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Childhood's end?

Many children are the victims of bullying whilst at school. As adults we assume that the bullying is over as soon as we leave school and commence work. Sadly, this is not the case at all.
Bullying occurs in many forms and in many situations.

What is bullying?

Bullying occurs when one person takes it upon themselves to victimise another. Typically bullying involves persistent, threatening, abusive, malicious, intimidating and insulting behaviour.
Bullying is intended to undermine the confidence and self-esteem of the recipient.
Particularly serious cases can arise when the bully is perceived to be in a position of power in relation to the person being bullied.


Harassment is a common form of bullying. It can involve:

  1. Any unwanted persistent sexual advances (physical or verbal)

  2. Racist, sexist, homophobic, insulting remarks, jokes, malicious gossip, banter, innuendo, swearing, name calling

  3. Being excluded from activities

  4. Abuse of power or position

  5. Manipulative questioning: damned if you do/damned if you don't

The effect of bullying

Bullying makes the recipient feel threatened, humiliated and vulnerable. It may cause them to be de-motivated, suffer stress related illness and even resign from work.
The victim feels disempowered, frustrated and helpless. Often they do not know who to turn to.

Adult bullying

Adult bullying can take many forms:

  1. Verbal, written or physical threat and intimidation

  2. Persistent, negative and unjustified comments

  3. Offensive or abusive personal remarks

  4. Abuse and humiliation in the presence of other colleagues or in private

  5. Removing areas of responsibility without justification and undervaluing work done

  6. Setting the individual unachievable targets and/or changing instructions without consultation in order to cause the individual to fail

  7. Reducing a colleagues effectiveness by withholding important information

  8. Monitoring work unnecessarily and intrusively

  9. Continually refusing reasonable requests without any justification

  10. Unfair allocation of work

Relationship bullies

Families are notoriously guilty of bullying. They employ a wide variety of devices intended to manipulate the recipient and often involve other family members in the endeavour.
In a marriage/intimate relationship it is very common for the bullying to be an ingrained part of the relationship. The bullying is so pervasive that the participants no longer see it as such.
They live in a situation of ongoing low-key domestic abuse.

Passive bullying

A passive bully is a very sneaky kind of bully. They manipulate the recipient by non-confrontational means: feigned vulnerability, emotional displays and mood swings.
Sex can be used as a tool by such people. Casual flirtation and pretending to be your friend are common methods of passive bullying.
Passive bullies are especially insidious because they project an image of weakness and frailty. They appear to be the victim but are actually the instigator.
A passive bully will make you feel as though you are letting them down or even letting yourself down. They are experts at looking harassed, upset and victimised. Do not fall for it.

Martial arts classes

Martial arts classes should be beyond bullying but some are not. You should expect an environment that will not permit bullying.
Anger, aggression, abuse and 'the strong victimising the weak' should not occur. Students of the martial arts should know better than to bully anyone.
Combat is potentially dangerous, so a mood of friendship and mutual respect must be fostered. When you trust your practice partner and know their motives to be pure, you can relax and have fun.

Virtue/power is not an active process that imposes but a passive one that permits.

(Ray Grigg)

Character building?

Some exercises and drills in martial arts classes may appear to represent subtle forms of bullying. It is important for all students to understand that anything they undertake is voluntary.
They should feel quite comfortable backing out if they are unhappy. No pressure should be applied. The term 'character building' has been used for decades as a means of legitimising systemic bullying.


Many martial arts exercises are designed to subdue the ego and help you to let go of the 'self'. This is to be expected. Your instructor may seem direct to the point of being blunt.
Ask yourself: are they helping you? What is their motive? Zen encourages a person to speak without preamble, to lose the 'chattering monkey' of the conscious mind and simply speak.
Do not mistake this for bullying.

Confidence building

Our classes teach the individual to think for themselves and to look at their lives. You must question preconceptions and received knowledge.
We encourage you not to blindly give someone authority over you, and not to be afraid of saying "No".

Class bullies

We do not permit bullies in our classes.
Students are chastened for careless application of the material and any outright bullying will result in an appropriate punishment and potentially banishment from the class.
Bullies are weak people and we only want students of good character.

No conflict

Rather than confront bullies in daily life, we choose to ignore them. If the bully pushes things to a physical level, we apply the material. Until that point, they are unimportant.
A bully only has power over you if you give it to them. When somebody gives you abuse, ignore it. Treat them as though you were already friends. This in itself will throw people off-kilter.
You are not adopting your role as 'victim' nor are you fighting back. You have chosen another path.

No fighting

No matter what the bully says, do not give them anything to work with. Act as though their words were amusing. When you see a bully for what they really are, you may well come to find them amusing.
A bully is a weak, insecure person, desperate to feel strong about themselves. Instead of looking for strength within, they lash out at others and rely upon
fear for power.
When you give them humour and pity rather than fear, the bully has no teeth.

Nothing to prove

If a bully were genuinely strong, they would have nothing to prove. They need you. Dealing with a
bully is never easy, but a wily person can evade a bully with ease.
It gets simpler the more times you do it. Saying "No" is fundamental.

Wu wei & te

In our classes we offer scenarios that train you to cope with group attacks. You are deliberately disempowered and required to make a come-back.
Composure and detachment are necessary.
As your capacity to deal with adversity increases, we challenge you further. Soon you become indifferent to bullies. Wu wei advocates following the incoming force and using it to your advantage.
Te is concerned with the power you can employ through the practice of wu wei. Nothing is forced. Things are allowed to unfold. This is far more skilful than it perhaps sounds.
The same principles can be applied when dealing with a bully.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 04 May 2023