  Bad. Before they took him down, he planned to  inflict as much damage as possible.  Then he’d curl up and do his best to protect his head and groin.

Slowly, Trey reached into his pocket and pulled something out.

“I was wondering,” he said to the kid, “before you kick my ass, do you want a piece of gum?”  Trey offered the pack.

Confused, the other kid barked a nervous laugh, and looked around at his friends as if to ask, “can you believe this?”.

“Are you joking?” he asked.
“Nope” Trey replied.

Unsure, the kid laughed again, and took the gum.  He pulled a stick, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth.  Then he tossed the remainder of the pack to one of his buddies. Trey waited, prepared to be blind-sided or tackled from behind.

“You’re weird, man” the kid said as he shoved Trey’s shoulder.  Another member of the gang bumped him, and then they were walking away.

Trey didn’t hang around, either.
This is a 100% true and factual incident that happened to a Total Bully Solution student of mine, “Trey” (obviously not his real name), from a small town in central Texas. I’m very proud of him and abundantly impressed by his self-control,  creativity and quick thinking.

It’s Live!

April 28, 2010

Open Letter to the Angry Mother Who Stormed Out of the Academy Last Night

April 22, 2010

That was quite an exit. The way you turned your back on me, threw your nose up and stomped out of the dojo dragging your child by the arm was … notable. Actually several of the other parents did comment on your behavior; they were a little stunned and embarrassed at the spectacle.

You’re upset.  I get it. I know why. While your daughter was sparring, she got hit in the gut and started to cry. All of your parental lights and sirens blew up at once.  I can totally empathize.

Please understand- I am a MARTIAL ARTS instructor. I take my job and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously.

Let’s get some clarity.
When kids spar, they’re closely supervised. No head contact, no kicks to the legs. Full protective gear (boots, gloves, helmet). Everyone is matched according to size and experience. The idea is to apply the techniques they’ve learned with control – in other words, hit the other person and not get hit.

When your daughter got tagged:

  • I instantly stopped the match
  • Gave her a few moments to catch her breath
  • Encouraged her to finish strong and throw punches for just another 10 seconds
  • Instructed the other child to play defense while she went on offense

After the match, I told her that I was very proud of her. Then we walked together to the sink so she could wash her face and compose herself. By the time class bowed out, she was fine, save for an occasional sniffle.

No head trauma.  No neck injury. No broken bones or dislocated joints. No sprains.  Not 1 scrape, not 1 bruise.

When learning to ride a bike, a child is going to fall. In soccer, sometimes kids get kicked in the shins. In baseball, a batter occasionally gets beaned by a pitch. In ballet, dancers are expected to practice until their feet are literally raw.  In martial arts, once in a while a kid gets hit in the tummy.

Those experiences are essential. When handled properly, a child learns how to deal with frustration. They learn that they’re actually durable.  They learn how to regulate themselves.  “Protecting”  a kid by encasing them in body armor is like “helping” a baby chick free itself from their egg; in stealing their struggles, you deprive them of the strength they’ll need to survive.

You had enrolled your daughter in class because she was lacking self-confidence.  She’s shy. She has a gentle heart, and you’re concerned that she might be taken advantage of.  You wanted her to have real-world self-defense

In the 6 months she’s been training, she’s made fantastic progress. Judging from your demeanor tonight, I suspect that progress is going to stop abruptly because you’re probably going to yank her out of the program. Doing that will teach her that she’s fragile.  That it’s okay to quit when the going gets tough. Running from your fears is perfectly acceptable.  Are those really the lessons you want her to take away?

Just days ago, I read a horrible news story about a 15 year old girl who was viciously attacked by a boy in school.  He beat her savagely, kicking her with steel toed boots and stomping on her head. Right now she’s laying in a hospital bed, clinging to life.  If she does pull through, she’ll have permanent brain damage. Reports like that are in the news every week – and for every one that makes the headlines, there are hundreds that don’t.

The trend in my industry is moving toward daycare. Forms, games and gymnastic stunts. Black belt in two years, even if you’re only 11. Let me tell you what happens to these kids when they have to defend themselves- they fail hard.  They get humiliated.  And hurt. I won’t have that on my conscience.

If, heaven forbid, your daughter is ever attacked, its not going to be in a clean, well lit, matted dojo. The other kid wont be a friend and team mate.  And no one is going to be there to rescue her if she starts to cry.

I’m not running a Spartan boot camp or MMA dungeon. There’s plenty of time for laughter and fun. But the focus is on training. The curriculum here includes moderate contact sparring. Perhaps that makes me a dinosaur. So be it.

Your daughter is a wonderful kid.  If she’s a little gun-shy, I’ll work with her until she gets her confidence up, just like I’ve done with scores of kids before.

I sincerely hope she continues her training here. The choice is yours to make.


The Secret Weapon Against Bullying *Part IV*

April 1, 2010

Trouble-Shooting, Q&A

* Wandering Mind
That happens.  It’s part of the practice.  When your mind wanders,you can re-focus on your breathing or think of a trigger word to center yourself. (Tranquility.  Peace. Gratitude. Joy.)

* Anxiety-
Sometimes that happens too. Being alone inside your mind with no distractions can be a scary experience.  If you’re experiencing mild anxiety, shorten your next sitting and work through it.  If mindfulness meditation is triggering panic attacks for your child, this mode of practice isn’t for them.  They’ll get more out of some kind of moving meditation

* “I can’t (my child can’t) kneel like that”

If there’s some kind of legitimate physical limitation, you certainly can sit in a straight backed chair. You can also sit on a cushion to relieve the compression in your knees.

* “This is uncomfortable.  It hurts.”

Correct. That’s all part of  it. Remember, we aren’t trying to ‘transcend’ anything – we are seeking to experience things fully and at the same time, remain de-attached. You become aware of your mind as its working – for example, “hm. My legs hurt.  Hm.  That was a thought.” People in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond hold seiza for periods of up to 45 minutes.  They’re flesh and blood and bone just like you.  Suck it up.

* “It’s never quiet enough around here”

Unless you’re going to sit on the moon, there’s going to be some ambient noise.  Maybe a plane passing overhead, or a droplet of water falling from the kitchen faucet. The trick is not to resist. Acknowledge, accept, and freely let it pass.

* “Can’t I do this laying down?”
Short answer- No. You’ll wind up falling asleep. (I’m all in favor of naps, but this isn’t that)

* “Am I doing this right?”
A more productive question might be, “Am I doing this well?”. There’s no one right way.  The import thing is working the basic concepts, and being consistent.  As you meditate, you’ll begin to see that just as you don’t “need” to scratch your nose the second it itches, or speak when a thought pops into your head. Soon, you’ll see some cool things start happening in your life.  You won’t “need” to eat that slab of cake just because you want to.  You won’t “need” to contradict someone if you feel they’re wrong. You won’t “need” to act-out when you get angry.

To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, you’ll understand that between stimulus and response, there’s a tiny pause, and in that space is your ability to choose.

How Does Any Of This Help A Kid Beat A Bully?

No matter what kind of situation you find yourself, there’s one variable that you can control.  You.
Imagine a kid who’s being teased, or insulted or intimidated.  Instead of reacting with fear or anger or sadness, they are calm. They don’t permit anyone to push their buttons, because they are in full possession of themselves. That child now can make a rational evaluation about what to do. If the mindful child determine the instigators are just making a lot of noise, they can choose not to be bothered, thus removing the bullies prime reward.
If they actually have to defend themselves, they’ll be far more effective because they’ll have a clear head, and will be 100% committed to the fight.

Any way you look at it, its a win.

The Secret Weapon For Overcoming Bullies *Part III*

March 31, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Mindfulness Meditation

  • Environment– A quiet place where there wont be any interruptions or disturbances (turn the telephone off).
  • Position and Posture– Kneeling. (In the Japanese Zen tradition, this is called seiza). Tops of the feet and shins are flat on the floor, and buttocks rests on the heels. Back straight, head up.  Hands can rest on the thighs or be folded in the lap.
  • Breathing. Through the nose.  Slowly and rhythmically, from the lower abdomen- not the chest or shoulders.
  • Progressive Relaxation. Starting from the top of the head and working down, release any unnecessary tension.
  • Focus.
    • Some people count their breaths. In is ‘one’ out is ‘two’. At ‘ten’, reverse the cycle and start counting backwards.
    • Some people visually focus on a point in space.
    • Some focus on nothing in particular, but try to keep their mind tranquil.
  • Attention.
    • Tune into your physical body. Balance and posture.  Breathing.  Heart rate. Temperature. Every internal sensation and every feeling on the surface of your skin. Experience all of them and do nothing.
    • Tune into your emotions. Don’t judge, just observe.
    • Tune into your thoughts. As they arise, imagine they’re like bubbles and watch them float away.
    • Tune into your environment. Notice the minute details, the faintest sounds and smells.

Do Not:

  • Fidget. Don’t adjust, don’t stretch, don’t scratch, don’t look around.
  • Wander. This is not the time to think about the future or the past. This is the time to think about here and now.
  • Obsess. Instead, practice letting go. Just release.

Just sit. Be still.

“Okay.  Eyes Open”
At the conclusion of your session, smile and take a deep cleansing breath. Exhale slowly and fully.  Say, “I feel fantastic”.     Take your time standing up.
For a lot of kids, a few moments of silent, still introspection are amazing.