Bullying and Harassment Prevention Tips

Two weeks ago, I asked Martial Development readers to share their bullying and harassment stories. Here are the responses:

Of Brick Walls and Petty Tyrants by Karen Shanley
How I helped my daughter deal with a difficult teacher.

How to Deal with an Office Bully by The Career Counselor
…I really need to keep this job but I’m dreading going to work everyday because she is so mean. What should I do?

Stop Bullying Now! by Stacey Schifferdecker
Little boys chasing little girls on the playground. Middle-school girls making fun of another girl who just got braces. A teenager accidentally knocking another boy into his locker—every day. Are these incidents bullying or not? Where is the line between teasing and bullying?

Surviving (Tolerating, Accepting, and Eluding) Negative People, Places, and Situations by David B. Bohl
Negative people, places, and situations can have a detrimental effect on your life. Similarly to seemingly insurmountable workplace obstacles and situations, in the form of people and situations, there are no instant fixes for these sorts of problems in our private lives, either – but WE CAN fix them.

Who Let the Dogs Out by Female Therapy
I had a friend who was a serial bully. She was devious and manipulative and would intentionally seek the emotionally needy to work her magic on. She had a split personality that fooled even the most intelligent…

Assertiveness Training by TherapyDoc
Most of the time, if you’re assertive and not aggressive you’ll get what you want.

Bully for You by Monkeyboy Jack
I was bullied in school, as short, scrawny geeks tend to be.

I’ve volunteered a few more martial arts-related entries below:

The Application Of Traditional Martial Arts Practice And Theory To The Treatment Of Violent Adolescents by Stuart W. Twemlow and Frank C. Sacco
Adults are often skeptical about the use of martial arts as a therapeutic tool. The fear is that teaching “fighting” will increase violence. Also, it may be difficult for them to envision a sports instructor in the role of therapist. However, martial arts can be organized to provide desirable social outcomes, such as decreased conflict at home, increased academic achievement, and reductions in violent behavior.

Bullies by John Vesia, Martial Views
Underneath the veneer of bravado and arrogance that the bully exhibits lies fear. Fear of being stood-up to. Fear of being found out that (s)he is actually a coward.

Martial Arts: The Number One Way to Combat Bullying by Robert L. Jones
Often time, bullies don’t know how to manage their anger so they take it out on people they deem weaker than themselves. Many times, bullies are being, or have been, bullied at some point in their lives as well. Martial arts help solve these problems.

Bullying Forges Karate Champion, BBC News
A schoolboy who turned to karate in order to defend himself against bullies has won two gold medals in the world championships.

Thank you all for your participation. Feel free to add your own advice, experience or opinion in a comment below.


  1. I’ll start things off by sharing some of my own bullying experiences.

    • In junior high school. On a school playground, I was approached by two strangers my own age. For reasons unknown, one of them punched me in the jaw. I stood there, looking him in the eye, thinking “OK, what’s next?” They both ran away. Ten minutes later, they returned to the schoolyard and apologized. The puncher expressed a hope that we could still be friends.
    • In high school. The class bully insulted me regularly, and I ignored him as many (misguided?) adults would recommend. Eventually, he graduated to physical abuse, sneaking up behind me and pouring a cup of ice down the back of my shirt. Fed up, I rose from my seat and approached him, with the intent of soundly kicking his ass. He threw a chair; I continued to advance. I chased him out of the school building. He never picked on me again.
    • At work. A supervisor became extremely angry at a decision I made, imagining that I had undermined his authority. His face was red, and his body was shaking as he yelled at me. I calmly explained the basis of my decision, and stated firmly that his anger was unjustified. After a few more failed attempts to engage me, he calmed down.
    • At the park. Early in the morning, I was practicing Tai Chi alone, when two unaccompanied dogs ran up to me from outside the park. Four feet away, they bared their teeth and growled at me; I crouched over and growled back. We reached an understanding.

    Rory at Chiron Training said that “de-escalation…is a skill, not an answer” and FWIW I agree.

    Marc MacYoung’s explanation of the difference between fighting and self-defense is also relevant.

  2. I am 47 years old and have been a martial artist and a humanist for the majority of my life. I have had a number of encounters with bullies. In each situation, they were one time encounters that ended badly for the aggressive person. More or less typical bully situations. However, I have recently encountered a variation on that theme that I would like to share and see what responses develop.

    For over a year I have been going to a certain bay to swim. Every day I go in the morning, alone, and sit on the waters edge to wait for the sun to strike the water before gearing up and swimming out to sea.

    For most of that year a certain individual has been coming there also. I instinctively sensed that he was troubled and possibly violent and resolved to avoid him. He is a large and physically intimidating man.

    Since the bay I swim in is a tourist mecca and there are dolphins and such, there are many people who are only around for a week or so and are unfamiliar with safe entry points to the water, etc. All of us local folk make it a point to be helpful when we see a need for it. We help them interact with the dolphins without encroaching, we help them find safe ways in and out of the rocky shore, etc.

    I noticed this fellow being very aggressive in his “help”, ordering people around, getting terribly impatient and rude. This all increased my determination to steer clear of his influence.

    One day some friends told me that this man was an exconvict, an armed robber, and had been abusing people including threats and physical intimidation for nearly 7 years. That the police had a long record of his transgressions as does the Dept of Land and Natural Resources. Many people are aware of his behavior and many people have been as violated by it as I have.

    One day I was discussing the art of stalking fish with some people when a voice began shouting into our group from some distance away declaring ‘they turn on their echolocation if you come within 20 ft.” I turned around and there was this malcontent sitting about 40ft away and yelling at me. I told him that we weren’t talking about dolphins and turned my back on him to continue my conversation.

    For several weeks I noticed a change in the energy around this guy and he seemed more focused on me than before.
    One early morning I was sitting on my towel, waiting for the sunrise, when this guy walks up and looms over me and declares “You made a mistake, pal”. I looked up and felt that if Iengaged him it would only go badly because he was seeking to exercise control and authority over me and that isn’t acceptable to my way of thinking. I said, “No, I think you have made a mistake and you need to go away and leave me alone.” At this point his dog stepped on my swimming gear and I gently shooed her off (I have a dog of my own and like animals). He jumped to a defensive position and declared that if I touched his dog again he was going to beat my ass. I quickly drew my knife and while sitting on my towel I told him that this wasn’t the third grade and if he tried it I would gut him and that he needed to go away and leave me alone.

    The reaction was immediate and predictable. He yelled and postured while retreating back to his vehicle… pulled out a bat and a knife and proceeded to bluster and pound on his vehicle before getting in it and fuming and staring at me. I didn’t think much of it and figured it was all over.

    Unforntunately, for the last two months, every time I have been down at the water this ape has been trying to confront me to regain the face that he feels that he has lost. I never even look at him but he walks into my space, into my conversations and demands my attention. He threatens to fight me, I tell him fine, go ahead. Then he wants me to go out behind some building. I tell him that if he is so proud of his fighting skills he should be fine with doing it right in front of everyone. He postures, he challenges, he yells, he acts like that gorilla in the American Tourister commercials. He even picked up a huge chunk of lava and ran at me to try to get me to back up and cower. Instead I stepped towards him and prepared to thrash him with my divers weight belt and he had to either hit me with the rock or not – he chose not to at the last minute. I have called him a bully repeatedly and tell him and demonstrate that I am not afraid of him.

    It got so bad at one point that I have stopped going to the water because I didn’t want to end up killing him. I spoke to the police about it and got the impression that they would love to kill him themselves rather than arrest him, they were very familiar with his antics but they wouldn’t accept a complaint and had no interest in assisting me in coping with his nonsense.

    Several days ago I was getting a cup of coffee at my favorite shop and he saw my car, pulled in and started yelling through the entrance “Does this guy work here?” I avoided engaging him at all, even looking at him, while the person behind the counter who was aware of all of this and his issues told him that if he came through the door she was going to call the police.

    So I have been basically left on my own to stand up to this jerk and at 47years I find it a bit nonplussing to say the least that I would have to deal with a playground bully this late in the game. I have made it clear that I will not second guess him and that if he touches me or makes a believer out of me he will end up with a tag on his toe. But the damage is done and I have a hard time getting to the water because of the distraction that this bi-polar, mentally ill man creates. In a sense he has won, because I am no longer swimming and doing what I love to do.

    Is what I love to do worth fighting for or is it better to be somewhere else and find some other life and let this guy continue to abuse people? I really may have to cut him down, he tried to run me off the road with his truck the other day. I have told the police but they are reticent to do anything even though they are well aware of his bs. Apparently he even pulled this crap on an offduty police officer. Others have tried to get restraining orders and have failed. Does anyone have a suggestion? I am not afraid of this guy in any physical sense but I am afraid of the crap that will come from the legal side if I have to fight him- seeking your counsel.

  3. Stratagem #3: Kill with a Borrowed Knife (借刀殺人)
    A violent lunatic is harassing tourists, and threatening the local economy. Have the mayor and city council been informed? Maybe they can encourage the police to do their job.

    Stratagem #17: Trade a Brick for a Jade Gem (拋磚引玉)
    Apologize for your rudeness, and enjoy a peaceful time at the beach.

    Stratagem #30: Host and Guest Swap Roles (反客為主)
    (This is dangerous, and I choose not to explain it fully here.)

    Of the Thirty-Six Strategies, fleeing is best!

  4. Thanks Chris,
    It might be a good idea to go to the tourist board or chamber of commerce. Here in Hawaii there is a surprising lack of modern infrastructure in the sense that the Big Island is rather rural and comparitively undeveloped. Nepotism and incompetence dominate officialdom, be it law enforcement or politics or business. There may be a pressure point in that strategy though.

    Your second suggestion is well taken and I have tried it. I accept that the highest form of engagement is to seek peace. He is not reachable by sincerity. In his mind he has no reason to fear me because of his size and his psuedo-confidence and so he has no reason to want peace with me, he doesn’t think he has anything to lose by continuing with his juvenile behavior. He is really insecure as hell or he wouldn’t behave like this. He is like a little kid – gives little kids a bad name, actually. I think I tried being human and just asking him to forget about it so we can share the space without grief on the third round when it seemed like he wasn’t going to just let it go. He went berserk because he saw me as weak and thought that he could press his aggression. Again I simply told him that if he made a believer out of me he would go to jail via the hospital and that if he couldn’t make peace with me then he had better stay away. Of course, he doesn’t.

    He has continued to threaten me with all kinds of violence and death and has assaulted me verbally and physically, and battered me by lunging at me and making me take a defensive attitude. In each situation I held my ground and showed restraint as I was taught that this is a good practice. Yet, I have spoken with a number of people that he has been very aggressive towards. All of them are physically unintimidating people. Some are old. Part of me finds this outrageous and feels the need to protect them. Maybe I need to think about that some more.

    I understand exactly what is implied with the third suggestion and the danger extends to witnesses and police who take each individual encounter in its own context. They don’t know the history and if the matter resulted in injury, I might face liability.

    The fourth suggestion is good, also. I only moved to Hawaii to swim in this place. Its deep and there are no currents and most everything that swims in Hawaiian waters comes here. So the fourth choice would pretty much be a decision to move back to the mainland as I am only here to train and if I can’t do that I can go back and work.

    There are higher laws at work, I understand. He may be setting himself for a major accident – he runs a tree trimming service. He is certainly building some karmic debt.

    A friend of mine asked me recently, “What is it about him that you don’t like about yourself?” A clever question and I have given it some thought. I do not like bullies. My brother was mentally handicapped and I went through a ton of crap around it while growing up in a rural place. I had to protect him, put up with all kinds of abuse and found myself in dustups rather often.

    On top of that my dad would humiliate me constantly, especially when I got into fights and had multiple attackers beating on me. If he thought I was showing fear or weakness, and he always did, he would slap me around at home afterwards.

    All of this drove me straight into the martial arts and it didn’t take long as I was already a high level competitive swimmer to acquire a fairly effective skill set. In fact, my dad started worrying about liability if I hurt anyone. Even had a psychologist friend try to counsel me. Of course that was in between his ridiculing me and behaving like a red neck horses ass for being interested in the martial arts to begin with and telling me that karate and kicking was ‘sissy” fighting.

    So when I see a bully today I have a lot of extra baggage boil up.

    I have put down several of them and consider bullies “easy” compared to men my own size. Bully types are big, not too bright, vastly overconfident and quite easy to set up for a solid smash in the face. I dropped one arrogant SOB after I ended up with his car keys at a BBQ. I was really focused on him for his arrogant abuse of his wife, kids, the host and myself when I asked him to be reasonable and kind to his family and the rest of us. So, when I told him I had his keys, I dropped them on the ground at his feet to set him up, he shoved me against the wall and smiled as he bent down to pick them up and that is when I hit him with a left roundhouse kick on the bridge of the nose. Flattened his nose level with his eyes and put him in a neck brace for quite awhile. He had been abusing people for a long time and it seemed to me that he had it coming. He also thought that the rumors around my karate skills were nonsense…

    So my blood pressure goes up and I get confronted by my own issues when I see a bully in action. And when one focuses on me, I get downright giddy in a creepy sort of way. So I know that I have some work to do.

    I have tried to just let things cool off and stayed away from the water for awhile but given the stories I have heard from others who deal with him, he doesn’t let up. He has a bunch of people who really hate him and find him terribly disruptive- and who are afraid of him.

    I am thinking about hiring an attorney to document this stuff and find a legal path. I could end up owning his business if he does overstep himself and I can document it.

    I really feel like this is a test and that I am failing it.

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