Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bullying isn't just for kids

Bullying. How does bullying make it's way onto a martial arts and fitness blog? Why?

Bullying is a lot more prevalent then we think. We often think it's just something that happens on the school playground, or in the locker room. The big guy picks on the smaller weaker guy. That's how life is, we're told. That's why many kids join Martial Arts to begin with. I don't want to be picked on anymore. I want to defend myself.

I don't want to cover playground bullying, or even whether kids who learn martial arts should really use that to defend themselves and to 'show the bully whatfor'. That's a whole 'nother can of worms I'm not even remotely prepared to deal with right now.

Bullying does not stop when you graduate high school. Adults bully each other all the time. I think adults are sneakier about it though. Adults use different tactics than just straight up name calling and pushing the other person into the mud, or dumping them in a trash can, or stuffing them in a locker.

Physical bullying still exists in the adult realm, but I think most adults tend to shift towards more emotional and metal bullying. Guilt tripping for example. I would define bullying as using negative words and/or actions to attempt to illicit a certain specific emotional or physical response from someone else (I.E. to control them).

I'll be totally honest. I have family members that do this. It's HORRIBLE. One very common label for this type of behavior is 'co-dependency'. Mental Health of America defines it as "It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive." They say it is common in families with drug and alcohol addiction, but this certainly doesn't always have to be the case. Mainly, what it boils down to, is you are dealing with people who will use their anger, bad attitudes, tempers, emotions, guilt trips, etc. to try to control you and get you to behave a certain way. This can happen in the work place, in relationships, in families, etc.

I definitely don't want to go into diagnosis of this, and not everyone who gets angry is a co-dependent person. I'm only using this as one example, because I think a lot of adults, especially in today's society of instant gratification and narcissism, exhibit at one time or another at least one of the signs or behaviors that would be classified as co-dependent. In my opinion: anyone who treats you like crap to get something from you or to make themselves feel better is a bully, no matter how they do it.

This is an especially important issue to me right now because I am in a situation where I have to deal with people who behave irrationally and who use their explosive anger and bad attitude to bully others into doing what they want or into getting their way. People are often afraid to stand up to the bully because they feel ramifications of doing so far outweigh just being quiet, giving in, and letting them have their way. It might be a close friend or loved one, which makes it even harder to deal with. Especially when the bully is such a bully that having a rational conversation or a calm discussion is out of the question.

How do we deal with that? What is the best way to handle people in our lives who behave like this?

While this a martial arts blog and sometimes we feel the best and most satisfying way would be to give them a good swift punch in the mouth, this is unfortunately illegal and probably not the best use of our martial skills, no matter how desperately we want to believe otherwise.

Instead, we must learn a 'Kung Fu of the Mind and Mouth' as it were. If you cannot remove the person from your life (because sometimes that is the healthiest thing), then you need to learn to deal with them.

[Also, just a quick disclaimer, I'm OBVIOUSLY not a counselor or psychologist, so please don't take this as gospel. This is just what I have seen and learned and experienced in my own life.]

First, and this can be very, VERY hard depending on your personality type, don't let them control your emotions. Don't let them guilt trip you or belittle you or yell at you. They will try. A large part of their identity revolves around making you feel a certain way. They will not give that up easily. You can either remove yourself from the situation immediately, or wait until they are finished and then tell them you will come back when they are willing to treat you with decency. Then follow through on that. I know this sounds incredibly crass, but it can be like training a dog. Your presence and attention is a reward, it's what they want. So when they do something hurtful, you take the reward away. You remove yourself from the equation. When you remove yourself every time the bad behavior is presented, they will (hopefully) pick up on that and begin to realize that by trying to use their angry outbursts or guilt trips to control you, they are only succeeding in making you go away. If they want you to be around, they need to stop. Most importantly, DON'T OWN THEIR BEHAVIOR! Their guilt trip is NOT YOUR FAULT. The only person you have control over is you, and their emotional happiness is not, and should not, be dependent on YOU, no matter how much they want to convince you otherwise.

This can take some serious courage and can be very difficult. But once you have the right mind set and can follow through you now have strong Kung Fu of the Mind.

Since I was a kid I believed having strong Kung Fu of Mouth was a matter of being able to come up with a witty come back fast enough, or have a large enough repertoire of names and insults so that you didn't run out before you opponent did. My dad is a master at this type of word war, so naturally I thought that was how it had to be done. Since I did not feel smart enough to have good come backs nor was I sure enough of the depth of my bad name dictionary, I very rarely, if even, engaged in 'Verbal Kung Fu'. I only very recently discovered the real and best way to be strong in Verbal Kung Fu to be true.

I was talking with a close friend over the weekend and the discussion of how to handle this type of bullying behavior came up.

He said "Don't sink to their level or play their game. You never explain or argue."

"Why?" I asked, "Because you can end up explaining yourself into a corner or perpetuating the argument?" I now realize I was thinking like a fighter, wanting to play the game; not like a warrior who wants to end the conflict.

"You never explain yourself to an inferior. In human social dominance, superiors do not explain themselves. You only argue with equals." This is sort of a part of the mental Kung Fu in my opinion. Prepping yourself with the proper mindset to handle a confrontation. It goes back to the body language and being able to fight an opponent with out even touching them, which Mr. Wilder covered at his most recent seminar. (See... the dots are coming together.) "If you start explaining yourself, you're automatically acting like the junior or less confident person." He went on to explain, "If you have to say anything, say the truth."

It kind of dawned on me at that moment, it's not about witty come backs or name calling. All you need to do is recognize the truth, and if necessary, say it. The truth can hurt more than anything in the world, especially if it is contrary to people's self image which they have built for themselves. (Miller talks about this in Meditations on Violence.)

Our discussion probably seems a little bit cold and even heartless. However, at a certain point, you may have to put on a different mind set to get you through. (Miller also talks about this. I think he refers to it as 'plastic mind', being able to change your mind set in order to survive a conflict.) Someone who treats other's badly to make themselves feel better is NOT a superior person.

The other thing you can do is try to steer the conversation. I had one family member who was very negative about my move to Oklahoma. Every time I talked to this family member I tried to keep control of the conversation, I was positive and I talked about only the good things that were going on in my life. It took some time—several months—but eventually, they got over it and quit trying to make me feel bad for making the decision I made.

There is a tremendous amount of body language and controlling other people with your actions, something as simple as where you stand when you talk to them, or how fast you answer a text message, that I don't understand. Probably because I just don't think about it. I'm not even really sure I want to understand it, the whole subject kind of makes me uncomfortable.

I think knowing your personality type can help you understand your behavior patterns a lot. I may do an article about that in the future. I'm an introvert who tends to avoid public situations and people in general. Nick says a lot of how I experience the world goes on in my head. I generally don't interact with people if I can help it, and so I don't people watch. Those few people who I am comfortable enough to be myself around I trust so implicitly I don't spend a lot (or any) time thinking about my body language or behavior. I have picked up on the fact that when I am in a new place or around new people my body language is very closed off and guarded. Generally though I don't pay much attention to it, or how other people's body language effects me. But I know there is a wealth of secret knowledge regarding all of this unspoken communication between people. (and, dare I say... an arsenal of weapons in knowing how to manipulate that.) It may be worth looking into.

I'm getting off topic, which means I probably need to wrap up before my train of thought meanders too far off course.

The point is, and Wilder covered this at the seminar too, to do everything you can to tip the scales in your favor. Read the story of Miyamoto Musashi vs. Sasaki Kojiro. Musashi showed up late, with the sun to his back, refused to let Kojiro's taunting affect him, possibly even goaded him into it, and then when Kojiro was so mad he just rushed into battle Musashi killed him with a boat oar he crafted into a Bokken so he would have a weapon with a longer reach. He did everything he could to tip the scales in his favor.

We have to do the same thing. We cannot fight bullies on their terms. We have to fight them on ours, and we have to do it in a way that is smarter and safer. We need to understand how (and sometimes why) bullies are being bullies and then craft our weapons to have just a bit longer reach, face them with the sun to our backs, and don't let their emotional abuse get to you. Fight like a Samurai and may your mental and verbal Kung Fu be strong.


  1. Thank you for sharing. Have you ever considered giving out martial arts patches? They help students show their pride!

  2. Took a lot of courage to share this...I love you Tiffani. So proud of the woman you have become! From a very early age, you have been a champion for those who didn't have a voice...

  3. Excelente post amigo, muchas gracias por compartirlo, da gusto visitar tu Blog.
    Te invito al mio, seguro que te gustarĂ¡:

    Un gran saludo, Oz.

  4. Thank you for sharing that. Bullying is such an epidemic in our society today, much of it in the workplace.

    1. I agree. If you're interested in this subject I recommend spending some time on Marc MacYoung's website. He has a few articles that look into why our society is swinging this way and why this kind of behavior happens. His website is

    2. Actually, here is the link to the exact article I was thinking of. This deals a little more with being bullied by people who are unfamiliar with you instead of those close to you. However the explanation of the psychology behind the behavior and how you should respond is very good.

  5. Right, our respond to bullying must be smarter and safer=)

    As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent".

    Martial Arts Brisbane