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Black Belt Magazine Collector's Issue, June 2011

  • Black Belt Magazine Collector's Issue - June 2011
  • Black Belt Magazine Collector's Issue June 2011

Gracies vs. Bullies by Robert W.Young

Was it a sign from the budo spirits or just a coincidence?

Thirty minutes before I interviewed Rener Gracie for this article, I spotted a story online in the March 11, 2011, edition of the British newspaper The Telegraph. It reported that President Barack Obama admitted to having been bullied as a child, mostly because of his big ears and unusual name. Obviously, he was able to resolve it on his own. For those kids-and parents-who need help dealing with the problem, the martial arts community is fortunate to have the Gracie Bullyproof program.

Who founded Gracie Bullyproof?

I named it, and my brother Ryron and I formatted it for at home learn ability, but the Gracie family has been bully proofing men, women, and children for 85 years. We’ve always felt privileged to have been brought up the way we were, and we wanted to give parents the ability to empower their children the Gracie way-from their homes.

When was Bullyproof unveiled?

Whenever we develop a new program, we use it in-house at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy for three to five years before we even think about exporting it online or on DVD. The same thing happened with Gracie Bullyproof. We didn’t release it on DVD until 2010.

What inspired you and your brother to develop it?

We had several incidents in which students were brought to our academy because they were being tormented by bullies. Some were borderline suicidal. We learned about their issues and spoke to their parents and realized we needed to reformat our youth jiu-jitsu program to target this problem.[We wanted] the program to include psychological and verbal [aspects] and rules of engagement, in addition to the physical techniques. Jiu-jitsu is the ultimate empowerment tool; the name means “gentle art” in Japanese, and that’s exactly what it is. It gives people the ability to defend themselves against a physical threat without causing unnecessary harm to the assailant.

When parents would bring their kids to you for help, what did they say they wanted most?

They wanted their kids to learn how to deal with bullies without becoming bullies. That's a fine line. As soon as you start teaching a child punching and kicking as the primary resources for self-defense, when they get pushed to the edge, they respond with punches or kicks. That's fighting fire with fire. we prefer to fight fire with water.

If a punch or kick isn't the best response, what is?

At the root of any child's inability to deal with a bully is the child’s fear for his or her own personal safety. When a child is being harassed day in and day out and is not responding to the tormentor, he or she may have no appetite, be depressed at home, not want to go to school-we’ve seen this many times. They’re holding it in because they feel if they respond-even verbally-it might trigger a violent reaction from the bully. If they knew their assertiveness wouldn’t cause injury to them, they’d respond much more readily.
We give children techniques to use against most [types of] behavior and attacks on the playground. Once they realize behavior and attacks on the playground. Once they realize they have tools they need to physically stay safe, they can implement the verbal strategies we teach to prevent the violence from even starting.

What factors contribute to the making of a playground bully?

Bullies are created, not born. They’re products of their environment. The kids who call other kids “stupid” or “fat” or “ugly” do it because they experienced the same harassment. Bullies are unusually confident-contrary to popular belief. They’re so confident they feel they have the right to impose their will on other people and call them names-they they learned from their relatives or peers.
We don’t teach kids to fight so they can put bullies in their place or beat them up. If a kid tackles a bully and twists him in a knot just because of some verbal harassment he was experiencing, it’s going beyond the call of duty because he wasn’t attacked physically. We teach kids how to defend themselves so they no longer gear for their own personal safety. Often, their confidence and assertiveness will show bullies that they’re not an easy target.

How do you help kids not be an easy target?

We give them the resources to respond to the bully in a verbal way that draws a line. The first rule of engagement is, avoid the fight at all costs. Next is, if physically attacked, defend yourself.
No.3 is, if verbally attacked; follow the three “T” steps: If someone verbally harasses you, talk to him. Express your dissatisfaction:”Stop calling me stupid. I don’t like how that makes me feel. Please leave me alone,” You state the action that’s bothering you, you state how it makes you feel and you state the desired outcome.
The second “T” is the tell the teacher. If the bully persists after you talk to him that means he has no consideration for your feelings. A grown-up should be notified-a teacher, parent or principal.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, what’s the kid supposed to do?

That’s where the third “T” comes in: Tackle him with your words. You have to stand up for yourself:”You’ve called me stupid and fat. If you want to hurt me or fight me, I’m not scared. If you don’t leave me alone. Stop wasting my time.”
Think of the confidence a child who says that a must have. It’s huge. In the past, bullying has happened to us, but it never persisted because our family is very effective at drawing lines. If someone says or does something we’re not happy with, we quickly say, “Here’s the deal: I might not be the best basketball player on the court , but neither are you, and if you’re going to keep making fun of me , do something about it or leave me alone.” We became good at making it so the bully must do something physically or leave us alone.

What if it becomes physical at that point?

When a child has learned the Bully proof physical techniques, if the fight does take place, he can just hold the bully close. It’s based on control. Whether you’re on top or bottom-guard, mount, side mount, clinch-you create a distance at which strikes are not possible. You establish control until help arrives while avoiding his strikes. Or you can achieve the dominate position and negotiate from there:”Are you going to leave me alone from now on?”
Think of the benefits: You haven’t punched him in the face. If you go to the principal’s office afterward, you can say “I didn’t initiate it. He attacked me. During the fight, I wasn’t trying to hurt him at all. I was trying to control him. I just wanted him to stop bugging me.” From the court-defensibility angle, it’s completely different from a situation in which the bully winds up with a black eye and a broken nose.

What physical techniques did you omit from the program to ensure bully proof students won’t be viewed as aggressors?

We don’t teach any strikes or kicks-there no real need because there are so many considerations [regarding school policies] and the law. And at school, it’s rarely life-or-death fight like you might encounter on the street.
We don’t teach chokeholds because they can be misused. If they’re applied for too long, they can kill. There are some joint locks, but they’re taught with rules of engagement for submissions, which state,”Use the minimal force and negotiate.” That means you can’t apply pressure until you talk to the bully. For example, the child catches an arm lock and says, “Do you promise to leave me alone?” If the bully cooperates, the child loosens up. If not, he applies minimal force. When the bully feels some pain, he’ll normally concede.

Does the curriculum include escapes?

Of course. When I say it focuses on control, I’m talking about the final objective. Every fight begins with an attack from the bully: a head lock, a bear hug, a sucker punch, a kick, etc. All attacks are neutralized and escaped from, then you achieve the dominate control position, from which you wait for help or negotiate.

What methods do you use to teach a kid how to respond in such a restrained manner?

Every child begins with the Gracie Games. They’re 10 games that don’t include submissions-it’s purely control, from taking someone down to maintaining the mount to escaping from the bottom to controlling the back mount. They’re designed to be fun and engaging and educational without having the kid realize he’s learning self-defense. Once he’s done with that, he’s ready for the Gracie Junior Combatives program, techniques simplified and modified for use on the playground. It’s a gradual introduction to self-defense.

What percent of your Bullyproof students eventually move into regular jiu-jitsu classes?

One hundred percent. When they’re around 14 or 15 years old, they all go straight into the adult program. And they prosper.

Are the overweight kids more likely to be bullied than average weight kids? If so, does bullyproof help those kids get in shape?

Bullies will target anyone who’s different. When you’re overweight, they’ll target you. Gracie Bullyproof has kids do 15 to 20 minutes of physical activity a day with a parent. While they’re playing Gracie Games and sweating profusely and having a blast, they’re becoming physically fit. The main reason people who don’t work out is they haven’t found something that stimulates their mind and body.[Kids who do Bullyproof] are engaged in the activity, and before they know it, they start shedding pounds.