The first time I was sent to the principal’s office for fighting was in second grade. I didn’t start the fight. In fact, I wasn’t even part of the conflict that led to it. I got involved because a bigger kid was bullying a younger student who had just arrived from another country. The new kid was confused and of course completely terrified. The fight itself was a wash—we both ended up with ripped clothes and a few bruises. I had however accomplished my goal of taking the burden off the new kid, who walked away unharmed. I inserted myself into the situation because the injustice of it resonated with a sense of fairness I felt—an inherent duty that those of us who can do something to prevent that sort of thing, should do something. The new kid and I became good friends after that.
When my father got home that night, he sat me down and asked what happened. I nervously explained I didn’t think it was right that the smaller kid should have to feel scared, get beat up, or have his stuff taken just because the other guy was bigger and stronger. My dad softened. In a gesture of understanding, he looked me in the eye and said in his southwestern Georgia accent that if that’s what happened, he wasn’t mad—he was proud. He then issued a clarifying mandate that I have carried with me ever since and passed on to my own kids: if I ever hear that you’ve picked on someone smaller or weaker than you, you’ll have to fight me when you get home.
I started karate at age five after falling instantly in love with The Karate Kid. Over the years I have studied and trained in a number of combat sports and have competed in karate tournaments all the way to full-contact MMA cage fights. In decades as a martial artist I’ve won and I’ve lost. I’ve handed out and received my share of stitches, broken bones, torn cartilage. But to this day I have never picked a fight with someone smaller or weaker than me. And for better or worse, I’ve never backed down when I was outnumbered or the odds were long.
One fundamental difference between a trained fighter and a bully is that the fighter knows to walk away whenever possible, and to fight only as a last resort. Unfortunately, our system of justice is skewed in favor of the bigger and more powerful. The deck is stacked high against injury victims from the instant they get hurt. Insurers train adjusters to deny legitimate claims. Every step of the way is fraught with tricks and tactics that are designed to scare innocent folks and their families into giving up and letting the insurance company or the big corporation get away with wrongdoing. Those aren’t the kinds of fights I walk away from.
Bullies should never, ever be tolerated. They should be confronted, exposed, and destroyed. That’s what I’ve done my whole life, and it’s what I’ll be doing until they put me in the ground.