I grew up going to school in the 80s and 90s. This was still very much the old-school South African public school system, so it was pretty tough for someone who was a bit different (In those days, being different was having interests outside of sport and cars. In those days, being different could get you into all kinds of trouble). When I started school, I was wide-eyed with wonder at the world and I trusted people. By the time I left school, I had learned the darkest secrets of how ruthless and predatory society really is on the inside. People often say that kids are cruel. This is not true.
Adults are just as cruel.
Kids are just more honest. They are less concerned with projecting a politically-correct exterior than adults.
I learnt my most valuable lessons about self-defence in this school system. Here are the top 8:
Lesson Number 1. Assume that people are sh*ts until they prove themselves to be otherwise. See Lesson Number 7 below. Most people are in it for themselves to a greater or lesser extent. Some people are actively predatory. Only a very few people are genuinely interested in your welfare.
Lesson Number 2. Know thyself. I am wired to react violently to a physical threat. It’s digital, there is no build-up for me. One minute I’m calm, the next, I’m raging. I remember once when I was cornered by one of the school star rugby players in a locker room after school. We must have both been only about 12 or 13 years old. He proceeded to humiliate me verbally in front of a small crowd before circling closer to come into physical range. I instantly saw red and swung my school satchel filled with books and mouldy old cheese and tomato sandwiches overhead like a medieval mace and struck him on the top of his head with significant force and a faint smell of vintage cheddar. He burst into tears. It couldn’t have done much for his reputation.
It is critical to know how you will react in a self-defence situation because then you can make strategic and tactical decisions which will support your natural response.
Lesson Number 3. They just don’t give up. In all of the schools I attended, as soon as it was discovered that I would be provoked to violence by physical bullying, the attacks became social and verbal in nature. There was nothing I could do about that. I ended up just avoiding other people and sitting on my own in remote locations during recess times. At one of the schools I attended, there was a convenient section of concrete wall on the edge of one of the playing fields just in front of the boundary fence. I would sit concealed behind the concrete wall with my back against the boundary fence until the school bell rang to signal end of recess. Do not worry, I was not trapped behind that concrete wall. It was my shield protecting me from society. Behind the wall, my mind was free to roam the boundless worlds of my imagination. I was called a ‘nerd’ at school. A term which seems pretty tame now but in those days was a life sentence of ultimate social condemnation. In one of the schools I attended, they went to such lengths to humiliate me that a few of them befriended me in a covert operation over a period of several months before finally showing their true colours and revealing some embarrassing personal information about me to the school in general.
Do not relax your guard in a self-defence situation until you are absolutely sure that you have achieved a state of safety. One of the keys to survival is to endure until the situation is resolved.
Lesson Number 4. The System won’t protect you. At school, some of the main offenders were my teachers. I remember several occasions when I was dragged in front of the class and ridiculed by the teacher in front of the other students. This encouraged and reinforced the rest of the social abuse I was exposed to. I remember submitting a school project and placing it at the front of the class (A clay model of a system of hydroelectric dams, if memory serves). The teacher had to leave the class on some errand at that point. As soon as the teacher had left, the deputy principal’s son calmly stood up, walked to the front of the class, took my project down, placed it on the floor and proceeded to stamp on it with his feet until it was completely destroyed. He was never punished for what he did.
While you should always use the channels of official protection that have been made available to you, do not rely on them to protect you at all times and in all circumstances. They are over-stretched and ultimately they are human and fallible.
Lesson Number 5. Extroverts appear to enjoy humiliating introverts. There is more than one reason, but perhaps the main reason is that they just don’t understand them. People tend to fear and distrust what they don’t understand.
Lesson Number 6. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes but in most cases, they will flee from a fully-committed confrontation. I say ‘fully committed’ because a bully can smell fear in their victims. If they detect that you are not committed to carry the confrontation through to its inevitable conclusion, they will call your bluff and just beat you into the ground laughing all the time. Never throw a punch unless you are prepared to throw the last. If you cannot fight or are not prepared to, do not hang around. Focus all of your energy and will on getting away or securing your safety in some other way.
Lesson Number 7. 98% of people are sheep who will be swayed by a suitably charismatic leader to do good or to do evil. They don’t want to stand up for anything, they just want to graze quietly along with the rest of the flock and they will do whatever they need to do to escape unwanted attention.
Lesson Number 8. No one is beyond being a bully, not even me. By way of a personal confession, I was so desperate for acceptance at school that I was once pressured into paying another outcast to eat dog sh*t in the hopes that I would be accepted and he would take my place as the school’s most despised outcast. It was in vain. I betrayed my principles. All in an effort to be accepted by a bunch of sh*ts. This is the power of social pressure and the need for acceptance. Ensure that you maintain your integrity and remain true to your principles.
Personal honesty is the key. Always be prepared to see things from the perspectives of others and to acknowledge where you are wrong. I have seen self-defence situations arise because of bad social behaviour patterns which could have been avoided if the victim had apologised or acknowledged that they had behaved badly.
These were all hard and painful lessons to learn, but my school experience had a happy ending. When I transferred to Wynberg Boy’s High School in Cape Town, I met a group of like-minded people. All thinkers. All social outcasts to some degree. We banded together out of a common need to understand the world and our commonality made us strong. We would meet together in the school library quadrangle to discuss philosophy, the sciences, literature, psychology, technology, weapons, history, martial arts, fine art, medicine… We called this place the Library Quad. Over the weekends, we would get together to play table-top role-playing games or to work on science experiments or to play skirmish with squirt-guns and water-balloons.
The main difference about this group was that several members of the group including myself were physically capable. By that time, I had been involved in my own personal program of strength training for quite a few years. Our ‘turf’ was challenged by the school sports-jocks from time-to-time but we showed them the exit and sent them on their way. It was a real-life Revenge of the Nerds. It was a golden time for me. The worm had turned. I ended my school career on a very up-beat note because of these fine gentlemen. You know who you are lads. You made my life better. I will never forget those times. I will never forget the adventures and the camaraderie. It was in honour of this time, these gentlemen, this place that I named my R&D Company QUAD.
So what does all of this have to do with me not wanting a smart-phone?
Well, let me explain it thus: I have met people who, like me, fell in love with Tolkien’s writing long before high fantasy became mainstream entertainment for the masses. Some of these people just have no time for the modern mainstream high fantasy because they see it as an invasion of a place that was theirs before Hollywood tried to make a buck off it.
I was writing emails, searching the internet, inventing emojis and working on computers and micro-processors long before big companies like Microsoft and Apple sold us out to John Q. Public. They sold out the geeks and the nerds and now everyone and their dog has a smart-phone or tablet computing device. The middle of the bell-curve invaded a place that was ours. It was a place that we had to fight for. To some of us, it was our refuge in the midst of terrible struggle for identity and social acceptance. In protest, I do not own an off-the-shelf smart-phone and probably never will. I have instead made my own cobbled-together portable computing devices from time-to-time out of various microprocessors and mini-computers.
Have any of you had similar experiences at school? Do any of you feel the same about modern mainstream computing devices or mainstream fantasy entertainment? Leave a comment below. I’d be interested to hear from you.
And if you, like me, have been made to feel outcast from society, I want you to know that you are not alone. It was through commonality that we, the outcasts, stood up for ourselves in the Library Quad of Wynberg Boys High School and saw the dawn of a golden age because of it.
Written by Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia