Throughout my martial arts journey I’ve met several people who have been bullied at some point. They either became martial artists to learn self-defence as they were experiencing bullying, or started their training in later life. Bullying is not necessarily confined to the physical – it can really affect a person’s self-worth and confidence, even many years later. You often see martial arts clubs advertise themselves as confidence-builders and to help overcome bullying. But how can martial arts training really help someone who’s being bullied? In this interview, Jamie Robson SBN, a 4th Dan practitioner and Instructor in the UK & Ireland Moo Duk Kwan shares his story.
When did you join Soo Bahk Do and how did you discover it?
I started at 14 years old. Basically, I was watching Master Hedges teach a class at the Fulwood Leisure Centre at the time, from the upstairs balcony. I thought it looked pretty interesting and decided to nip downstairs. Master Hedges said, ‘right, you’re staying here to train’. Now 26 years later, I’m still training away! It was quite a good introduction.
For me, I was going through a few different things at school and my home life wasn’t too great. It was a bit of an escape from people picking on me, calling me names, hitting me…both at home and at school. Master Hedges took me under his wing.
How often did you train when you initially started?
In Fulwood it was only two times a week: Tuesdays and Fridays. Classes were 1.5 hours. It was full on. Master Hedges used to put us through our paces. In some of the classes, we did 1.5 hours of push-ups. The next day you couldn’t straighten your arms at all! I look back on those sorts of memories and they’re great! Although it was firm, it was always fair. I could see that Master Hedges wanted to draw out the best in everybody.
When it came to the classes, the discipline was unbelievable: standing straight in your lines, and everybody would move and breathe at the same time. To me, it emphasised the Moo Do Jaseh (Martial Art Way) perfectly. Going through what I was going through, it set me on the right direction, because I just kept getting picked on or bullied and made to feel worthless. You sink into the martial art and feel part of something. It was a family of my own.
How would you describe yourself at the time you started training?
I was 14 years old and at a very vulnerable stage in my life. A very shy and reclusive kid. I wouldn’t go out and play or socialise with anyone, and found it very difficult to interact. I didn’t really want to be seen as the shy kid – especially at school because people would push you around. It makes you feel insecure about yourself. And then, getting the same at home from parents that didn’t really want me around too much. It just made sense to hide myself away. So, it was a very vulnerable stage of my life. It gave me an option of either: keep going down that path and not progressing anywhere, or do something about it and change it. Training with Master Hedges opened my eyes to a different way of thinking. I would train at the classes twice a week and train at home everyday.
What was the difference in how you felt when you were training?
When I first started, I was like anybody who was new: the nerves are there. I remember the first person who came to me, a man called Mr Henklist – a 3rd Dan. He was a big man with a shaved head and ginger beard. I thought ‘oh…what’s he going to do?!’ He told me that he was going to help me and train together. I immediately felt at ease and warmth for this person. It was a great family environment: I felt a part of it immediately. For me it was a surprise because I wasn’t used to that. I’ve only seen that in the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan system. I’ve not seen it anywhere else where you feel that sort of environment. I hope it keeps moving forward and I hope that every student feels that way moving forward.
Can you talk about your school life at the time you started?
School life was basically: I went to school and did my work. I kept my head down because all they did was mock me and push me around. I was a tall kid but kept to myself and got used to being pushed about. It wasn’t a great experience. In some respects, I’m thankful for that because it made me into a person that’s not going to be like those people. I’m going to help people to change that attitude. To me, it’s really important. A main reason why I teach is to help the people that need it, not the people who can do the stuff. It’s great that they can, but they don’t need my help. The people who need my help are the vulnerable people that have come through, those who are physically unfit, and those who need guidance in the right direction.
That’s what I found through training. Leaving school to train at class was great because it put away all those negative thoughts about people making me feel bad about myself. You lose a lot of trust in people very quickly. It took me a lot of years to recover from that. Even now, I still struggle a bit.
The things that I’ve learnt now – going back into the training and pushing myself whilst training – thinking about breathing, the technical elements…I could see how that fixes a lot of the psychological issues. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders and feels like freedom.
Can you reflect on your experiences as you went through your martial arts journey? Were there any personal changes that you noticed?
Absolutely. Just even simple physical changes: instead of walking with my head down, I’d walk with my head up, looking forward. One little change like that saved me a whole heap of hassle. I think even if you don’t feel that you’re confident, show that you’re confident. I learnt that through the self-defence and one-step sparring. We were always getting instructed to look at the opponent’s eyes and to not look down. That one lesson taught me to just stand tall and it worked wonders. My fitness levels also sky rocked.
What value has the martial art brought to you?
The value is priceless. Once you apply yourself to it and become a part of it, it becomes more than you: it becomes about what you give back.
Training has made me hungrier to develop myself: how I learn the techniques, the forms, and self-defence. I learn from anybody. If I get white belts coming to class, I always say to them ‘I love this group because you’re teaching me today. I’m watching you and how you move. Maybe it’s a bit different to what I do, but it’s better and I could use that. I also watch you make mistakes and I remember making the same mistakes. So, by watching, you’re teaching me’. I tell my students that they’re always going to be a white belt. If I cut my belt open, it’s a white filling. We’ll always be white belts.
What has helped you stay motived over the years to train?
There’s a lot of different factors to be honest with you. I’ve had spells where I didn’t want to do it that day etc. I remember training with Master Hedges and getting hit by some of the black belts and getting knocked down. The only thing he’d ever said to me was ‘why are you on the floor? Get up.’ I never understood that as a kid. I started understanding it later on. It was a case of: I know why you’re on the floor because you get that at school – get up and stand tall. You’re not going to be that victim. You’re going to be that person who stands up to them. It’s a psychological thing – teaching to get over that hurdle of inactivity and idleness.
Those days when I didn’t feel like going to class, I went and actually trained my hardest. I felt fantastic at the end of it because I achieved something. A lot of people don’t see it like that. They think they’ll miss a day, and then that day becomes a week, and then it’s two weeks, and then they disappear. It’s a mental discipline.
What has been your biggest achievement in martial arts?
Actually attending classes. Hitting through the ranks is great, but the satisfaction is temporary. Ko Dan Ja is great and reignites the fire every time. But ultimately, teaching: sharing the knowledge. The biggest reward you’ll ever get is teaching somebody. Seeing someone not being able to perform something because they’ve put a barrier in front of themselves and breaking through it.
One boy in particular, his mum messaged me actually a couple of weeks ago about that – and it just made me feel alive. I didn’t realise we’ve done this for this kid. Basically, when he was born, the doctors said he was dead. He’s had surgeries and all kinds of stuff. He’s been in a really bad way and had a massive issue with his muscular development, co-ordination, and balance. He went to see this physio and occupational therapist who asked ‘what has this boy been doing? He’s fantastic. He can run, he can jump, he can hop, and he can balance. His fitness levels are great’. His mum messaged me saying ‘I just want to say thank you. You don’t realise that you’ve changed my son’s life’. That to me is the proudest thing that I could ever hear – that I’ve changed someone’s life to that extent.
What inspired you to become an instructor?
It was actually by having very good instructors teaching me. I will always train and serve Master Hedges. He was my inspiration. There were other people in there too, such as Mr Henklist. He technically wasn’t in the same league as Master Hedges, but his knowledge was amazing and he could teach and you could pick it up immediately. My motivation was because of those people who supported me and pushed me.
Bullying is hard, but I think if you look past that and see the positives and see the positive people around you, you’ll move the right way – you won’t hit despair.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone reading this article, who is experiencing – or knows someone who’s experiencing – bullying about the benefits of martial arts?
The first thing is, if they are getting bullied: jump into a class. It will push you in the right way – just from my own experience. Without it, I’d not like to think where I would be. It’s a scary thought thinking about it.
I remember the careers advisor at school saying to me: ‘you’ve got a choice in life, you’re either going to prison or you’re going to be on the dole’. That’s the truth. 40 years old now, I’ve got a business that I’ve been running for 12 years and expanding into a 6,000 sq. ft unit, and have four locations. It’s all because of martial arts training. I’m always improving myself, relevant to what I do. People need to do that. They need to work on what’s beneficial to them. Take the time to do it.
Thank you for your time.
From this interview, Robson SBN shows how martial arts training has really helped him create a more positive future. Through training, he not only developed physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Robson SBN emphasises that martial arts training has been incredibly valuable to his life, and continues to help him manage and overcome some of the lasting effects of bullying. You can find out more about his dojang here: Robson’s Family Karate.
Photos: © Jamie Robson, UK & Ireland Moo Duk Kwan. All Photos used with permission.