There was a first grade student in our elementary school named Eric who quickly became infamous for his impulsive outbursts of violence. Eric punched kids. He’d double up a fist and pop some kid right in the kisser. By the time he was in the second grade, he had cold-cocked little girls and boys alike. By the time he was in the third grade, his mother decided that Tae Kwon Do would teach him discipline and get his aggressions under control. The only results I heard about was that the kids he’d sock were now getting decked, hitting the dirt, and going to the nurse with more serious injuries. I had very little contact with Eric except the time I saw him running scared through the courtyard and heard that he had just punched another child. I stopped him from running away, talked to him until his teacher came, and in the conversation discovered that Eric was not angry or mad; he was scared, frightened, and unable to explain why he had hit his friend. A small disagreement had turned into a serious issue, and he was suspended from school….again. I heard that Eric always ran in fear after losing his temper and hitting someone. He was never expelled, but he was often suspended from school.
I wound up with Eric in my fourth grade class, naturally. At that time, I had studied eleven years of a combination of Northern and Southern Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu from Chong Wei Lin, a man who knew traditional Shaolin Kung Fu because his family fled China to Taiwan. China lost much of its traditional Shaolin Kung Fu because of Chairman Mao, but it morphed into a formidable and more acrobatic Wu Shu.
I never gave a single, real demonstration of my martial arts skills to any of my students, ever, but I gave one to Eric. I kept him in during the first recess of school. I stretched my body and told him about Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu, and then, in that classroom, I gave a powerful demonstration. I exploded with all the energy I had in me and combined the most exciting, thrilling, and impressive moves of three or four forms, and it included jumping over desks. Then I gave him a speech about the tradition of my teacher, and my teacher’s teacher, and my teacher’s teacher’s teacher. Then I told Eric that I considered him a loose cannon, a failure as a martial artist, and the school bully. Recess ended.
Class went on as usual. When the next recess came, I introduced Eric to every single child in my class, one at a time. It took three recesses each day for three days, and during each of those recesses I stood by Eric’s classmate and told him if he ever hit this student, I’d consider it an attack on me, and I would fight back. I would look Eric right in the eye, and with my best Darth Vader voice would growl, “Don’t you ever hurt any of the children at this school. I am guarding them.”
After I had “introduced” Eric to all his classmates, all with the same speech, I then took Eric out for recesses with me, He wasn’t allowed to play; he had to stay beside me. We walked around the playground and I tried to get him to describe scenarios when he would lose control in the past. I discovered he always felt like he was being attacked. He would feel challenged, threatened, and get a little scared. Then he’d come unglued and give somebody a taste of his fist sandwich. I pointed out to him that he was scared. Fear was getting him into trouble and turning him into the school bully. I told him it wasn’t my job to know why he was scared, but he was not to be scared anymore. We’d walk around the playground and I’d point out how vulnerable and small the other little kids were, how they were all under our watch, how he and I were stronger than everyone else because of our martial arts skills, and we should never ever fear anyone, no matter what they would say or do.
Then I got some of Eric’s classmates to say outrageous things to him.
Things like, “Get off that swing you idiot.”
“What are you doing here? I was here first!”
“Get away from the drinking fountain!”
“You’re a stupid idiot and I am going to tell the teacher because you stole my ball!”
Then Eric and I would walk off and we’d say things like, “That kid’s got a problem.”
“I wonder what his problem is?”
“He can have that ol’ swing.”
“I’m going to this other drinking fountain where the kids aren’t nuts.”
I told Eric that I was a duty teacher, and that meant I had a duty to protect all the kids in the school. I then made him my Assistant Guardian. We were on guard at all times to protect the little children at our school. To be a Guardian, you had to have no fear.
No fear. Never fear. Always protect.
Eric never got into a fight that whole year. He sometimes didn’t pay attention in class and would have trouble accepting responsibility for his own actions, but it was never for striking another child. I was considered the miracle worker by everyone except Mr. K., who said he would have done the same thing, and I know he would have, because he had done it with a boy named Mario. Or he had done something similar.
Mr. K. and I know it’s war, baby. To hell with the costs.
Sometimes you worry about “being under fire” from crazed parents, but I had talked to Eric’s mom, and I told her I was going to use some strong measures that would involve Eric’s losing the first two weeks of recesses, if she’d allow it. She didn’t ask what I would do; I think she just trusted me, or maybe she just hoped and prayed.
All those recesses I gave up, all those breaks? Well worth it. It’s war, baby.