Systema and Child Bullying

For many children, their biggest fear is not knife-wielding bad guys jumping them in dark alleys; it’s bullies attacking them in unfriendly school hallways.  I’ve been teaching children how to successfully navigate their way to and from classes without being bullied for decades — and my main tool is Systema.

Physical Bullying

Systema is the perfect martial art to teach to children because it gives them the tools to deal with physical bullying humanely.

Overly aggressive Striking Arts leave no room for regulating a child’s response to bullies. Such arts build upon and augment children’s fear rather than dissipate it. Grappling Arts have the right idea about controlling an attacker without hitting him back, but they take things too far when they teach children to apply debilitating joint-locks and to choke another child unconscious, with potentially fatal consequences.

The nature and principles of Systema make it ideal to teach children how to physically defend themselves against bullies, without inflicting permanent injury.  It’s unparalleled in its ability to teach children how to break structure, unbalance and takedown a bully — and continue to control him while he is down. Systema gives children a full spectrum of physical deterrents to bullies, from gentle to more pointed, discouraging responses.

There’s a saying, “if you knock a man down, he wants to get up and fight. If you sit a man down, he wants to know how you did it.” Systema has a unique way of taking away a bully’s will to fight by not hurting him, while sending the clear message that it might be a good idea to cease hostilities.

In addition, many physical bullying incidents aren’t full-out, fist-flying fights.   Bullies push, bump into and trip kids in the hallways, knock them down stairs, “accidentally” knock the books out of their victims’ hands and commit other plausibly deniable offenses that intimidate and terrorize victims with impunity.

Over the years, I have adapted and created various Systema drills to teach my young students and children in my local school system how to defend against the most common forms of physical bullying.  Consider the following two responses to being pushed in the halls:

Scenario #1:  A bully pushes a child into the lockers.  The child bounces off the locker, furious, and retaliates by hitting the bully.  Just then a teacher spots the two and the bullied child, who thinks he is just protecting himself, is punished for fighting.

Scenario #2: A bully pushes the same child, who waves off the push, instantly puts his arm around the bully, looks him straight in the eyes and says, “I wouldn’t do that again if I were you.” The bully stares at him, incredulous, says, “We’re cool,” and walks off.

Imagine the confidence and absence of fear the child in the second scenario possesses.  It’s priceless.  It’s Systema.

Verbal Bullying

Just as powerful as Systema’s solutions to physical bullying are its solutions to psychological bullying.  As Vladimir says, adopting a fighting stance is a manifestation of fear — these stances advertise that you are afraid of the person in front of you and are adopting an aggressive stance to scare him off (to this strategy’s credit, sometimes adopting a fighting stance IS enough to scare a child bully off).

Yet, contrast adopting a fighting stance with standing in front of a bully with good Form — tall, confident and ready for what may come, as we do in Systema.

To further drive the point home: when hardened criminals are interviewed about what kind of person they would pick to attack — based solely on watching them move – these convicts routinely point to people who move with good Form and awareness as “bad targets” whom they would pass by (not attack), in favor of easier prey.  The only difference between these criminals and many Bullies is age and experience.

The aura children project from learning solid posture and relaxed movement repels bullies before things get physical.

Social Bullying

Systema principles also translate to social bullying situations, which are much more common among girl.  The same core strategies for dealing with physical conflict can be applied to psychological and social conflict. For example, what is social exclusion except a Mass Attack to make one’s way through?

Absent a need to defend a position or psychological space, Systema-trained youth don’t present a target for social bullies to attack.  Systema principles teach children and teens to avoid, deflect and disarm verbal barbs just as they would a knife thrust.

Such Psychological Systema is doubly appealing, as schoolteachers and parents alike value non-violent conflict resolution and bully solutions.

Mastering Fear Diminishes Impulsive Bullying

Systema training eliminates the bullying impulses that arise from a child’s fear, lack of self-control and absence of empathetic concern for others. Systema breath-work, relaxation and mind/body training teaches children to identify their fears and dispel them through proper thought and correct action.  Positive emotions resulting from Systema training, such as joy, laughter, empathy and even compassion for bullies stop bullying before it starts.  Systema awareness training teaches children to identify potential threats, and learning to master conflict The Systema Way allows children to find peaceful solutions to interpersonal problems.

The brilliance of Systema is that it teaches children how to put an end to bullying from both sides of conflict. Systema Youth develop the strength to stop bullies, following the principle of least damage, while becoming gentle enough to control their own emotions, impulses and violence within themselves.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing so gentle as real strength.”

–St. Francis De Sales

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