Is There Bullying In The Martial Arts Community? The Truth Revealed!

Even though many martial arts schools have started anti-bullying classes to help children defend themselves, is it possible they are experiencing the same bullying inside the dojo? The ethics in martial communities teach children about character and etiquette, but that isn’t always enough to prevent your child from being taken advantage of.

Bullying in the martial arts community does exist at a small level, with usually one or two students being the main offenders. Martial arts schools run by instructors who focus on competitions and revenue over character are the primary facilitators of bullying inside a dojo.

What dojos around the nation have begun to offer is anti-bullying classes to help children feel confident enough to stand up for themselves if presented with confrontation. Read below to understand how your child could be the victim of bullying inside the exact place meant to help them protect themselves.

Does Martial Arts Prevent Bullying?

Over 300 martial arts schools around the nation have pledged to teach free anti-bullying seminars in their community.

This doesn’t mean that your kid will never go through another situation in life without being bullied, but what it does mean is that they have an outlet to release their frustrations and a community to feel supported.

They will be given tools that help them build their confidence and stand up for themselves. Even though you can’t prevent other kids from making fun of your child, you will notice how your child reacts to these situations with indifference.

Another way to make a child less of a target for bullying is to give them the gift of physical fitness. This leads to greater confidence and helps to take the sign off of their backs leading bullies to see them as easy targets.

One of the best pieces of equipment to do this and train martial arts self defense skill is a quality, appropriately sized heavy bag. My favorite one for kids, some teens, and moms is this one that can be shipped directly to your house from Amazon.

With the support of their community and the feeling of belonging, your child will increase their self-image and be able to handle difficult situations without feeling bad about themselves and becoming depressed.

Signs A Martial Arts Class Might Be Susceptible To Harboring Bullies

If your child is suffering from bullying, it’s a great idea to send them to a self-defense class to boost their confidence and even give them tools to defend themselves.

But before you do, you will want to make sure the martial arts school that you are looking at is going to help your child and not turn out to be the source of your child’s bullying.

We have to face reality. You cannot control the parents sending the other kids to the class nor the environment set by the instructor. What you can control is which class your kids attends and which people have contact and influence over your child.

Let’s look at some warning signs you should be aware of when selecting an instructor, style, and class for your child to attend. Martial arts training is definitely good for helping to stop bullying, but these signs could point to the problem having infiltrated the very thing meant to stop it.

Dueling or Sparring Is Central To All Training

One tip to keep in mind when seeking out a martial arts instructor or style is the importance of realistic training. Many get this wrong. It is not surprising that they do, seeing as the trap they fall into is a an easy one to mistake for the proper path.

Dueling or sparring is a great drill if done properly to help with real time live application of techniques. Yet, so many wrongly attribute it to simulated self defense training. It simply is not. It is nothing more than an agreed upon dueling drill with delineated areas, rules, goals, and start/stop times all in place for specific reasons.

If you would like to learn more about which style is actually the best for true self defense, see my article here.

An instructor or school that sets this drill and not actual self defense and self improvement as its central theme should be a red flag for parents wanting to help their kids with bullying. A group or class that over emphasizes this drill can be a breeding ground for bullies.

An atmosphere of competition can be good if kept under control, but is easy to let get out of hand and turn into a bullied child’s worst nightmare. Instead of helping them with confidence, they can become the low hanging fruit sought by bullies looking for easy targets to bolster their own low self images.

Though sparring drills can be good for upper level and older students, even then parents should be concerned if competitions and sparring seems to be the central or even main focus of the group.

Ages And Skill Levels Are Mixed When Sparring

Mixed age and skill level classes are fine and even good in most circumstances. Yet, when live training drills like sparring are used to any significant degree, this immediately turns into a problem.

Why? Simply put, size matters. No matter who or how many times someone tells you that it doesn’t, reality still proves them wrong. I will give you one simple and difinitive observation that will settle it in most anyone’s mind.

Look at any one-on-one combative sport and you will see the evidence that size matters. There are two main designations that divide groups within these sports. Sex and weight. If size and strength did not matter, there would be no male and female divisions and no weight classes.

So does this mean that martial arts is futile since much of the time bullies are bigger than their targets? No, and that is the beauty of the martial arts. With all things equal size matters. Yet, if your child becomes proficient in quality techniques and the bully is not, these techniques can actually equalize the size differential or even give your child an advantage.

This is the reason it is imperative that you find quality instructors that are not teaching classes without regard for good character. Teaching bullies these techniques is simply endangering everyone else. Steer clear of classes not based on good character and so focused on competition and sparring that they blind themselves to who is in their classes.

There Are Frequent Injuries In the School

This will take a little digging to find out, but a clear sign of bullying existing inside of a dojo is if kids are getting frequent injuries inside their class. Of course, there is a physical aspect to all martial arts, and accidents happen, but if these are frequently happening, there is a problem. 

Instructors should not allow students unsupervised live sparring drill time for any reason. This is also true of siblings or friends at home. This drill is not bad in itself, but can be used by bullies or even create bully situations that normally would not have materialized if proper supervision is not mandated.

Talk with other parents from the school and see if their kid has ever received an injury while in class and ask for details surrounding the situations. There are poor instructors who promote a very competitive atmosphere, which can lead to children not knowing when to stop.

You can also read online about the instructor of the class and find out if other parents have already complained about a bad school or talked about their child being injured. You may not be able to find out if the instructor doesn’t show empathy, but brushed aside injuries are a bad sign.

The Instructor Has Bullying Tendencies

It is required for a martial arts instructor to discipline their students if they aren’t following the dojo’s rules, but no instructor should ever be the source of bullying. There is a fine line between having a dojo that requires their students to respect the rules and one that tries to instill fear to get children to listen. 

Watch a class before signing your child up even for an ‘intro’ class and watch the actions of the instructor closely. It will be easy for the instructor to act differently because parents are watching, but the real truth will come when a child acts up.

See what their natural reaction is and how they handle the situation. If they are yelling or trying to intimidate the children, it will be a clear sign that your instructor may be a bully.

The School, Instructor Or Class Isn’t Based On Good Character Development

Watching any karate movie on TV might give you the impression martial arts is all about violence and physical contact. But the truth is that much of martial arts is about the ability to mentally handle yourself in any situation and respect others as you would like to be respected.

There’s a good chance that if the instructor doesn’t value these methods of personality building, the dojo could be focused purely on the physical aspects and competition performance in tournaments. When these become the focus, it is much easier for a bully to have free reign over the other children.

Interview your teacher beforehand and definitely watch a class to see how everything is facilitated. Talk with other parents and see how their children are enjoying the class and see if they’ve ever complained about being bullied before. 

How to Deal With A Mat Bully

There is always at least one individual in a martial arts school that takes it a little further than everyone else. He doesn’t quite know when to stop and is usually the cause of injuries in the school.

This is ultimately a problem that the instructor should handle. It is the job of the instructor to make sure that the environment is safe for all involved.

That being said, some instructors are better than others. Here are a few tips on how you and your child can deal with a mat bully in class.

Identify If The Problem Is With The Bully Or Their Parents

I have met many kids that when caught pushing too hard or being too aggressive if asked will explain that it is compliance with expectations from their parents. There are actually many videos taken by parents lauding that their kids defeated every ‘kid in the dojo’ on social media.

The problem needs to be addressed by the instructor, but you can speed up the inquiry process if you ask a few questions of other parents and students. Of course, do it in an inquisitive rather than accusatory manner.

Instructors can usually tell which are problem parents very early on in a child’s training. If you have picked a quality instructor, chances are, he or she will already know exactly what you are referring to. Your complaint may be enough proof for the instructor to then deal with the issue head on.

Try To Have Your Child Talk With A Mat Bully

Before your child begins doing any kind of live training with a potential mat bully, it’s important they state where they are in their martial arts training and what their expectation is. 

If they explain they are just starting or would like to “go light,” then they are verbally letting the bully know what their expectation is, and it’s up to the bully at that point to respond. 

If the bully ignores the request and still pushes too hard, then your child needs to stop the practice immediately and call for the instructor.

Simply Ask Not To Train With The Bully

Tell your child to explain to the instructor beforehand that they are having issues with a specific student and that they don’t want to train with that student. 

Your child will have to explain their situation to the instructor, and this should give your instructor a good idea about what is happening and what to watch out for. This could even lead to the instructor talking with the mat bully and telling them to change their attitude.

How to Tell If Your Kid Is Getting Bullied

Twenty-eight percent of kids aged 12-18 are bullied each year, but as a parent, you might never know it. When a child is bullied, not only are they ashamed and don’t want to share their experience, but they are also scared of what might happen if they do tell someone.

This is a problem that does not stop with childhood years. Not only does your child deserve to live a life free of bullying, society as a whole it better when these situations are identified and the offending child is corrected.

According to a study done by researchers at the University of Chicago and published in the journal, Crime and Justice, there is definite evidence of coloration between bullying in younger years and violent crime in later ones. This is an important issue for your child and society at large.

How can we combat this for your children and for others in the future? Bullying can take many forms and doesn’t have to only be physical. Below is a list of different ways your child may be getting bullied.

  • Physical – can involve punching, hitting, kicking, or other forms of physical abuse
  • Verbal – teasing, name-calling, or verbal threats of violence
  • Emotional – Intimidation as well as inappropriate gestures, and social excluding
  • Sexual – Inappropriate touching
  • Racist bullying – degrading someone’s character based on their ethnicity
  • Cyberbullying – online harassment, online threats, hate messages, inappropriate texts, or other digital abuse 
  • Hazing – humiliating a child as a requirement to enter a club or organization

Because not all of these types of bullying will show as bruises on your children’s skin, you will need to look for clear visual clues you can pick up on to understand if your child is being bullied. Especially if your child isn’t going to let you know about their bullying. Some signs include:

  • Doesn’t have any friends they hang out with or talk about
  • Shows fear about going to school, riding the bus, or other activities
  • Makes excuses for not wanting to go to school
  • Does poorly in school
  • Appears upset, sad, or depressed after school or practice
  • Suffers from low self-esteem


As a whole, the martial arts community does not have a lot of bullying inside the dojo and has even created free classes offered for helping kids who are victims of bullying. But this doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. 

Just because martial arts put emphasis on character and etiquette, that doesn’t mean you wont run into a poor instructor who allows bullying in his dojo. It’s important to do your due diligence to see if the school is right for your child so they can use martial arts to prevent bullying, not participate in it.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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