THE ACE UP YOUR SLEEVE
Updated: Jul 14
When a Bully Attacks!
I remember first learning of the saying, ‘Having an ace up your sleeve’. In a high stakes game of poker, a shrewd player would keep an ‘Ace’ card up his sleeve to use when he was dealt a weak hand. He would only play the hidden ace if it would help him win.
If you’re being subjected to bullying or harassment, how can having an ace up your sleeve help you?
At school, if a student is targeted for verbal teasing, the ace up their sleeve could be having a few short, sharp, verbal counter-attacks that you’ve prepared beforehand, which can stop the bully in their tracks.
But just like the shrewd poker player, they only use their aces when they really need them. For example, if the bullying comments occur within earshot of a teacher, supervisor or boss, the smart move would be to keep your ace for another day, because you’ve already won this round.
Sometimes, a student finds themselves outnumbered and has had to run for their life to avoid being severely hurt by his or her tormentors. The ace up their sleeve could be that they know where a teacher or supervisor is most likely to be at that time of day and they head straight for that place, with the bullies in hot pursuit. They chase you around a corner, only to be confronted by a teacher or supervisor who can clearly see what has been going on and it’s off to detention for your tormentors! Your ace up your sleeve in this case is studying your tormentors’ tactics and advance-planning ways you can overcome them.
After one or two stays in detention, there’s a good chance the bullies won’t try it again. If they do, they might have learned to be a bit smarter in their approach, so you’ll need to stay one or two steps ahead and ensure your sleeve has a few more hidden aces.
Unfortunately, bullying is occurring more and more frequently. The need for a person or gang to prove their physical power over another can often become a weekly or even daily occurrence. The bullies become very good at intimidation and threats. They enjoy inflicting pain on others, safe in the knowledge that their friends will have their back. Sometimes, they’ve learned this behaviour from their friends, other times it’s being taught to them at home, with misguided or downright hostile parents raising their children to be predatory and dominant. Often the people who are bullying you are being bullied themselves, at home.
One thing is certain, after a victim is regularly targeted, their options become increasingly scarce. They may have reported their fellow students once too often, and the teacher or headmaster becomes apathetic. Or they could have this constant belief in their mind, ‘it is wrong to physically fight back’, ‘if you fight you could get in trouble with your teachers,’ and they fear getting reprimanded, suspended or expelled.
What happens then? Negative thoughts can often lead to self-loathing. Instead of hating the perpetrators, who are stronger than you, you turn the hatred upon yourself for not being able to stand up to them. This can start a downward cycle of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, which can negatively affect the victim. This can lead to truancy, alcohol and illegal drug use and other forms of self-harm, which can possibly lead to suicide.
Where is the help when you need it? Your teachers either don’t care that something is wrong, or are too busy putting out other fires to notice that you’re struggling.
If you have loving parents, they would surely want to help you, but you lack the courage to tell them, or when you do, they don’t realise the seriousness of the situation. Worse yet, they may dismiss your concerns, either because you haven’t explained it well enough or because, in their day, bullying was something everyone had to go through, but were ‘made stronger’ by it. They don’t understand that while levels of violence have increased a great deal since they were young; accountability has decreased, making the chances of bullies escaping any kind of punishment much greater.
Think about those news reports you see every night. Someone is innocently walking along the footpath. Suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re sucker punched, perhaps robbed of their wallet, keys and phone, or worse. The only unfortunate thing for muggers in these cases is that they may have been filmed by security cameras, which are becoming more common in our society. With any luck they may be caught, but does that help the victim at the time? No. Of course, they might get a small taste of retribution when they go to court and testify against their attacker, but they are still left with the trauma. Even if the physical wounds heal quickly, the victim of a mugging can potentially carry the inner wounds of the encounter for life. This kind of trauma is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short.
PTSD can trigger a whole spectrum of behaviours in victims, ranging from radical changes in the way they interact with others, to barely noticeable, but deep-reaching changes in behaviour and thought patterns. Perhaps, in an attempt to block out the memories of traumatic event/s, they begin self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Maybe their sleep is interrupted by bad dreams. Perhaps their concentration is affected because of the memory re-playing in their head as they relive the traumatic event/s over and over. It could be that their quality of life is negatively affected because of the constant harmful self-talk that goes on in their head. They keep blaming themselves for being too weak, not smart enough, not quick enough, not popular enough.... and the list goes on.
They may require counselling or need to take prescribed medication. They often live in fear that if it happened once, it could happen again.
This situation is not far from what I experienced at school. In my book, ‘Re-Write The Rules, Turn Your Life Around From Victim To Victorious,’ I tell the story of my experiences being bullied at school. At first, I could count on my teachers to intervene, and stop the bullying, but as I entered my pre-teen years and beyond, it became increasingly difficult to avoid situations where bullying would occur. I felt like I had a big sign on my back that said “Punch me” and I didn’t know what I had done to cause it, nor how to stop it. In the end, around years 9-12, I started taking matters into my own hands and fought back.
One kid nearly had his hair pulled out of his scalp on the bus trip back to our campus after kicking me in the legs. Another had flour thrown in his face after repeatedly pushing me around in front of his friends and demanding “collection money” from me. Did I get everyone back? No. Why? I probably would’ve had to take on almost a quarter of the students in my year alone. Did I get seriously hurt? The physical damage was on the low end of the scale, being knocked about quite a bit, but the psychological damage left long-lasting effects.
Over time, I built up quite a reservoir of spitefulness and this led me to constantly retaliate, seeking retribution from my tormentors. One boy, whom I called “Biff” in my book, shoved me so hard onto my backside on the sports field that I damaged my coccyx (tail bone). He would use moments during class to waltz over to my desk, in front of the other students, and rustle my hair, tip my pens off my desk, call me names, and try to suck me in to take him on in some kind of fist-fight or wrestling contest.
This nearly cost both of us our lives, his physically and mine behind bars. A moment of opportunity seemed to present itself when I had access to my hockey stick in the locker area and his back was turned to me with no one else around. I confess, all I could think about was me standing over his bleeding corpse after the deed was done, and with a sardonic grin, mumbling “Got you, ya bastard!” For a very long time afterwards, my thoughts were completely focused on how I was an idiot for letting him get away. I would still think of this event when I was an adult, and I would still feel exactly the same terror, powerlessness and anger that I had felt when he was bullying me. It took me nearly an hour of life coaching to realise that I was drinking poison whilst he was living a great life!
If you find yourself acting like a spiteful victim and this is not profitable to you, what can you do?
Do you listen to those in authority who tell you to refuse to fight back? Are you afraid of the consequences if you do? How do you measure what is an appropriate, immediate response. And if there are consequences, which of them would you prefer? The one that leaves you a tormented, spiteful victim who may be carrying trauma, for a long time, or one who took immediate, well balanced, legal and physical self-defence just at the right moment?
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, victims of bullying, may I introduce you to Martial Arts, or, in other words, a whole pack full of aces up your sleeve.
Now, I’m not referring strictly to the pure Eastern practices of Kung Fu, Mai Tai, Karate and Tai Chi. If these styles don’t align with your preference, there are western styles of self-defence that will bring about similar results. Truth be told, the world has become a smaller place, and ideas between the cultures of the West and the East have been merging for decades.
When an attack on you is inevitable, when you cannot avoid it, nor have the time or ability to talk the attacker out of it, there’s nothing like a swift step back, a counter block, counter chop, kick or punch followed by a lock or a throw that can knock the wind out of your assailant.
In short, being a well-practiced, knowledgeable self-defence practitioner can drastically lower the chances of you ending up as a victim with psychological and physical problems as a result of physical assault.
Which is less costly to you? Not fighting back and being at risk of suffering the related trauma, or fighting back and being able to escape or at worst, explaining to the authorities afterwards that you defended yourself within the limits of your training?
In Part 2 of my blog, I will take you for a virtual visit to my local dojo, where you will be introduced to the ideology of self-defence. I promise you, you will feel safe, you will feel welcome and you may end up making a life changing decision to join us in an ever expanding discipline of self-defence and inner wellness. Maybe the decision to join will be a catalyst, bringing you inner peace as you move forward.
“Self defense is not just a set of techniques, it's a state of mind that begins with the belief that you are worth defending” - Rorion Gracie