Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Teaching Children

Recently, during a trip to Alaska, I had an opportunity to spend some time teaching basic self-defense skills to a young child who was being bullied at school.  He is the son of a friend of mine who lives in Alaska, and after reading her post about bullying on Facebook, I offered to help.

This young boy is in 2nd grade, and initially I was a little intimidated.  After all, I've never taught someone that young before.  I remembered my experiences as a child with bullies, and how my parents tried to convince me that I could smash someone's nose if they needed it.  The idea was laughable.  I just couldn't conceive of myself punching and bloodying someone's nose, no matter how much they might deserve it.  My parents would tell you this is a far cry from the 2 year old who would bowl kids over without the slightest provocation...but I digress.

I did not want to repeat this mistake, or rather this oversight, so I looked for ways to make a connection with this young lad. When in doubt, turn to what you know.  And what do I know?  Heroic fantasy, and comic book characters.  Sadly, he was too young to know much about Conan, so that went right out the window.  Batman, however, was a different story.  Every 2nd grade boy knows who Batman is, even one who doesn't know much about comics.  The important part is finding a symbol to communicate intent.

What I mean by "communicate intent" is that I needed a way to tell this child how I wanted him to attack the kicking shield and standup dummy.  Kids know how Batman fights, he's ferocious, he hits hard, he hurts bad people before they hurt him, and he doesn't quit.

Every time I saw his intensity flag, I would remind him to kick and punch like Batman, and it was like shifting gears.  Kicks got harder, punches got faster, form improved overall.  During breaks, I would remind him that if he did get into a fight, he needed to fight like Batman, and not stop hitting until the fight was over.  I could also see that this boy did not want to really hurt people, which is commendable, but at the same time he did not want to be hurt.  As a friend of mind pointed out, Batman is allowed to hurt people.  By telling someone to fight like Batman, we help them unlock a part of themselves that is now allowed to hurt people, and that is huge.

This might sound like a terrible thing to say to a little kid, but I disagree, even if I am slightly uncomfortable with the idea of a child engaging in violence on such a level.  I would be doing a much greater disservice to him, and myself, if I had instructed him to punch them in the nose and let that end the fight.  That was the advice my parents gave me, and although well intentioned, it was not the best advice.  Fights rarely stop after one hit, and especially fights against multiple opponents. 

Therefore, I subscribe to what I call the Ender Strategy, from "Ender's Game", by Orson Scott Card.  In the book, Ender is a much smaller child and is confronted by at least three bullies, led by a larger ringleader.  He takes the only real option available to him, and attacks the leader, who is also the largest, with an all-out offense, not stopping until the other child is incapable of moving, let alone counterattacking.  I'm not subscribing to the idea that we teach children to kick their attacker while curled up in the fetal position...but at the same time there may be a time and a place for that, unfortunately, and it is important to remember that all self-defense situations are situational.

When I tell someone keep hitting until the fight is over, they will get it into their mind that the fight is over when they are no longer threatened, and not after they have landed their first punch.  This is also why I tell students after their initial attack, follow up with a minimum of three strikes, be they punches or kicks.  Even if the first attack puts the attacker on the ground, always follow up! 

Additionally, I had this child do punches and kicks while his sister assisted by holding him in a bear hug.  This is an important concept, especially when facing multiple opponents.  Again, just because someone has a hold of you from behind, does not mean the fight is over.

Batman doesn't stop until the fight is over, neither should you, anyone you train, or any children who are being bullied.

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