Self Defense and Children

During the summer of ’76 I was a seven year-old child who spent the time off from school attending summer school, camp and riding my bike around the neighborhood with my best friend. I was also the boy who had a tooth knocked out in a fight. It happened at Camp Summertime. I don’t remember why the other boy hit me but I remember spitting out my tooth (it was already loose) and crying. I’d like to say that seven year-old Jack gave as good as he got but I don’t think that was the case. Thirty-five years later my parents can’t tell you any more details than I can nor can any of us remember what they said to me.

What I know is that my father told me that if someone hit me first I had permission to defend myself. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to have to get hit first.  It seemed like a harsh way to gain his blessing but such was a child’s understanding. A few years later the third grade version of Jack ran into trouble because a 4th grade boy gave me a knife to hold. It was a pocket knife but I was afraid that I would get into trouble so I gave it to the teacher. The boy who owned the knife was very angry with me and for a short time he and his friends picked on me a bit.

I suppose that if the same happened today it would be described as bullying. Back then I was unwilling to go to a teacher for help. It would only make it worse. For a week or so the boy and his friend Wes made life difficult for me. I wasn’t afraid of the 4th grader. He might have been older but he wasn’t bigger than I was. Unfortunately Wes was much larger and that scared me. He and I had problems for a while and then something happened.

We were playing out in the yard and he grabbed my shirt and started pulling on it. I did my best to free myself from his grasp and managed to tear my shirt or maybe he did. It really doesn’t matter who tore it because the end result was the anger and fear of punishment was enough for me to start fighting back harder than I ever had. Again, I would like to say that 9 year-old Jack kicked the crap out of Wes but that is not a fair representation either. What is fair to say is that day I established playground street cred. Everyone learned that I wasn’t an easy mark and that I had a bite to match my bark.

These are not my only tales of battle. I had other fights and learned how to use my fists. I know what it feels like to be hit, kicked and bitten. Two of the people that hit me in the head broke their hands.  I take pride in that and why shouldn’t I. If you intend to do me bodily harm than I hope you get hurt. But the point of this is not to try and paint a picture of a tough guy because I am not him. I am just someone who when required did what he had to do.

And more importantly I am a father who looks back upon his life and realizes how very lucky he got. I was never seriously injured and never spent any in jail. I knew others who weren’t as fortunate. One wrong turn, one bad punch, one drink behind the wheel and life is changed forever. That is not a tired cliche but a warning that bears repetition.

So I look at my children and do what I can to educate and guide them in all that they do. My job isn’t limited to teaching them how to read and or add. I need to know that they know how to take care of themselves. I need to know that when they are old enough to go places without me they can walk the streets without looking like easy pickings. I need to know that out on the playground they don’t fear others.

That doesn’t mean that I have changed the rules that my father set down. I don’t advocate fighting. I don’t recommend that they use their fists unless there is no other choice. I would prefer that they not share some of the experiences that I have had. That is part of why I got them into Krav Maga. I like it because they learn more than just how to take care of themselves physically. They teach them how to deal with bullies and what to do when a stranger offers them candy. They teach them that the best fight is the one that they never have.

But they also teach them how to use their hands, their fists and their feet so that if something happens they have a resource to draw upon. I like that. I like how it helps with their self confidence and how it is an active sport that requires movement. The skills that they learn their will be something that they can use for the rest of their life. The exercise aspect of it doesn’t require a big space or teammates. And god willing that is all this will ever be, exercise.

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    • Jack March 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm

      The reference is really to having been bitten by others, but I suspect that I might have chomped down upon him. Fear does funny things to people.

  1. Galit Breen March 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Jack, this is very wise. it wouldn’t be right to teach them any other way. Sad, but true. Well done (as usual)!

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