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Can martial arts help with bullying ?

For everyone who has been bullied in their lives.

A friend of mine recently shared her experience as a mother of 2 kids. One of them was being bullied in school. Like many others, this kid has experienced verbal and physical violence in school. As a loving mother, her prerogative was to try to find a different school for her child, but she always wondered whether the behavior would repeat itself at another school.

We often hear that switching schools might be an easy way out, that kids are spoiled and overprotected by their parents or that they’ll never grow to fend for themselves. Kids go to school to learn how to socialize, however some of them may have trouble fitting in or they may disrespect others. Bullying survivors may not speak up at first and develop mental problems later on. Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem may arise from bullying or perhaps trigger it. The sequels may also carry on to professional areas of life (Lee & Brotheridge, 2006). However, when kids or parents address the issue to the school, the school may not respond or intervene.

In Canada, schools are supposed to keep track of violence and sexual harassment. When a parent or a kid reports it, schools are supposed to act on it and keep a record concerning the kind of violence and the frequency of it. According to CBC News, very few schools do so.

Their team of journalist interviewed 4000 students across Canada and found that

1 in 4 girls get unconsented touching.

1 in 7 students experience sexual assault.

3 in 4 girls didn’t report to the school because nothing gets done.

1 in 4 girls were satisfied with the school’s reaction.

Having clear reports means facing the reality of having violent behavior, which decreases the reputation of the school.

In a classroom, we should expect to see students from different social backgrounds, minorities, physical and mental disabilities and learn why we have this diversity. Educators should address the taboo that some social groups are more discriminated against than others and acknowledge the history of our incessant discrimination. This way, kids learn to respect each other as they have a better understanding of our historical diversity.

Diversity is a double-edge sword blessing as it can be hard to not show preferences. Kids watch and follow their educators’ judgments and tend to reproduce their behavior. Educators sometimes act biased as they’re just humans. However, they should make sure to step over their initial judgments and do the right thing: communicate with the school and engage with parents. They must help all kids equally regardless of their background or their difficulties to nurture a positive environment. They can teach interpersonal and emotional skills in class. Not everyone had the equal opportunities so it’s important to remain an impartial role model and stand up for kids with difficulties, so they don’t get teased or bullied.

According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 1/3 of Canadian students have been bullied recently. A study from 2009 found that bullying trend is decreasing in Western Europe but not in the English countries including England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Canada (Molcho et al., 2009). The underreported violence is damaging for generations to follow since schools do not change their policies to protect vulnerable students.

For the kids that feel stuck and unheard in schools or at home, a positive outlet would be to practice martial arts. This advice applies to both the bully and the bullied kid.

Martial arts and self-confidence

Although a study found that martial arts did not affect rates of bullying or victimization, it helped students with self-perceptions for physical abilities and can increase confidence. Students who performed martial arts had better confidence and better self-perceptions for physical abilities compared to students who did not participate in martial arts (Smith Harding, 2003).

Martial arts builds confidence in many areas of life. Martial arts can prepare you for real-life situation in front of an attacker. It also builds discipline to achieve your set goals and perform under pressure, and most of all, it’s a sport that helps you socialize respectfully with others. Bullies and victims of bullying are thus welcome to participate in a collective class because it teaches you how to interact with others.

One-on-one tutoring or group classes?

Parents who want to build their kid’s confidence may choose one-one-one tutoring sessions for their bullied child. They may think that the kid would get all the attention from a tutor and focus on building self-defense skills faster. Parents may also think that bullying could occur in group classes from other kids so it would be best to have individual sessions.

Collective classes led by a good teacher would not allow bullying. In martial arts training, respect goes toward the elder. S/he is in charge of leading the classes and is not required to give you teaching. You need to deserve his/her teaching by showing respect and good behavior. Thus, bullies would need to change their behavior if they would like to receive training.

The advantages of collective classes:

You can practice with multiple partners and develop different approaches to your fight.

You understand that there will always be a stronger martial artist than you.

Everyone’s ego is put in the right place.

You can measure your and other people’s progress.

Learning from others sharpens the mind.

You belong to a community and make friends.

Everyone wears the same uniform and there’s no discrimination on social classes.

Collective classes are generally cheaper than individual classes.

Promoting non-violence

While some parents may think that martial arts are violent, it is actually quite the opposite. There are so many martial arts that it’s difficult to generalize a main peaceful philosophy. In most martial arts, good behavior and collaboration with peers are encouraged.

Martial arts are taught for protection against harm and assault. A martial art is helpful when physical force is used to prevent violence. For example, one can use assertive force to defend him/herself or prevent someone from harming another one. We have a right and duty to defend ourselves and others, and it should be taught sooner than later.

The instructor generally teaches discipline, respect and generally promotes non-lethal forces. They also empower youth and teens to transform conflict into peacemaking. This philosophy prevents falling into either complete submission or aggression.

Vulnerable children and women are unfortunately the target of perpetrators. It is important to ensure their protection. Learning martial arts will definitely give them a better chance to deal with real-life attackers.

Examples of martial arts

In my last semester of university, I had few elective classes to take. I picked aikido because I heard good recommendation from this “fun” class. I knew nothing about martial arts but just went for it. During our first class, we were given uniforms and belts. We were introduced to the theory of it. Aikido means “the way of harmonious living.”

Aikido portrays the ideal warrior in Japan as a symbol of courage, uprightness and loyalty. It aspires people to follow strong and grounded values that elevate the spirit. Aikido is also non-competitive. It’s about the harmonization with the partner and resolving conflict in the least lethal and disruptive manner. It is useful to defend oneself against attacking bullies using his/her force and synergy.

Few friends of mine tried this Korean martial art, which is also a lifestyle and a philosophy. It is not an aggressive sport, but a self-defense and peaceful practice. This discipline requires endurance, concentration and agility. People learn to control their body in order to master their moves precisely. Taekwondo also helps kids to control their emotions since self-mastery is essential. The ideal age to start is around 4 years old.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an art focused on grappling while staying on the ground. The goal is to submit and control an opponent. This martial art is a good fit for smaller or weaker people as they can use chokes and locks against a bigger person. This martial art is awesome because you can incapacitate an attacker of any size. Since most real-life fights happen on the ground, this technique gives you an advantage if you can’t strike hard enough.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is also known to use strategy. People call it a quick game of chess because you calculate your next moves based on your opponent’s position and technique. It is a great work out for the mind and the body.

When I was young, judo was a popular sport for boys but there’s no reason why girls shouldn’t practice it. Judo is a Japanese combat sport, played in the Olympics. “Ju” means gentle and “Do” means the way. The name translates into the gentle way.

Judo is an art that utilizes an opponent’s energy against him or her. We often see people throwing each other on the mat, but it’s more than that. Practicing judo involves problem-solving skills and learning to stay focused without aggression.

Karate is striking martial art originally from the island of Okinawa and influenced by Chinese fighting styles. There are several Karate styles, some of them uses weapons. It mostly uses punches, kicks, knees, elbows for self-defense as the goal is to disarm and disable an opponent. Breathing is crucial for concentration and blocking strikes. Brutal knockouts may look scary but the bigger picture is still self-defense.

In conclusion, for some people, discrimination and violence are innate and part of our daily struggle. However, the truth is that our prejudices comes from our education. A child has been taught to recognize differences very early on. It starts with how our family members treat other people. It also starts in a classroom if an educator favors a certain group and does not stand up for bullied victims. Schools often do not follow through with reports from students and parents. Schools fail to implement security measures so they can empower victims and protect students.

Martial arts present many benefits including physical, mental and spiritual improvement. It is an intense workout and will make the student more confident, especially in front of a bully. Bullies also benefit from practicing martial arts because they learn discipline and respect. Collective classes are most beneficial because they invite kids to work together under the supervision of an elder. Martial arts generally do not promote violent behavior but instead seeks peacemaking. Self-defense techniques are useful for vulnerable people, such as women and smaller kids. Although I only gave few examples of martial arts, there are numerous videos and websites online to find the right martial art for each personality type. The goal is to work towards self-improvement, be ready to accept failure and learn from it, and focus on the bigger picture: a philosophy of peace and respect.


Lee, R. T., & Brotheridge, C. M. (2006). When prey turns predatory: Workplace bullying as a predictor of counteraggression/bullying, coping, and well-being. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 15(3), 352–377.

Molcho, M., Craig, W., Due, P., Pickett, W., Harel-Fisch, Y., & Overpeck, M. (2009). Cross-national time trends in bullying behaviour 1994–2006: findings from Europe and North America. International Journal of Public Health, 54(S2), 225–234.

Smith Harding, D. (2003). Bullying, victimization, and physical self-efficacy among adolescent martial arts students and non-martial arts students.

Photo credit: Lamhai Ngo


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