I recently had a minor spat with a fellow lifter who was a victim of bullying. When I read what she wrote, I was enraged. I honestly wanted to go down and deal with that individual myself. Instead, I got mad and told her to stand up to the bully.
My response was emotional because it took me back. So far back, in fact, that our exchange answered an unresolved question has been stuck in my head for many years now. I’ve never been able to answer the true “why” for starting my training.
A couple of years ago I learned that I’m quite a simple person, and most of my current behavioural oddities can be traced to my formative years. What follows is a collection of short stories about my childhood, and then I’ll make my point.
I grew up in a poor area. Poor of pocket, poorer of character. My dad tutored me from a very young age so that I could get ahead in school. He taught me relatively advanced maths texts, and I studied a dictionary daily learning new words. By age 5 I had a decent grasp of algebra, equations, logarithms, co-ordinates, geometry, technical drawing and host of other stuff that most 5 years olds have no real use for. This is not a brag and nothing compared to those child prodigies you read about in the media - I just spent more time than average studying. By age 12 I was a Mensa candidate (I hadn’t planned on going into that tale but now I think of it there’s a relevance to that too).
I stuck out like a sore thumb in primary school. To say I got bullied was an understatement. Bullying was the norm until I got to secondary school. Even teachers discriminated against me in class. In a room full of people where no one else knew the answer to the questions asked, I’d be the lone hand up, and that hand would be ignored. At first the hand was enthusiastic, later reluctant, and later still absent. The teacher told my parents “He always knows the answer, so I don’t see the point in asking him.”
Needless to say, this was disheartening and I didn’t understand the exclusion. I would always wait to see if anyone else put their hand up first. I would never raise my hand if I had zero clue, but I wasn’t afraid to try or make a mistake. Angered at being ignored, I gave up participating.
Social exclusion amongst peers was also the norm. I had two good friends in school between the ages of 5 and 11. The rest were mostly hostile. I couldn’t understand yet, as I was kind and generous and polite, just as my parents taught me. I loved to play games and had a good imagination. They said I sounded funny (my accent wasn’t quite as rough) and gave me nicknames and mocked my intellect, my foreign surname, my glasses, my hair, my cheap clothing, anything. Later I learned to embrace some of these nicknames as part of my personality, but it was a coping mechanism and I would have preferred acceptance.
There were many classic “school bullies” who played to their stereotype. First a lumbering oaf named Terry. Then the aggressive Carl. Later, Lee, Tony, Qasim, Kwesi and Avais Butt. His is the only surname I remember - I got bullied by a person whose surname was Butt.
Playground fights were common. I was beaten many times, sometimes by a group. I was a younger child in my year so many of my classmates were better developed physically. A couple of months in birthdate makes a big difference. Teachers were largely oblivious until it was too late, the playground was large with many blind spots. The result was always the same, parents were called and blame was placed equally by the teachers. No effort was made to investigate who the aggressor was. Whichever parent complained the loudest usually had the teacher’s ear.
My parents always taught me that violence is wrong, not to fight back, and that the teachers would punish the bullies. After a couple of years of trusting the system, my dad had enough of the school failing to tackle their discipline problem. Now aged 8 or 9, my Kung Fu training began. Dad had studied for many years under Paul Whitrod Sifu, so he taught me some basics but knew it was best to learn from the master. I attended children’s classes every Saturday, and when my dad trained I got to join the adults too. That was super cool - I marvelled at the advanced students. Their size, speed and power. Their ability to wield swords and poles that I couldn’t lift even if there was a snowball’s chance I’d be allowed to touch them. Their strength and work capacity was inconceivable to me. The kids would always be placed at the front of the class, which was a little scary, but I later learned it was for practical reasons. We were short and wouldn’t be able to see the instruction from behind the adults!
One day, it was declared that I was going to be beaten up by Avais at lunchtime. I still remember playing with my two friends, who told me try not to think about it, and that he probably wouldn’t even show up. But he did, with the largest crowd of students I had ever seen. It was like the whole school was behind him, and I was quite surprised so many people were taking an interest in me getting hurt. As the fight started they were all chanting his name, but then a strange divide occurred. His brawling was no longer enough and my basic training lent me a considerable edge. The difference was audible even as we tussled: the girls were calling for me to win. That’s exactly what I did. I can’t remember how the fight ended, most likely it was a teacher separating us. While the boys skulked off after their fallen champion, the girls were buzzing around me, proud of their underdog. I have to admit it was pretty thrilling, suddenly the subject of positive attention after so many years. But I also resented them for being participants - they visited the scene looking for my blood. I resolved this ambivalence by deciding that none of them were to be trusted.
I’m 12 years old and ticking boxes on a multiple choice paper that I couldn’t see any purpose for. It didn’t seem to relate directly to any of our timetabled subjects, and the questions were deliberately obtuse.
I’m in secondary school now. All those horrid experiences are long behind me. This school is safe and encourages excellence. Peers fight with brains and pens, not fists and feet, for grades and marks and results.
Of 180 students, they picked me, my best friend (who remains so to this day) and a third guy who was really smart and polite. We all got on well. They put us on a course with about 20 other kids from all over the country, on a moored boat called Trinity Lightship which was converted into a convention centre. This was a Mensa selection process for recruiting gifted children. We didn’t quite know how or why we were being observed, but we knew that we were. There were all sorts of supervised activities and games and we got to play with neat stuff like forensic science kits. The smell of the powder used for dusting fingerprints sticks in my mind as very unique.
At night time, the kids all slept in cabins with 4–6 bunks. We had plenty of time for interaction before lights out. Social exclusion reared its ugly head again. This time, it was both myself and Jason getting shut out. The bulk of these kids were very posh sounding and all from what you could call wealthy backgrounds, and our accents stood out as rough. The third student from our school was well-spoken and they welcomed him.
Everyone set up in the room we weren’t in, and when we asked if we might join them we received a flat no and got told to leave. The reason? “You’re not allowed in. We don’t want you here.”
Myself and Jason had the last laugh. As these kids tried to boss us about over the next two days of group activities, we made sure to absolutely ruin whatever they were trying to do by refusing to co-operate. Their wails of “you’re not allowed to do that” fell on deaf ears and we had a great time playing our own interpretation of the games. We do not negotiate with bullies.
I mentioned that my hometown was of poor character. Let me give you a couple of examples of how bullying was rife there.
We lived in a terraced house in East Ham. On one side, we had great neighbours. The two boys were a similar age to myself and my sister and we were always playing in our gardens. The fence was a communal stool, much to our parents’ disdain, where we would sit and talk about cartoons, cricket, badminton, cats and all the other important kid stuff. On the other side of our property a mean couple moved in. They were foul mouthed, racist and abusive to my parents and our other next door neighbours. My dad built a higher fence to separate us, about 8–10 feet tall, because they had been verbally abusive to us children. They scared us.
One day, when we were all running around and playing in our garden, a brick landed next to me. The brick was thrown blindly over the fence in an attempt to hit us. The police did nothing.
When my mum was pregnant with me, she attended the local GP surgery for regular checks. One of the doctors, a foul mouthed old misogynist, verbally abused my mum, called her stupid and all manner of other things. My mum went home in tears. My dad went straight to the surgery and floored the doctor. He went to prison for 2 weeks.
I didn’t find out about this event until I was in my teens. I was and still am beamingly proud of my dad.
In my early twenties, I drank way too much. I drank even more in my teens, but hey. Kung Fu training had lapsed in favour of studies - a few years here, a few years there, but nothing consistent. My parents always had me prioritise my school work, and with no threat of bullying I had no real need to defend myself.
I got to university and I was unhappy with my life following a number of events that left me feeling hard done by. Aggressive and depressed, I wallowed for many months (years?) not really having any focus. The degree subject was deathly boring to me, and so was the drinking. I messed about in the gym but really it was all made up. Results were non-existent because I didn’t have any goal or education. A Chinese kickboxing club held training sessions in the hall next to the gym. It looked like fun so I joined in with that too.
The structure of these classes was very different to what I was accustomed to, but I enjoyed the free sparring at the end. They used protective gear, but didn’t have enough to go round. The gear was given to the belted students “to protect the beginners” which suited me fine as I was used to barehanded sparring. Yet again I found myself confronted with a bully. This Scottish white belt was a thinly veiled thug who had visible difficulty in controlling his anger and level of impact against the new students. I disliked watching him beat up on the detrained novices.
I realised that this class wasn’t cutting it from me, so I started travelling back to Paul Sifu in Stratford. This was a 2–3 hour each way from the university, but I made the journey willingly. I continued to train at the university club for a while.
On one occasion the white belt’s wife sat and watched the class. Sparring time rolled around, and I had yet take a grading so I didn’t get any protective gear. Lined up with the Scot, I easily deflected his jabs and took an overhead line to his forehead. I stopped short and he crossed his eyes to look at my fist, now one inch away. I lightly patted him on the hairline and said “I would have got you there.”
This was the red flag to the bull. The Scot saw his belt as a mark of superiority and had bracketed me as a novice. Having come across this character many times before, I knew he would use any excuse to go all out on someone and I was prepared. The guy went nuts, flailing around while I landed controlled blows to his padded head and torso, very careful not to hit too hard. Then he grabbed me and tackled me to the ground, choking my neck whilst pummelling my head. His gloved punches didn’t hurt in the slightest and I knew I was not in danger, so I put up no resistance waiting for the inevitable. The teacher pulled him off me and said “What are you doing? He’s a beginner!” as the Scot screamed in rage, declaring that I was not Bruce Lee. I’m not sure why he felt to point out the obvious.
There’s a difference between training hard and violent intent, and this bully was one I was happy to expose, especially in front of his wife.
A final story from my mid twenties. Out again and drunk again, I was partying with my good buddies Dave, Jason, Joe, Glenn and their partners in Canary Wharf. There were a couple of girls out with us who were friends of friends, single and openly looking to pull some male company for the evening.
We leave the bar at the end of the night and totter towards the train station. Most of my friends were a good 5 minutes ahead, and I’m walking and chatting with Dave’s girlfriend. We hear some shouting from a secluded underpass, and it turns out to be the single girls having an argument with their male company. It looks to have turned nasty and one guy is getting physical. There are a few other revellers in the vicinity but no one I know, so I go over to try to help out the girls.
He turns on me and starts raining down punches. At this time in my life, I’ve been clocking up around 10 hours of training per week for years. Yet, I’m completely drunk and can’t even see straight, let alone hit straight. Without warning, my arms are pinned behind me by a second attacker. Turns out all those other people milling around watching the ruckus were part of the male company, and they’re all on the same team.
A third assailant starts taking huge wind-up digs to the gut. I try to make it look good, but again I’m taking zero damage. He gets bored and the other guy throws me to the ground. As I roll I hear my jumper rip, and I make a mental note that I’m going to have to buy a new one.
Various others have joined in the fray. My glasses are trampled so I can hardly see. Now freed, I lay into the wind-up puncher but neither of us are very effective. With more and more people jumping in to break up the violence, the fight peters out before the police arrive. Dave’s girlfriend has a black eye. I have a minor cut. We were both very fortunate; it could have been much worse.
The next morning Sifu asks about the cut under my eye.
“Did you win the fight?”
“No, Sifu. There were too many of them.”
“They hurt you?”
“No, Sifu. They couldn’t.”
And then he makes sure the training is twice as difficult as normal, with a bonus punch in the eye.
The point, already
That was a much longer trip down memory lane than I planned. There are more stories like this from my past, but I cut them out. I hope my stance is clear:
I despise bullies.
I do not tolerate them and I go out of my way to stop them. No one should suffer at the hands of a bully.
The pursuit of strength is a process that has transformed the way I think and act. I started my training out of necessity and self-defence, but now I can use it to help others. That is just as necessary.
Bullying in its many forms is never going to go away, but I know from experience bullies are weaker in the face of strength. Strength gives you the courage to stand up and say no. Strength gives you the courage to act.
Photo is a potato that kind of looks like Jaws.
Your story is long but very interesting...I'm glad I never got beaten, I think it is because I moved a lot so didn't really stick around long enough to bother anyone...I think there was just one fight in middle school, she "punched" me in the face (didn't even bruise) then she ran away because I was taller and she thought I was going to hurt her, it was humorous because I didn't do a thing but it was remembered by people as the fight she ran away from me. I enjoyed reading your story.
Thank you for your kind words Kristin, and for taking the time to read the whole article!
You raise an interesting point regarding threat perception. I've witnessed a number of events where my larger friends have been victimised, but then the aggressor has crumpled (both physically and mentally) at the retaliation. I do wonder what motivates bullies who pick big targets - the risks are so obvious!
Thanks for sharing Warren. Maybe the "big guy" threatens their confidence? They see themselves as the dominant male/female of the group and have to act if there's a new threat. Their insecurities push them into a "fight or flight" situation, in which they choose "fight" initially. Smaller guys don't present a threat to them and there's no "glory" to be gained in the front of the group by beating a small guy, so they leave them alone.
Not saying it makes any sense, these people clearly have some psychological problems they should take responsibility for and get help.
Very inspiring story. I personally consider myself an advocate to stop bullying. Every day thousands of teens wake up afraid to go to school. Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students and it has everyone worried, not just the kids on its receiving end. Yet because parents, teachers, and other adults don't always see it, they may not understand how extreme bullying can get. We are fully aware that bullying is rampant nowadays that's why we need to act to save the victims. Let's support anti bullying act.
I don't get why you took the time to compose this comment before slotting in your irrelevant spam link, which is now removed.
I've been trying to make money ever since I was 7 years old. Some of my ideas have been more successful than others. But all in all, the ventures I pursued in my younger years panned out and I made some (relatively) great money. The experiences I had, and the ventures themselves, taught me a lot about how to be a successful entrepreneur and provided me with a solid foundation going forward.
This post is a recap of some of the businesses I did. Get with your kid and try one!
Age 7: Sodas at City League Baseball/Softball Games
My hometown of Rocklin, CA has a great baseball and softball city league scene. My dad at the time played on one of the teams. So every Friday night I went to his games. But I was always thirsty. And their drink selection was horrible. I had found an opportunity.
With the help of my mother I went to Costco every Friday before the games and purchased sodas and bottled water in bulk. We also got some ice. I filled two coolers full of drinks, grabbed my big cardboard sign I made, and we headed to the park.
A short story excerpt from Hollywood Animal: A Memoir by Joe Eszterhas.
The Pool Man
Henry took care of our swimming pool at the Malibu Colony. He was sixty-nine years old and lived in the Valley: I knew all the big stars when I was about seventeen, eighteen. Cary Grant came into the house once and the first thing he said was, “It’s very nice to see you, Henry.”
He was really looking at me. I was a good-looking kid. They’d all come to the house to see my dad. He was at Paramount then. He’d been at RKO before then and later on went to Columbia. I went to Beverly Hills High School where I was a really shitty student.
I spent all my time in the pool at home and we also had a place out in Malibu so whenever I wasn’t in the pool I was out at the beach, riding the waves and getting a tan. Man, I had a great tan but that wasn’t what I really cared about.