R-A-G-E: The Parson’s Four Step Anti-Bullying Campaign
By John J Kirkwood
My first experience with a bully came in the fourth grade and I handled it like most children do – I ran away! Luckily, father did know best and when mine saw me hoofing it from a group of boys one day, he met me at the front door. Dad didn’t confront me straight on but he asked me why I was wearing my gym shoes and not my dress shoes. I had been changing my shoes so that I didn’t slip when I ran across the schoolyard for the past 3 days and my father, watching out the window, had finally noticed. I couldn’t answer him and just started to cry. He already knew anyway. After a few questions, he took me downstairs.
“Son, I’m going to teach you a few things and after this lesson, you will never run away again, so listen close.”
My older brothers were legendary for their capacity to throw down so he had my undivided attention. It only took one lesson. Here’s what it was.
Pops showed me four punches – a jab, an overhand right, a left uppercut and a cross. We worked on this for half an hour or so even to the point of throwing combinations and then we stopped. He told me that I didn’t have to win; I just had to make a demonstration, a very public demonstration. He told me that most bullies don’t expect their prey to fight back, that’s the main reason that I was chosen. He also said that kids at my age don’t usually throw punches, they push and pull and try to wrestle. “You’re not going to bother with that. When it comes, swing and don’t stop until someone pulls you off. If you land a punch or two, don’t slow down to admire your work.” Then dad prepared my mind.
“Son, first of all I want to talk to you about pain. When you’re in the middle of a fight, you don’t feel it much. It’s true you may feel some later on but not in the moment. Don’t worry about pain; just concentrate on what you’ve been taught. And from this moment to the time the fight comes I want you to think, ‘Steve (the bully) is between me and happiness. Steve is between me and happiness.’ Say it over and over. And one more thing, don’t worry about when it comes, it’s even better if you do it in school, in the hall or the classroom. If things go wrong, a teacher will be near to break it up and you’ll have sent a message that will be remembered by everyone in the school.”
“But won’t I get in trouble, Dad?”
“Yes, but not from me; I will stand by you the whole way so don’t worry about teachers or principals or hall monitors – jab, overhand right, left uppercut, right cross. ‘Steve is between me and happiness.’ Now you say it.”
“Steve is between me and happiness.”
“Again, say it again.”
I went to bed that night more than a bit anxious but it was the first time in the last 3 nights that I wasn’t completely occupied with fear of the bully. “Steve is between me and happiness.” Jab, overhand right, left uppercut, right cross! Don’t worry about pain or teachers or principals. Dad’s got my back.
When I left for school that day, my father told me that it was okay to wear my gym shoes, “Not to run but to have good footing.” The last thing he told me was not to run from the bully or the teacher, but to tell the principal that your father told you to do this. Then he shook my hand and told me he was proud of me.
Now my father was pastor of a local church in Streamwood Illinois and on Tuesday afternoons he taught a women’s Bible study at the church which is adjacent to the schoolyard. He ended early that day, not telling the ladies where he was going but as I walked home I saw the little blue Volkswagen Beetle parked on the street. I had an audience – my mom and dad.
Steve didn’t disappoint and his entourage and a group of oglers started towards me. He yelled and probably expected me to run. I didn’t. I turned around. He got in my face and asked me if I wanted to fight. As he went to shove me, just like dad told me he would, I did what I was told. There was an audible gasp from the crowd and after 3 out of my first 5 punches landed, I stopped to admire my work, surprised that it had worked so well. Then I remembered what dad said. Steve, now bleeding from the nose, charged and I landed a blow that knocked him down and then I got on top of him. He covered his face and I pounded it and didn’t stop. I think I heard cheers but in the moment it was hard to tell. Then I heard the crowd yell, “Teacher! The teach is coming!”
The crowd scattered and not thinking I ran to the car like I had just robbed a bank. Dad let me in and took me to celebrate at my favorite restaurant, Jo-Jo’s. We even sat by the fireplace. I ordered a B-L-T and dad and mom both praised my effort. This was the first time in my life I had accomplished something great. Dad told me that I had done Steve a favor and he may become a better man for this lesson and maybe even a friend. Then he said I should have waited for the teacher and paid the consequences, but that he understood why I ran and it all could be sorted out tomorrow.
I remember the principal’s shock when my father was called to the school, told what happened and responded, “Oh, I know, I’m the one who told him to do it.” Dad had an opportunity to explain to the principal the Biblical foundation for self-defense and well, let’s just say; they agreed to disagree over the doctrine of the balled-up fist.
No one messed with me after that and I felt I had finally earned the Kirkwood name but the story doesn’t end there, though I wish it had.
One day coming home from school in the middle of winter, dad was looking out his study window and saw me grab a hat off of another kid and throw it in the snow. I came into the house and he looked down from the top of the stairs with his business face. I looked up, knowing that he knew. He didn’t have to say much that the look of deep disappointment on his face hadn’t already told me.
“It looks like you’ve grown too big for your britches. Have you become the bully that I taught you to overcome?”
This was a much harder lesson to learn about bullying. It only took one lesson. I apologized to the kid the next day and later when talking to my father, he told me the responsibility I had to others and to the family name. A Kirkwood doesn’t bully and doesn’t stand for bullying – not of himself and not of anyone around him.
It wasn’t until seventh grade that I had to deal physically with another bully; this time on behalf of someone else. Here’s the interesting twist.
When I was in the fifth grade there was a sixth grader on my bus who was heavy. Even the little kids would tease John about his weight and kids are the cruelest animal. John never responded. I felt for him and when I was around I would intercede.
John went on to Jr. High the next year so I didn’t see him again until I was in the seventh grade and he was in the eighth. A lot had changed since he was the object of ridicule a couple of years ago. John had grown taller, studied martial arts and now was the toughest kid in the school. So tough, even most of the high school kids feared him.
He had grown in confidence as well. I didn’t even know if John remembered me, but I would nod to him in the hall and he seemed to acknowledge me by raising his head a bit.
One day while walking with my friend Demetrius, a couple of eighth graders started to shove my portly friend around and call him names. They “scored” his books and as he was picking them up, I stepped in and told the two to knock it off. I guess I hadn’t gotten the memo on how a seventh grader is supposed to act in Jr. High and my deference level was apparently not up to snuff so one of them walked toward me and as soon as he was within range my right hand crushed his nose.
Now, I’ve only had two fights in my life that ended after one punch but this one landed perfectly and split his nose so bad that there was blood everywhere instantly. Every time his heart beat there would be a new spray of blood that rained in the hall. It covered my new gym shoes, he covered his broken nose and both eighth graders ran to the nurse’s office.
Demetrius and I went to the whole school assembly that was being held in the cafeteria. By now the word had spread and some of my classmates were high fiving me as we made our way to our seats.
Then, over the intercom came the voice of the vice principal, “Would John Kirkwood please come down to the Principal’s Office. John Kirkwood … now!”
I stood up and looked back at Demetrius. He smiled and then the room erupted in applause; at least the seventh grade side of the room. A couple of periods after my stay with the principal, word came to me that I was going to be the target of a number of eighth grade ruffians that were friends with broken nose. I went from elated to deflated and more than a bit scared because a number of them had threatened me in the hall. It was to go down after school.
I sweat it out for a couple periods weighing my options. I was a Kirkwood so running was out of the question. I thought of calling my brothers but on what phone?
Then I thought of John Frycek, the fat kid from sixth grade who I had defended on the bus two years ago and who was now the reigning heavyweight champion of bad hombres at Emerson Junior High.
When I approached John at his locker I was speechless. I wasn’t even sure if he would remember me and I wasn’t good at asking for help. He saw me standing there and he said something like, “You did good kid.” Whimpering, all I could get out was, “John, I’m in trouble.”
John knew I wasn’t talking about the principal. He shook his head and said, “I know. Meet me here after school. We’ll take care of it.”
Again, I was speechless but fear had completely melted away. John Frycek was in my corner. Now I couldn’t wait for school to end. This was like bringing Elvis for show and tell. What was better, the thought of the faces on the guys waiting to jump me when they saw who was with me or the fact that John Frycek not only remembered me but had acknowledged my work and offered to walk out with me. “I’m your huckleberry!”
We walked outside and everyone in the school was waiting. This would be the closest to the paparazzi and the red carpet that I would ever approach. Around the corner would be the eighth graders, we could hear them whooping it up. We rounded the corner and things got quiet. It was almost like the rumble scene from The Outsiders.
John got close and made sure that everyone could hear him but he wasn’t going to talk much. He knew who to go after. The guy leading the whole thing who aside from John Frycek was the baddest guy in the eighth grade was the target and John gave him a taste of his displeasure and smacked him in the ear with an anvil punch and throttled his neck.
I actually thought that I’d be fighting too but no one dared do anything with John there. The tough crowd became the scared onlookers and guy after guy who had threatened me in the halls slipped back into the crowd.
John humiliated the alpha bully, had him broken to his knees and was conversing while choking him. All the guy could get out was, “I’m sorry John, I’m sorry John … It’s not about you, man.”
That’s when John said that it was all about him, that I was his brother and a threat against me was a threat against him. And then it was over. I think the teachers were even too intimidated to break it up. I cannot recall this story without tearing up.
John and I didn’t talk much after that, I was a seventh grader and he was a god. I didn’t see him again until his band played The Who’s anthem Who Are You at a school assembly in high school. I talked to him for the first time in over 30 years when I called him for permission to tell this story. The great part about it is that he didn’t remember it. I wasn’t surprised to find out what he does for a living though, John is the owner of Special Solutions and Total Security. He is one of the nation’s leading authorities on personal protection, security training, executive protection and physical design security. Call him if you need a bodyguard or a private investigator.
So here is what I’ve learned over the years about handling bullies from my brothers, my father, John Frycek and the bullies. And I’m grateful to them all and dad was right, I even made friends with some of them after we “settled” things. The best anti-bullying campaign is R-A-G-E! And it stands for:
Readiness – You must be prepared to the best of your ability to defend yourself. This is half the deterrent already because bullies prey on the weak and the vulnerable. They look for an easy mark so don’t become one. Relying on a teacher, a principal or a parent to talk sense into a bully or his parents, will rarely work. There’s a reason that he’s a bully and, like a savage, a bully only responds to force. Most bullies will only get more aggravated and aggressive at the “I’m Telling” defense and simply spring their trap outside of the school grounds and on their turf. Running from bullies will set you on a life’s path of capitulation and you’ll end up either an emasculated shell of a man or worse … French!
Attitude – You have to cultivate the frame of mind that will take you from fear to righteous indignation. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim. Bullying is outrageous, so let your rage out. “Steve is between me and happiness.” You don’t have to win but you do have to leave a mark – leave several. Pain and consequences are secondary. Rage on behalf of everyone this bully has had his way with. You will be respected and people will respond to you, and the odds are you’ll only have to do it once. Victims, however, will constantly be hounded no matter how many times they change schools or move.
Guts – There is no substitute for a balled up fist backed by righteous indignation – just ask the money-changers. At some point, you have to pull the pin. As the Duke said in The Shootist, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” When the shove comes, swing, don’t talk!
Empathy – Standing up to bullies doesn’t stop on your front porch. Don’t allow it to happen to your neighbor. This is the golden rule and The Good Samaritan all wrapped in one. Tell me, do you really believe that The Good Samaritan would have reasoned with the robbers if he found them as they were beating the man on the Jericho road? I imagine he would have taken out his 3 corded whip and “turned the tables”!
“This is the story that the good man tells his son!”