Just what is the cure for bullying behavior? It just may very well be enrollment in a high-quality martial arts program, especially if the bully’s behavior is for the most part learned.

For this article I consulted with Master Dan Vigil of Dan Vigil’s Academy of Taekwondo in Northville, Mich. Vigil knows all about childhood bullying; he was the victim of bullies himself  —  not one bully here and there, but many classmates on an ongoing basis  —  and only when he discovered martial arts was he able to reverse the bullying (without physical aggression) and develop healthy self-esteem.

Can martial arts cure a bully?

“It’s possible, yes,” says Vigil. “The right Martial Arts teacher will instill students with more than self-defense. They will teach values like respect, empathy, confidence and restraint. Like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I myself have years of experience in the Martial Arts. I’ve seen how this art form produces self-restraint and self-containment in very young children. I’ve witnessed what this does for older kids who’ve been training for several years.

According to my experience, martial arts teaches the following in children and teens:

-Respect for others; tolerance for those who are “different.” This is evident when obese or disabled students are treated with kindness rather than snickering, even if they struggle with their training.

There are few places other than a martial arts classroom where an obese student will struggle due to their size, without a single chuckle or sneer from other kids in the room.

-A quality martial arts instructor will not tolerate arrogant or taunting behavior in students, yet at the same time, will utilize a controlled temperament to prevent this kind of behavior: a calm yet authoritative approach.

-Kids as young as five or six are trained to stop fidgeting and sit still and listen as the instructor speaks.

-Kids with higher ranks are required to take newcomers under their wing; this develops empathy.

-The school is a sanctuary; for bullies who come from dysfunctional homes, the martial arts setting is a place they can feel at ease and not feel they must be mean to prove themselves or feel in control.

-When a child wins a tournament trophy that’s almost as big as he or she is, they get an ego boost that no amount of bullying of weaker classmates can produce.

Martial arts tournaments are all about showing respect to the judges and maintaining self-control.

And don’t be led astray by movies in which bullies know karate, such as in “The Karate Kid.” Of course the bullies in movies know martial arts; this is more entertaining.

If your child is a bully, or you fear he or she is at risk for this, do not hesitate to enroll your child in a high-quality martial arts school.

Do your homework very carefully, as some schools are “black belt factories” and promise black belts in 90 days. You can’t master martial arts in 90 days any more than a novice can master tennis in 90 days.

“One thing is for certain; training in Martial Arts will never create a bully,” says Vigil.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.