A recent incident at a middle school in Liberty, Missouri drew attention again to the concern of bullying at schools.
A 12 year-old boy in the sixth grade was bullied and then beaten up by an older boy at Liberty Middle School. He went to the hospital and spent five days there, being treated for a broken jaw and fractures in his head.
This incident has anti-bullying organizations across the country pressing their school systems to do more about eliminating bullying in their classrooms and school halls.
Fred Marino has a different perspective.
“Bullying isn’t the problem,” he says. “It’s the way that we handle bullying which is what we need to be focused on.”
Marino, a resident of Howard Beach, New York, owns and operates Monkey Fist Martial Arts, a school for children and adults to learn mixed martial arts. A veteran of martial arts training, Marino has worked with children in grade school and middle school who have been the targets of bullying.
“Bullying has been around since the first person hit someone on the head with a stick. And it’s here today. It has been happening since the dawn of mankind, and it will continue,” continues Marino.
“The major problem with what schools are doing today is that they will have a rally and say ‘down to bullying,’ and that’s it. Nothing changes. And it’s great that they make an effort, but they have a rah-rah and that’s all. There needs to be a better effort to strengthen the kids themselves.”
When Marino works with his students and families, he focuses on the individual, making them feel more strong and confident. This, he says, is the solution. When a child is mentally stronger, and has “thick enough skin,” he or she can stand up for themselves when faced with a bullying situation. “Letting a child get hurt, or fail a little bit, helps a kid be stronger.”
Marino compares this to a vaccine. When a child gets a vaccine, they get a small dose of the illness so that their body learns to combat it. When a child is allowed to face a small challenge, they can learn to be stronger to face more difficult situations, like bullying.
Marino offers a 3-pronged approach in his martial arts program to teach kids to handle bullies successfully.
1) Develop Confidence. Confidence is something that can be taught, but it has to be felt by the kid. It’s not academic. It must be practiced. In martial arts class, we learn to have confident eye contact, to speak clearly, and to have body language that screams confidence. When a child learns and practices these things, they will become confident.
2) Physical Application. We do teach physical martial arts to have a child know what to do to protect him or herself. Of course, martial arts is about self-defense but we take traditional values of respect and courtesy and put them with modern martial arts that makes sense for kids.
3) Tactics. These are the words you use and how you use them. For example, a child can deescalate a bullying situation using humor. If a bully says “you’re ugly,” the target can says “My mom says that sometimes too, and she loves me. So you must love me too!” and walk away. This is a different reaction than the bully would expect, and would take away the bully’s power.
Fred Marino is the owner and instructor at Monkey Fist Martial Arts, in Howard Beach, New York, right outside of New York City. For more information about Marino’s Bully Prevention Training, visit: http://www.monkeyfistmma.com.