Facing down a bully

A mother finds herself a bystander as her young son puts into practice what he's been taught.

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    Middle-school students paint an anti-bullying mural in New York.
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A bully took a swing at my 6-year-old last week, and I did something I would never have dreamed possible: I stood still. The biggest leap of faith in my entire life turned out to be not leaping at all, but allowing my son to defend himself as he has been taught.

We stopped at the park for the first time since Quinten began the Gracie Bullyproof program at Norfolk Karate Academy in May. Park aversion happens because Quinten, small for his age and with a slight lisp due to being a late-talker, tends to draw bullies like ants to a picnic. This time he begged me and there was nobody there when we arrived, so I gave in.

Within a few minutes, a nanny arrived with four children, three of them boys around Quinny's age.

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So there Quin was, at the helm of the big play ship, when the boys climbed up and immediately announced, "This is our ship. Get off!" Quin held his ground and so got a swift kick in the shins from the boldest boy. I ran up and told the child that was not allowed. I walked over to the nanny to ask for her intervention and just as I sat down with her, across the length of the park, the fight began.

I do not like fights. I do not buy gun toys for any of my four boys and I am a pacifist, but I am bone tired of hearing "boys will be boys," when my boys are bleeding and crying on the ground time after time. So, as I have written in this publication before, the older boys and I began taking Gracie jiu-jitsu, and Quinny started attending Gracie Bullyproof classes.

As the nanny started to make excuses, I heard the kids calling Quin names. I heard Quin give the programmed Bullyproof responses: "Don't call me that. I don't want to have to fight, but if you are challenging me to a fight I am not afraid of you. Can't we just stop this?" To which the bold one responded, "Well, I do want to fight!"

I jumped to my feet, but nothing happened. Quinny called to me, "He said he wants to fight, but he isn't, so yea!" That's when the other kid took a run at Quin and swung a haymaker punch right at my baby's face.

Every instinct told me to run to Quin and stand between him and danger. Gracie teaching made me hold my breath. It was now or never. If I intervened now, he might never defend himself.

Also, I hesitated because Quin wasn't panicking, turning into a pill bug, yelling for help, or crying. His body language said, "I'm ready."

It played out just like a class session. Quinny put his hands on his head, ducked under the incoming fist, bumped the bully in the chest like a little goat, grabbed him in a tight hug, and, hooking the boy's leg, took him straight down. The other boy thrashed and Quin held him down in "positional control" unscathed and talking all the while, "Can we stop now? This isn't going good for you."

The other two boys retreated. The attacker agreed to stop and Quin let him up and reached out to shake hands. That's when the other kid kicked him right in his boy parts and Mommy started closing the distance and prepared to vault up the slide.

Quin yelled, "Dude! That was not right!" He repeated the whole drill with a surprise change. Quinny was trying to finish with a headlock so swift and terrible I found myself in the unexpected role of rescuing the bully from what was cuing up to be a very intuitive RNC (rear naked choke). They don't teach that in Bullyproof, but Quinny seemed to be figuring out the mechanics fast.

"He lied last time, Mom," Quin said as I unwound him from the other boy. I said, "I know, honey, but he's done for real this time."

As soon as he was loose, the boy shouted, "What the heck was that? What did you just do to me?"

Quin replied in anticlimax, "Math."

Huh? Not Bullyproof, or at least jiu-jitsu?

"I just subtracted you!" Quin said, still angry at being lied to and kicked. "We are done. You are all gonna be the good guys now."

And just like that, it was over. The boys fell into a game of pirates together, Quin included. Quin chose a role just south of Alpha in the pack order, out of habit, but no more bullying took place.

It was a relief for me knowing Quin was not going to fill the vacuum left by the bully. He is still my sweet little boy: my sweet, safe, little boy. It was worth the wait.

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