September 7, 2009
On Bullying, Costco Disconnects from RealityBy Ed Kaitz
Millions of Americans who shop at Costco receive the retail giant’s monthly magazine The Costco Connection. I have to confess however that my copy of the publication usually never makes it past the garage. Not so the recent August issue, which promotes on the cover a “Back to School” series of essays for parents and children. Since one of the essays promised to take on the issue of bullying, I decided to take a closer look.
Bullies seem to be everywhere these days. From the schoolyard to the political arena thugs young and old have been learning that threats and intimidation are tried and true tactics in the face of frail opposition. The tragic kidnapping, repeated rape, and eighteen-year-long nightmare of young Jaycee Lee Dugard highlights the importance of effectively resisting those whose identities are fashioned by crushing the weak.
Imagine my utter disbelief then when my eyes landed on the advice offered by the two nationally recognized bullying “experts” interviewed for Costco’s story “Stop Hassling Me: Breaking the Cycle of Bullying.” After getting past a rather offensively staged photograph showing two young white girls taunting an African-American schoolmate, the reader is treated to a series of tips for kids by New York City school psychologist and psychotherapist Izzy Kalman. For kids who find themselves on the wrong end of a bully for example Kalman offers the following suggestion:
“Be nice to kids when they are mean to you, and before long they will stop being mean. This is known as the Golden Rule, and is the solution to bullying.”
If the bully however goes beyond mere threats and insults and begins an actual physical assault Kalman advises the following:
“If kids hit you and you’re not hurt, act like nothing happened. This way you look tough and cool because you don’t get upset over nonsense. If they keep hitting or pushing you, ask them calmly, ‘Are you mad at me?’ If they aren’t, they’ll stop hitting you. If they are angry, they’ll tell you why. You can discuss the matter, apologize if appropriate, and they will also stop hitting you.”
Kalman concludes by telling kids that “if you learn how not to be a victim, nobody can bully you.” In other words, the important thing is to convince yourself that you’re not a victim, even if you’re being beaten to a pulp.
Speaker and author Barbara Coloroso, the other expert interviewed for the article, includes a few tips on bullying from her book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. Coloroso suggests for example several “don’ts” for parents to consider, among them:
“Don’t tell your child to fight back.”
After considering Kalman’s and Coloroso’s questionable advice parents ought to ask themselves something: when it comes to teaching your kids about protecting themselves in the real world, wouldn’t it be more instructive to consult a self-defense expert rather than an “author” and a psychotherapist?
For those of us who live in the beautiful Inland Northwest locating an accomplished expert on children’s self-defense is relatively easy. We simply call on Professor Michael Foley, who, with his 3rd Degree Black Rank daughter Melanie Warner, operates one of the most unique, demanding, and inspirational martial arts schools in America.
If anyone understands how to deal with bad guys, it’s Michael Foley. After enlisting in the U.S. Army at age twenty, Foley spent the next thirty years chasing drug smugglers and terrorists around the globe first with the Criminal Investigation Division and later with America’s Special Operations Command and the Green Berets. Having been stationed in Hawaii for much of his Army tenure Foley studied martial arts with several world renowned masters and today holds an 8th Degree Black Belt in Koden Kan Martial Arts, a 7th Degree Black Belt from the American Jujitsu Institute, and a Black Sash in Tai Chi Chuan Gung Fu.
Both before and after receiving his Officer’s Commission in 1986 Foley served his country in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Korea, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia and Rwanda. During his 9 year reign as the All-Army Kickboxing Champion, Foley was sent by the Army to Thailand and Japan to study additional martial arts techniques in order to help train America’s fighting men and women both at home and abroad to overcome our nation’s most brutal enemies.
Although Foley has survived being shot, stabbed, and physically attacked by some of the nastiest bad guys in the world, he happens to be the most patient, positive and professional mentor for the children, teens, and adults who are lucky enough to attend his Koden Kan Martial Arts Academy in Hayden, Idaho.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon I sat down with Professor Foley to get his opinion on both the bullying issue and on the non-violent approach to bullying advocated by Kalman and Coloroso. For those of us with small children Foley’s words on this score were refreshing, insightful, and very, very wise.
Foley began by telling me that he himself was relentlessly bullied by a hulking man-child while in the seventh grade. “I tried everything” says Foley, “talking to him, ignoring him, evading him, but nothing worked – he followed me everywhere.” On the bus, the bully would flick Foley behind the ear with his finger and if Foley moved to another seat, the bully followed him and continued the attack.
One afternoon Foley decided to walk home, hoping to protect the brand new trumpet his mother had worked long hours to purchase. But the bully caught up with Foley near his house and after a series of taunts and shoves the bully kicked Foley’s brand new trumpet case down the road. When Foley reached the scuffed and damaged case he immediately turned around and put everything he had into a wild, windmill roundhouse punch and knocked the bully unconscious and clean off of his feet.
Of that day Foley remembers a couple of things: a voice coming from a porch nearby asking Foley if he’d “like to learn how to control that rage.” The voice came from a retired Air Force Colonel and martial arts expert who became Foley’s first instructor. The second thing Foley recalls is that the bully never bothered him again. “His attitude changed” says Foley. “He actually started doing his schoolwork.”
For years parents have deposited both the bullies and the bullied at the entrance to Foley’s martial art’s academy so he understands the dynamic that animates both sides. “Kids who get hit and who don’t respond will lose respect for themselves,” says Foley. “They’ll sneak around, worry day and night, and generally think their lives are worthless.” Many of these kids, says Foley, will end up at best with extreme self-esteem issues and at worst with a deep seated vengeance of the kind America witnessed at Columbine High School ten years ago.
Foley disputes Kalman’s and Coloroso’s more Gandhiesque approach to bullying by saying that for young children life basically revolves around a rather simple scorecard called “fight or flight.” In other words, kids who are bullied, much to the dismay of our therapeutic experts, rarely if ever care about reforming the bullies. What they do care about is self-respect.
Foley remembers a particularly large and abrasive bully who landed in his school and after several weeks of training began to thrust himself needlessly into the faces of his fellow students. Foley approached a scrawny and bespeckled senior student of the same age as the bully and asked him to very gently go a few rounds with the obnoxious boy. In less than a minute the bully had been taken down several times and as a result of his frustration he began to cry.
Foley approached the sobbing child and asked him something that may have never crossed the mind of the average school psychologist: “Would you like to use those skills to help other people who don’t have those skills? Would you like to be a superhero rather than a super villain?”
Today all four of Mike Foley’s daughters are highly accomplished martial artists. Of Foley’s former senior Black Rank students five are currently police officers, two are in the FBI, one is working in the CIA and numerous others are serving their country in various military units. Each of these highly disciplined and accomplished individuals is, as Foley once said, “helping other people who don’t have those skills.”
The most effective way to solve the bully problem says Foley is to reprioritize the spending at our elementary schools in order to find a way to hire campus martial arts instructors. To Foley, nothing means more to a kid than “self-respect, self-control, and self-confidence.” In other words, confident kids are content kids.
Professor Foley’s youth demo teams have traveled both regionally and nationally to help encourage other youngsters to abandon lives of substance abuse and to embrace the life of a self-confident superhero. In addition to helping prepare local National Guard units for overseas deployment, Foley and his daughter Melanie also spend a very early Wednesday morning each week at KXLY Channel 4 television studios in Spokane, Washington demonstrating self-defense techniques for the general public.
Having watched this amazing community organizer at work, a parent can only wonder: wouldn’t a campus warrior do as much for our kids in the long run as a campus psychotherapist?
*Contacting Michael Foley is easy – send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.