I had thought I was weak. In my mind I had seen myself as a victim. This moment transformed me from victim to victor. It was an awe-inspiring feeling.

I remember the day that changed my life forever. I was running, and I knew he was right behind me and would catch me. I felt like an animal being hunted. I couldn’t run faster. I was scared and out of breath. He had one thing in mind: to get me–again!

I felt Vinnie’s heavy breath on my back, and then he pulled me down to the ground. My instincts were to try to protect myself and not to fight back, which would only make him angry. Then he might really hurt me, as his brother had when he knocked out my front teeth with a rock the year before. The time before that, Vinnie purposely ran into me with his bike; I ended up in the hospital with a severe head injury.

Now he was pinning me down with his knees on my chest and punching my face, which I tried to cover up with my hands. All of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain in my back, as if I had fallen on a hot needle. I jumped up, yelling in agony. A bee had stung me! I stood there for a moment in shock, trying to reach the wounded area with my hand. Then I realized that Vinnie, the bully who had tormented me throughout elementary school, was not beating me up. In fact, he lay stunned on his back, where I had thrown him when I jumped up.

I looked down at him and felt a sudden surge of power. I realized at that moment that I was strong. I understood that I had let this person beat me up because I had thought I was weak. In my mind I had seen myself as a victim. This moment transformed me from victim to victor. It was an awe-inspiring feeling.

Vinnie must have seen that feeling on my face, for his eyes were now wide with fear. He crawled away from me, then got to his feet and, still facing me, moved cautiously down the street. Without a word, he left me standing alone in the yard where only minutes ago he had been beating me up.

After that incident Vinnie still called me names, but only from afar. And he never came close to me again.

When I was growing up outside New York City in the 1940s and 1950s, there was no place where I could have learned how to cope with bullies. But what if somehow I’d been taught physical self-defense? What would the scene have been like? I can imagine it now. I see the bully coming toward me. Do I assume the victim’s mentality of always losing? Do I feel trapped? Probably. But the confidence I would have gained from learning physical self-defense might have allowed me to keep my cool; I could have stood my ground and defended myself.

Certainly we need to teach our children how to protect themselves. More importantly, however, we need to teach them skills that will help them resolve a conflict peacefully before it gets to the physical level. When parents ask me what they can do to help their children cope with bullying, I tell them about the “3Ps.”

  1. Prevent: Understand the causes of conflict and know how to avoid it.
  2. Prepare: Learn self-defense verbal skills through role-playing to resolve conflict.
  3. Protect: Learn to protect yourself so that you have the confidence not to fight.

I do not advocate the use of violence as a means to deal with bullies. I advocate a complete education that combines learning to protect yourself with the ability to recognize and prevent a physical confrontation. Learning how to physically defend themselves gives young people the confidence to avoid reacting in a “fight or flight” manner when they are faced with aggression; they have the presence of mind to avoid and resolve conflict nonphysically. This integration of brain and brawn is a more balanced power.