No Belts For No Bullying.
This guest post graciously submitted by Shihan Michelle Gay
Today, on our first belt ceremony day, no new belts were given out at the dojo.
Instead an impromptu protest was staged and we have declared our dojo to be a “bully free zone”. And we mean it.
After a rash of dressing room events over the last few months– from the mysterious disappearance of a cherished Pokémon card collection, to a favored clothing item being stashed behind the sink for a whole week, to the slightly more sinister “show me your naked body or I won’t be your friend”, it seemed like our dojo was fast becoming a hot bed of young people forcing rather than empowering each other.
It was also, after a week of promotion classes, time for new belts, new promises and new beginnings. I was in a quandary. How can we start fresh on the mat while these issues are ongoing in the background?
So on Monday, forty 7-10 yr old children came to class expecting to receive their new belts and make new promises for the next 3 months. We lined up on the mat in order of rank – highest to the lowest, left to right respectively. Then we kneeled for our brief meditation and, after that, I had everyone sit cross-legged – signal for Shihan talk time — I asked:
“Is it okay that we practice respecting one another on the mat, while in the dressing room and the school yard we bully each other?” They all just stared at me. I continued.
“How many of you have either been bullied by someone, bullied someone or stood by while others were bullied? “
Every hand went up. I continued.
“What was that like? How did it make you feel?”
Their answers were straight and heartbreaking: “angry”, “afraid”, “frustrated”, “helpless”, “sad”, “guilty”.
“What is the impact or effect of bullying on the world?
They replied “I’m not safe”, “war” and “some people get bullied so much that one day they commit suicide”.
Wow. There is an impact and these kids get it. People get hurt and nobody feels safe.
“So, what are we going to do about it?” Silence. “Do you know what it is to protest against something?” A few hands went up. An 8 year old said, “They are protesting in Greece against higher taxes” he actually said it more articulately, but you get the picture. Someone else said “Occupy Wall Street”, another child said, “they are protesting in Israel against some people not having houses, they are living in tents”. I asked “Do you think that we could view not getting belts today as a protest against bullying? Silence. I looked from face to face and I could see that they were struggling with their desire for a shiny new belt and what it would be to wait – and weighing all that against whether or not it was fair. Slowly, one-by-one their hands went up. One child had big tears rolling down his cheeks as he raised his hand.
I acknowledged them for their generosity, their leadership and for being willing to put aside their personal feelings for something bigger. Then I said that sometimes when you get bullied, or someone bullies you or you see someone get bullied and you do nothing, you can have those feelings of anger, frustration, embarrassment and fear and they don’t go away easily – they kind of stick on you. I asked them to promise that if they had any of those feelings stuck on them that they tell someone. They could tell me, or the Senseis, they could tell their teachers, their parents or their friends. They all agreed that they would.
We then went on to our usual class. We punched and kicked and yelled our hearts out.
At the end of class I yelled “Line up” and the kids ran to be the first in line for their rank. Since we line up in rank order there are always 5 or 6 yellow belts in the middle of the line someone and , naturally, someone will be the first yellow belt and someone will be last. The child who was last raised his hand and said “ I am being bullied.” “What?” I replied. “How?” He said: When we all run to the line, whoever is the last – everyone else makes a “Nah! Nah! Your-last” face. Sheesh. Right there, on the mat while I am standing there, and I don’t see it. “Okay. I got it. It sounds like we need a system for lining up” “yes!” said another. ”We could take turns!” “Okay. That is what we will do from now on. We will take turns. Are you all willing to take turns? They responded with a loud “OSU!” (what we say in karate to show respect) and nodded their heads vigorously.
Now, that is what empowerment looks like on the mat.