The importance of providing a safe, nurturing and positive atmosphere for children in our schools cannot be overstated. Too often, children are subjected to bullying in all of its forms — from verbal abuse — including teasing, insults, taunting and jokes at the child’s expense — to physical abuse, including assaults.
Recently, Gracie Barra, a worldwide network of Brazilian jiu-jitsu academies, presented a comprehensive summer camp to teach children how to deal with bullying in a dignified, effective manner. Santa Barbara’s local Gracie Barra academy is offering a class this coming Saturday, free of charge, for all children ages 6 to 12.
As a student at the Gracie Barra academy, I have had the privilege of learning under Master Rodrigo Clark, a lifelong student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and former attorney who came to the United States to study English but decided to stay and open his own jiu-jitsu academy. A friend of the Gracie family from an early age, Clark affiliated with Gracie Barra as a franchisee for the Santa Barbara region and has been located at 1014 State St. for the past three years. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Clark brings a traditional, laid-back Brazilian approach to instruction that is especially effective with children.
Gracie Barra has always maintained a strong focus on teaching self-defense techniques to children. Through active engagement with students over the years, instructors recognized the need for a comprehensive system that could be taught to young children to help them deal with bullying. Contrary to what one might expect, the approach does not rely solely on martial arts, but rather includes several steps, starting with body language and verbal responses designed to deflect the aggressive behavior of the bully.
The first step in the process involved simply ignoring the bully. Most bullies are looking for attention, so if they don’t get the desired response, they will usually stop the behavior, or will move on to someone else.
If a bully persists, step two involves politely, but firmly and confidently, standing your ground and telling the bully to stop. The bullied child is instructed to not back off but make eye contact and keep his or her hands down in a nonthreatening manner, without making a fist. Bullies tend to seek out weak victims, not kids who show confidence, so this approach often will end the confrontation.
If the problem escalates and the bully gets physical, the bullied child may be forced to defend his or herself, but punching or kicking could result in serious injury to the bully and possible serious consequences for the bullied student. Even though, in theory, the bullied student has the right to defend him or herself, the school may think differently. Legal or financial consequences could follow.
The Gracie Barra approach recommends standing firm, protecting your head with your arm and, when the bully least expects it, using one of several jiu-jitsu techniques to deflect or reverse the bully’s position, pushing him away or even taking him down. Then telling him to not do it again.
Chances are the bully will disengage and walk away. Often the bully relies on the perception of physical superiority he or she feels by physically dominating the victim, so if he or she is taken to the ground and overpowered, he or she will likely feel embarrassed and will lose the desire to continue the confrontation.
About 30 Gracie Barra schools in California and others across the nation are offering free anti-bullying classes during the month of June geared to boys and girls ages 6 to 12. During Saturday’s one-hour class, Clark and his staff will combine exercise, games, techniques and an element of fun, something current students receive on a regular basis. At the end of the class, instructors will hand out “No bullying in S.B.” stickers.
Saturday’s class will begin at 10 a.m. and is open to any child aged 6 to 12. The traditional gi uniform will be provided for each child, so parents don’t need to bring anything or buy anything; they just need to come to the academy by 10 a.m. for orientation.
It seems that today’s stresses and pressures on children have never been greater and have never been of greater concern to parents. The psychological damage that can be inflicted on a child as a result of bullying can produce permanent scars that may be carried throughout life. Skills learned at a young age to help children successfully defend themselves both psychologically and physically (if necessary) can aid them throughout their life, even into adulthood.
Click here for more information about Saturday’s anti-bullying camp, or call Rodrigo Clark at 805.845.2272.