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Overcoming Bullying with Martial Arts

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Growing up as an Asian kid in Aurora, Colorado during the 80’s, was not an easy journey. Even in a great decade that brought us the Rubik’s Cube, Atari, breakdancing and the boom box – there was plenty of bullying and racism encountered by a young Asian kid. Was it racism? Was it bullying? Did it matter? It sucked, is the answer.

Bullies often target kids because of their shyness (check), their different looks (eyes, nose and skin all checked) and their different customs (like the sticky rice I brought to school- check). Needless to say, I was a bully magnet. There was just no way to hide my face and because my family immigrated to America when I was four, we had little money to get the cool clothes (back in middle school, Izod shirts with the little alligators were so cool and you had to have the collar up to be a real prep). Yep, just paint that big bullseye right on my back. Or better yet, put it right on my flat nose.

I heard all the jokes about my eyes. Kids thought they were being funny but inside, I felt it was wrong. Still, I let it go. The jokes were one thing but the physical bullying were where my brother and I drew the line. My brother ended up in a lot more fights than I did. He had a shorter fuse.

He also had a nasty head and arm throw he learned from my uncle (a former member of the Special Forces unit that rhymes with heal). My brother used that move quite a bit, and it worked for him.

For my last fight against a bully, I simply kicked the kid in the family jewels out of self-defense. But lets rewind this, like a Sony Walkman, and see how I developed that skill.

Enter the Dragon

“What was that?” was all I could think when I first experienced a Bruce Lee movie at the age of eight. Here was an Asian dude not taking any crap. Boy, I wanted me some of that. The way he moved, his confidence, his speed and his ferocity- I wanted all of that! He was muscular, he was dangerous and he was Asian; perfect.

After months of begging to let me into a martial arts school (parents said, “no because we don’t have the money to pay for it.”) it turns out my dad was a black belt in Aikido. Aikido? What the hell is that? It didn’t matter, it was martial arts. My brother and I started training on Saturday mornings. We trained at seven in the morning and that was early for an eight year old who wanted to sleep in. My dad’s response, “what if you were attacked in the morning? You need to be ready?” Wise words from the sensei…

I guess. Warm ups, break-falls, wrist locks, throws and meditation were on the menu. But where were my jump kicks, punch combos and the crazy cool kiai’s I witnessed in Enter the Dragon?

Fast forward four years and I finally convinced my mom to take me to a martial arts school called Mile High Karate. It was her idea really; she found a coupon for two free lessons in the newspaper and asked if I was interested. Was I? Hell yeah! After my class, I was in love. Finally, here were the punches and kicks that I was looking for. Back fists, reverse punches and kicks…just like my idol Bruce Lee.

This is it!

Here was a place where I could escape the feeling of being different. The dojo was a place where it was okay to be Asian. In fact, I felt it was kind of cool to be Asian. With martial arts, I built my self-confidence. I think bullies can sniff out low self-esteem and low self-confidence and they often pounce when they smell it. I walked a little taller and looked people in the eye with my new found confidence, and you know what? The bullying diminished.

It did not go away mind you (there was simply no way to hide the fact that I was different), it simply was less frequent.

The confidence was a big boost to my life but bullies often liked to push the envelope. As kids, we are often told to talk to an adult if we are the victims of bullying.

Well, where are the adults when you are walking home from school? Nope, the adults are not always there and then there is also the stigma of being a tattletale, basically a wussy.

What about talking it out? This is something I tried and sometimes it worked but more often than not, it didn’t. How do you rationalize with a juvenile with issues? Sometimes mind games and verbal judo simply wasn’t enough.

There were times when I needed to defend myself physically. Martial arts gave me the skills to protect myself when adult intervention and words failed.

Live Your Best Life Through Martial Arts

Bullies or not, my advice will always be to train martial arts – kids and adults. This will improve your odds of surviving bullies and many other life challenges. What art should you train? Any art will do. Find something close by so that you will continue to train. Find something low cost if money is an issue (there’s garage training and recreation centers).

As long as you are training, your self-confidence and skills will improve (which are both potent bully repellents). Is training a going to stop bullies? No but it certainly helped me!

My hope in writing this article is to one, shed light on the fact that kids get bullied and it is no fun. The more light we can shed on a dark subject, the faster it we can banish it. And two, to let anyone being bullied know that there are solutions and with empowerment through martial arts, life can get better. If this article helps ease the suffering of just one person, my time spent writing will be more than worth it.

About the author:

Dr. Conrad Bui (a former victim of bullies) is the co-founder of Tiga Tactics, a combatives consulting company. As a life-long martial artist, his credentials are as follows: 5th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and American Freestyle Karate, full instructor in Jeet Kune Do, sigung in Ba Gua Zhang Kung Fu, guru tua in Pentjak Silat Serak, sigung in Kuntao Silat de Thouars, guro in Kali, coach in Muay Thai and black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

He has competed in point sparring, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was also a bouncer in college and is currently a certified pistol instructor with the NRA.

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