Life is bigger than all of us, and once you realize that, that’s half the battle. The other half of the battle is different for each individual person, depending on what we look like, where we come from, and how popular we may or may not be. Oh, and throw in the added ability for people to say harmful things online anonymously, and what we’ve created is a world of frustration, fear, and anxiety that I’m very thankful to have not grown up in.
I’m almost a native Staten Islander, my family having moved here when I was a young boy of 8 years old, and I’m now 54. We lived in a quiet neighborhood, and at that time, you could hear kids playing outside on the streets on any given day after school, and all day on weekends. We played all kinds of sports, although none of us went on to become professional athletes, but we certainly had a childhood filled with the innocence that seems to elude us today.
While we didn’t have cellphones (imagine), computers, and all of the common things people take for granted today, we had the capacity to interact with one another, a skill that this current generation of children seems to be lacking. We had the ability to think for ourselves and decide who we liked/disliked based on our own experiences with that person; not what we may have read on social media, heard from someone else, or thought based on someone’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other meaningless things people are still routinely judged by today.
We shared times of innocence meant to be shared, because we were innocent. We knew nothing about school shootings, teen suicide, and/or the internet sensationalizing it all, because none of those things existed then.
I went to Port Richmond High School and graduated in 1980, and during that time, I never once heard of a school shooting incident or one where a teen committed suicide due to being bullied. Now, these are common headlines in today’s world, which is very different than the one I remember.
I started martial arts at 10 years of age, and became a black belt by 13, going five to six days a week to karate. Those were the days where a black belt test consisted of you fighting every black belt in the school, doing every form you ever learned, along with an entire endurance test of one’s physical fitness. When I earned my black belt, I gained a level of confidence that I had not had before; however, I also was very disciplined, because I knew I could hurt someone if I needed to, but never wanted to, notwithstanding that.
When I started Junior High School, word quickly spread that I was a black belt, although never from me, because I was a bit of a shy, quiet kid. I remember there was a kid who was about 6’ tall in the eighth grade, and everyone was scared of him, including me. Unfortunately for me, he used to sit directly behind me in class, and would constantly punch the back of my head with his hand, sometimes harder than others, despite my repeated requests for him to stop. One day I decided that I had had enough, and as the teacher was writing on the blackboard, and he punched my head a few times, I told him to stop, which he ignored, as he usually did. This time he further baited me by asking what I was going to do about it. I stood up, turned around, and he stood up, towering over me. I hit him with a punch as hard as I could, and he didn’t move; the teacher was the only person who did not see me hit him. We both sat down, an imprint of my fist remaining on his face. After class, he ran the other way – as I had wanted to – because I thought for sure I was going to be in for a fight. But as it turned out, he never looked at or bothered me again, and neither did anyone else.
I certainly don’t condone hitting anyone unless you’re protecting yourself, and at that time I felt I was doing just that, because my pleas for him to stop had gone ignored for so long, and I had had enough. The martial arts had given me the confidence I needed to know I could protect myself if I had to. It appears to me that people today are not adequately prepared to face today’s problems.
There are many problems facing our youth today, most of which didn’t exist 20-30 years ago, and the few that I can think of are that it’s now easy to bully someone online, anonymously. In fact, teen suicide has increased 50% over the past 30 years. In addition, the internet has sensationalized negative behavior so much that our kids are desensitized to viewing and seeing violence.
I’ve witnessed groups of 10 kids in school bathrooms where two kids were fighting for 10 minutes, and wondered where the teachers, school security, and/or any personnel were. The innocence of youth is long gone, having been replaced by a much more sinister world that is at our youths’ fingers. With the click of a button, anyone can say anything about anyone at any time, true or not, for the world to see. Furthermore, there have been numerous instances where bullied people took their own lives, while their bullies continued to taunt their families online after they committed suicide.
I decided to create Rock’Em Not Sock’Em for many reasons. First, there’s an epidemic of teen bullying, and no gym directly addresses the issue head on, so I felt it would be interesting to explore that. Additionally, there are currently no rock climbing gyms on Staten Island, and the ones I’ve seen thus far have no anti-bullying platform. When I started further exploring the nexus between rock climbing and bullying I eventually came up with the name, Rock’Em Not Sock’ Em.
There are many benefits to introducing rock climbing to kids at an early age, as it helps with self- confidence, concentration, endurance, social interaction, and problem-solving skills. Anyone who has climbed before knows that the climber looks at the wall’s route before ever attempting to climb the wall, because they want to try and solve the problem before they start.
Solving a route on a climbing wall, could help the climber better solve problems outside of the climbing wall, in any number of situations which may occur. Furthermore, solving these problems on the wall, with and next to people you may not know, may give you a better appreciation for other people’s struggles, differences, and/or similarities.