Sat on this post for awhile because I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I'm still not positive. It's not a black-and-white issue. I also didn't want to turn what a heroic kid did into something about me. But I did want to share some stories from my own experience because I believe they convey a larger point, and I hope you'll get that. I think you will. You're smart folks.
That said, here's my best take on the whole situation with the Zangief Kid and whether or not victims should physically fight their bullies. (If you need clueing in: Zangief Kid is the dude who bodyslammed his bully down under in Australia, mate. Here’s a link to the video.)
I’m for it. There is a difference in fighting nobly, and just fighting, and defending yourself or someone else is never just fighting.
Back in seventh grade, before I grew eight inches—and muscles, and got popular after people realized I could actually play sports—I got bullied. That year, I was just happy to make the basketball team. Up until then, I was always just kind of a dork.
* I'll always remember my Little League coach joking with my parents about my 9-year-old tryouts. "This little kid walks out there with his big ol' glasses and I'm sitting there thinking, Oh, God, this kid's going to get killed.I told the guy to hit the grounders easy."
All I know is that somehow I made the all-star team at the end of the year. I was the only nine-year-old to do that. They must have been desperate for a backup catcher.
If there was a nerdy way to be an all-star, dude, I found it. Wearing my big, thick glasses, I smoked a grounder between third and short and scurried towards first. I say "scurried" because I took really short steps, which I had never done before. I saw this kid who was really fast run like that before the game, and I thought it would at least make me look fast. Instead, it made me trip, and I faceplanted right in the middle of the first baseline. Got thrown out.
We won by slaughter rule, but I cried.
So yeah, all that to say, I wasn't the toughest or meanest kid in seventh grade.
There was this eighth-grader, Justin. He was all muscles and zits and body odor and evil smile. He liked to pick on the younger kids by grabbing pressure points in their necks and squeezing. Felt a little worse than swallowing fire. Paralyzed you. All I could do was curl up and beg him to stop, tears in my eyes.
Experts like to pontificate about how bullying victims should go tell a teacher or principal.
Yeah, you can do that, but this is school. That kind of word gets around, no matter what the higher-ups promise you. You just don’t do that. You can, but you won’t have friends anymore, because who likes a whiner, especially one who’s a snitch?
On top of that, even when teachers or principals know, there's only so much they can do. The coach saw Justin grabbing a kid one time, and he told him not to and threatened to have him suspended, but Justin wasn't actually punching anybody. He wasn't doing anything that seemed overtly bully-ish. It wasn't anywhere near as bad, at least to the eye, as what those little Australian snots were doing to the big kid in the video.
But it was terrifying. And I had no idea how to make it stop. I am not a fighter.
This was the year that I made my best friend, Brandon. Yeah, we have the same name; I didn't pull some weird writer split-personality friend deal, or something like that. It was a normal friendship.
He handled the whole bully problem in a way no teacher or principal ever can.
Justin did the same thing to him for awhile. Then one day halfway through the season, Brandon snapped.
Justin grabbed his neck. He slugged Justin in the head, grabbed a big ol' chunk of cardboard lying against the wall, and beat the almighty fire out of the kid. Justin nearly went to his knees, stumbled away. Never touched Brandon again.
A few days later, Justin grabbed me on the bus. Since Brandon didn't have any cardboard handy, he just used his fists, and beat Justin back into his seat, saying, “F---ing quit it.”
And wouldn’t you know it, Justin f---ing quit it.
The experts also worry about that manner of retaliation—see Zangief Kid—"condones violence" and whatnot. Technically, yeah, telling kids to fight back is, well, condoning fighting. But I don’t know that this is totally a bad thing.
Going to the principal, best case scenario, removes the bully from school. Best possible scenario. But there’s so much that doesn’t do. It doesn’t breed strength; it breeds weakness. It breeds kids who never learn to stand up for themselves, who want someone else to always fix their problems, to fix their lives when they can’t deal with the consequences.
Of course, sometimes bullying gets extreme, and then, yeah, call in an authority. Please. Back before I quit watching Glee, one character threatened to kill a gay kid. Rightfully, the threatened gay kid went to administration, the bully was kicked out. It seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: Someone threatens to kill you, you don’t kill him back; you go to an authority. We square there?
But when it comes to neck squeezes and cheap punches—the usual things normal boys do to each other—c’mon, folks.
A few years later, there was this obnoxious little guy, Eric, who always picked fights with me. He was sort of like the kid in the video. He'd hit me, provoke me, on and on. By then I was even taller and had plenty of muscles, so I felt bad for even thinking about fighting back.
On a soccer trip, Eric and I somehow got stuck rooming together. He and our other roommate, Brett, kept flying off beds and leaping on me with his blanket and the wire from the phone and wrapping it around me. Teammates wrestle. It’s fun. But then I got tired of it.
Brett caught my drift quickly and left me alone. Eric, not so much. I was brushing my teeth when—"Ayyeeeee!!!"—here he came again, flying off bed. He landed on my back, snapping my neck sideways, cracking it.
In pain and rage I decided to have a fight. I whipped my elbow around, catching Eric in the jaw. He turned and fell; I turned and punched. Being an unpracticed fighter, I hit him in the back. That pissed him off. He wheeled, cussed me, and, eyes afire, starting throwing punches.
I fended him off. Four or five times he tried to punch me. Not one landed, each caught in my palm. Then he spit on me. I told him to go take a shower. Then I walked out of the room, and yeah, I let my chest swell a little.
Later in life, I got pushed around on a couple of baseball teams. One in particular comes to mind. I still deal with mental s--- from that. I was only on that team for a year, but it messed me up for awhile. I have few regrets in life, but one is that I didn't ever stand up for myself that year.
So hit back once in awhile. Maybe don’t body-slam a kid on concrete. But a little self-defense here and there—it helps you grow up. It earns you respect. Not just from others, but also, perhaps most importantly, from yourself.