by Gabriel Cross
I was one of the lucky ones. Theater and choir are not the easiest hobbies for middle school kids; they are fun and rewarding but they put you low on the playground pecking order. But I was fortunate enough to have two older brothers who I could turn to (and who toughened me up in ways that I never appreciated at the time). It was rare that I was targeted by a bully, but on the occasions that I was, I had the confidence to stand up to for myself.
But many others I knew were not so lucky. Some of my peers in the theater were the focus of relentless bullying, especially those who were considered to be “gay,” whether or not that brand was applicable. The theater certainly attracted a number of irregulars, outsiders and self-described “freaks and geeks.” In short, just the sort bully seeks out: unusual, preferably effete kids who smell of unease and fear (which, aside from the fear, was a pretty good description of me back then).
Bullies seek to gain power over others and their greatest fear is that the attempt to gain power will backfire, so they prey on the fearful, the downtrodden, the outsider and the meek. Usually, the bully uses the threat of pain and violence to instill fear. The one thing a bully will avoid at all costs is calm confidence. The problem is that a victim of bullying is incapable of building the confidence required to stand up to the bully on his or her own. The threat of violence ensures that the victim will remain a victim, and the emotional scars that this leaves on children endure well into adulthood.
Rener and Ryron Gracie, of the now legendary first family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, came to the conclusion that the best way to break this cycle was to remove the fear of pain and violence. Then the target of bullying could stand up to the bully. Together, the brothers distilled a handful of techniques from the hundreds in Jiu-Jitsu, and used them as the cornerstone for a class that teaches kids confidence, and gives them a game plan to stay safe and neutralize the threat of an older, bigger, stronger bully. The result, the Gracie Bullyproof program, has been highlighted for its success in turning victims into calmly confidant, courteous kids.
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was developed by Helio Gracie, who studied a more traditional Jiu-Jitsu but found it ill-suited to his slight frame. He refined some of the techniques and focused on others to make a game plan for a smaller person to defeat a larger opponent. The Bullyproof program utilizes the same techniques, but focuses on the unique situation of kids in school trying to deal with bullying. The focus is on first avoiding the situation, what they call “verbal Jiu-Jitsu.” Next the students are to tell an adult. Finally, if the problem persists, the students are told that only if the bully starts a fight can they use the grappling techniques they have learned to subdue the attacker.
Although I had an unofficial confidence-building program at home, many people that I considered friends desperately needed a program like this one to stop the abuse of their peers. The focus on confidence, safety, and having a backup plan for the worst-case scenario instills in the victim an unshakable confidence that will most likely deter any potential bullies before they even begin.