Kids with Quaker parents suffer all sorts of small embarrassments. Their parents wear political tee shirts … everywhere. Their box lunches are full of organic, vegetarian food that no one wants to trade for in the cafeteria. When Quaker kids get together, they roll their eyes and make jokes about their urban farms, eating granola their whole lives, and when they first attended a peace rally. But at school, these kids live in the real world, and they have to face the culture of violence there. To thrive, they need more than words; being bullied is more than just embarrassing. It was my challenge to help my sons grow up as confident, nonviolent young men in a violent world.
Violence in schools for my boys took many forms. Pushing and shoving on the play ground, bullying in the classroom and hallways, and actual fist fights. These were considered normal events by the school, and none of them required more than a meeting after school. My strong views about nonviolence were not shared by the schools, and I was the only adult that thought there was anything wrong. My insistence that the status quo wasn’t good enough was becoming a big embarrassment for my kids.
One of my sons really suffered from bullying and was worn down by it. He tired of being jumped on the playground and having to protect himself in fights. He was stronger and smarter than most, but he had no interest in fighting about it. His teacher at the time was supportive, but the culture was not going to change, at least not soon enough.
My son decided he wanted to move to another school system after elementary school, and he did. New friends, new school and much less bullying, he was growing happier every day. I had learned about aikido from a colleague who taught it as a nonviolent martial art; I asked my son if he wanted to look into it. It was a good match. For four years on Saturday mornings, we traveled to the aikido dojo where he learned and excelled at using his strength and growing height to redirect other people’s energy so as not to hurt them and to protect himself. He advanced into the adult classes and was nurtured there. He grew confident and centered.
And then he went to high school. He seemed to get on well in the large, urban, school of about 2,000 students. His studies progressed, he played sports, and he took up theater. It wasn’t until he was a junior that I learned he used his aikido several times a week in physical challenges that happened in the halls.
“How often does that happen?” I asked incredulously.
“Several times a week, Mom. I am one of the smart kids and I look skinny, so they try to intimidate me. It happens all the time.”
That afternoon, I learned that the bullies hadn’t gone away, but my son is not intimidated by them and had found a way of being that is confident and nonviolent. The violence in his school and in his world is not going away either, but he isn’t cowed by it or contributing to it. Aikido gave him skills and an attitude to handle the everyday violence of being a young man, and although it was my idea to begin with, I had no idea how much he would need it. He wasn’t embarrassed to show me how he handled himself, and I didn’t embarrass him by making a scene. He has learned how to be a nonviolent young man in a violent world. I couldn’t be more happy for him.
photo by Molly Wingate