Martial arts are often touted as a great tool for children who are being targeted by bullies at school or in their own neighborhood. In fact, many parents enroll their children in martial arts programs specifically to help them learn how to defend themselves
Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been one of the more popular martial arts programs for kids in recent years, with anti-bullying marketing often being at the forefront of the push to get kids to start training. This grappling sport requires you to learn how to take down your opponents, fight off your back, and submit assailants without hurting them, but the physical side of it isn’t the only reason it’s a great activity for kids who are victims of bullying.
Here are some reasons why kids who are bullied should try BJJ:
1. It’s great for smaller people.
One of the big draws of BJJ is that it teaches smaller, physically weaker people how to overcome size and strength disparities between them and their opponents. Considering how many bullies pick on kids they can physically overpower, jiu-jitsu can give bullying victims a huge advantage over their aggressors.
By using leverage, angles, and strategy, your child can increase their chances of staying safe even when a larger bully starts picking on them. Demonstrating that they can defend against takedowns or escape from beneath an aggressor can help your child stay safe from bullies who haven’t yet learned that picking on the “weaker” kid is a bad idea.
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2. There’s no violence necessary.
There’s a tough balance to strike between teaching a child that they should defend themselves, but also be the better person and exercise restraint. With jiu-jitsu, though, the answer to violence and cruelty doesn’t have to be more violence.
Often called “the gentle art,” jiu-jitsu involves no striking — only grappling. Your child will learn submissions (such as chokes and joint locks) in class, but they will also learn to immediately release a hold when their opponent taps out. Putting someone unconscious or breaking a limb should only happen in cases of extreme danger when no other options are available. Even if your child is attacked by their bully, they can use what they’ve learned in class to simply control their assailant until an adult arrives or the bully gives up and promises to leave them alone.
3. It gives kids an escape and a support group.
Bullying can be physical, but it can also be verbal. It doesn’t always happen in person, either. Social media has made it easier than ever for kids to bully each other outside of school hours, often in ways that make it difficult for victims to retain proof of these negative interactions. Instead of coming home and getting a reprieve from their bullies, many kids have to deal with cruelty from their peers from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed.
Jiu-jitsu can provide an outlet for kids whose lives are being affected by their bullies. Not only is it a great way to release some pent-up energy and stress, but it also provides kids with a separate group of children to spend time with. In jiu-jitsu class, kids don’t have to feel hobbled by the stereotypes or rumors that have been hoisted upon them in school. Instead, they get a fresh start in a supervised environment where they can simply be themselves and practice a hobby they enjoy. The friendships made in jiu-jitsu can give kids the emotional support they need to keep their heads held high when their bullies try to bring them down.
4. It teaches you how to fight off your back.
Fights rarely stay on the feet, and if a bully follows your child to the ground, your child might end up defenseless unless they know what to do when stuck below their attacker. Here, too, jiu-jitsu can help your child escape from danger.
As a grappling art, jiu-jitsu is great for students who want to learn how to fight on the ground, and a huge part of this is practicing both defensive and offensive movements while seated or even lying down. Through jiu-jitsu, your child can learn how to do the following from their back:
- Escape from beneath an aggressive opponent
- Submit an opponent
- Control an opponent to prevent further damage until help arrives
While your child will learn how to do these things from the top position as well, learning how to fight off their back can keep them safe when struggling against a bully who’s already taken them to the ground.
5. It helps build their self-confidence.
A 2020 study found that 69.1 percent of cyberbullied kids between the ages of nine and twelve said that the bullying they’d suffered had a negative impact on their feelings about themselves. Jiu-jitsu can help combat the damage that bullying does to kids’ self-esteem by giving them something to be proud of. While BJJ is certainly challenging, a good coach will work with your child to ensure that they overcome their struggles on the mats, little by little.
The sense of accomplishment that kids get through their hard work in jiu-jitsu class can help boost their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. BJJ involves a healthy combination of success and failure, teaching students that just because they don’t understand something right away doesn’t mean they won’t eventually be able to master it. As your child learns in class, they’ll be supported by coaches and teammates along the way. The joy that comes with understanding a difficult technique — and achieving it in the middle of a round of sparring — can provide a steady stream of self-confidence, combating the negative emotional and mental effects of bullying.
6. It provides a healthy emotional outlet.
Some kids may become what are known as “bully-victims,” or victims of bullying who are also bullies themselves. This can happen for a variety of reasons. The child may want to regain a sense of control, responding by trying to establish themselves at a higher point on the social “food chain.” It may also be a simple case of the child taking their anger and frustration out on other kids who aren’t likely to fight back. This, of course, only serves to continue the cycle of bullying.
Here, too, jiu-jitsu can help. This martial art can provide a healthy, safe way for kids to release some energy, teaching them to control their aggression while still providing them with an outlet for their emotions. If a victim of bullying knows that they’ll have an opportunity to wrestle with other kids later that day, they may be less likely to bully other children in response to their own trauma. Jiu-jitsu can also teach kids to control their reactions under stress, which can also help them develop healthier, safer responses to their own experiences with bullies.
7. It helps fight the mental toll of bullying.
Bullying can have devastating mental and emotional effects on its victims. In fact, a study from Molecular Psychology found that bullying was connected to changes in brain volume and increases in generalized anxiety by age nineteen. In other words, bullying isn’t just an unpleasant experience — it can have a significant negative impact on kids’ mental health even as they reach adulthood.
Jiu-jitsu provides students with tools that can help them fight the mental challenges that may accompany being a bullying victim. For example, the physical nature of jiu-jitsu can help boost endorphins and reduce stress, and because jiu-jitsu requires so much focus, it forces students — both young and old alike — to temporarily forget about the problems that plague them outside the gym. This reprieve, however brief, can give kids a much-needed break from constantly thinking about what their bullies might do next or how they’ll cope with the latest rumor being spread about them. Of course, BJJ isn’t a cure-all, and kids might need professional psychological help to heal from the effects of bullying, but jiu-jitsu can make it easier for kids to cope with the struggles they face with their peers.
Helping Kids Help Themselves
Many parents sign their kids up for jiu-jitsu with the intention of teaching them to defend themselves against bullies, but BJJ’s capabilities as an anti-bullying tool go far beyond the takedowns and joint locks. Through jiu-jitsu, kids can learn how to stay safe (and keep their opponent safe) in the case of a physical altercation, but they can also use their time in the gym as an outlet for their stress and frustration. And, even though they might not realize it, they may also be protecting their minds against the harmful mental and emotional effects that long-term bullying can have on kids.
If your child is a victim of bullying, consider signing them up for jiu-jitsu classes in your area. It may not fix the bullying problem overnight, but it will give your child the tools they need to physically and mentally prepare themselves for the troubles they may face both now and in the future.