By John J Kirkwood
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 8th 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!”
This column is an abbreviated excerpt; for the full column click here: R-A-G-E: How to Handle a Bully
Until That Time, Mi Spes en Deo