The first week of 6th grade sucked. A new school, and I was a geeky kid with a bowl haircut and glasses, big brown tortoise-shell framed glasses. Bullymeat. I knew that going in, and on that Wednesday I was told in no uncertain terms by Jeff T. and Gary M. that they would be waiting for me after class that day, the goal being to kick my ass in front of an audience. I was a fairly sharp kid, possessing the sense of humor/irony that would serve as a lifejacket as I grew older. I did the math. Me against two bigger kids while a bunch of other kids watched and did nothing = broken glasses, teeth, soul. I didn’t know how to fight (that would come later), so I did the smart thing, told the principal, and had my mom pick me up from class that day. And the day after. And the day after that. I would eventually discover a back exit that opened up on a cornfield, across from which sat my house. It was a straight shot. I sprinted across that field for weeks. Doing so helped me to become a better soccer player. Doing so made me feel weak, a victim, a coward.

The world never quites lowers itself to your expectations; I did eventually strike up a friendship of sorts with both of my would-be asskickers (we all ended up on our school’s soccer team, and a little wit goes a long way; I had a pretty deep well of Polish jokes, which were all the rage in 1980). I forgave, but did not forget – I knew both guys for a couple of years, and every so often, out of the blue, in the lunchroom or on the soccer field, I’d think about putting my fist through Jeff T. and Gary M.’s skulls. Hurting them. Taking back a piece of myself that they stole.

A few weeks ago, we enrolled Lucas in karate class. We had kicked the idea around for a while, but it was when we took Lucas to see that Clone Wars flick that the decision was made to sign him up. By the way, business owners and marketing types? If you ever want a sure-fire way of drawing new customers, tie in your product/service to Star Wars. See, at the movie theater, some students and teachers from Lucas’ karate school were there in the lobby, putting on a demonstration and passing out invitations to the karate school’s Free Learn To Be A Jedi Knight Night . “Karate”, read the flyer, “can teach you discipline, patience, and fighting skills – JUST LIKE A JEDI!” Of course Lucas immediately glommed on to this and asked us if he could “go to Jedi School”. (See how that worked? You know who’d really benefit from this? Dentists. Dr. Ira Goldstein, Jedi Dentist! I’m telling you, 10-year-old boys and 39 year-old shut-ins alike would line up for blocks to get a Jedi Root Canal.)

The first night was a success – Lucas did some karate stuff, and watched, transfixed, as one of the teachers did a sword demonstration that would have put Darth Maul to shame. And…this was where the hooks were set…he listened. To the instructor’s every word. Sat still. Stood. Bowed. We whipped out the check book. There was a brief moment of concern when, after the class had ended, Lucas asked us when he would get to learn how to use a lightsaber. “Well,” we said, “that will happen when you are older and have learned all of the other Jed-er, karate stuff.” Figuring we’d cross that bridge when we come to it.

I have to say that, several weeks later, we’re convinced that this was a great thing for the boy. He loves going, and we’ve noticed a significant change – fewer tantrums, and an eagerness to obey that wasn’t there before. And something else – the kids earn stripes on their belts for learning new things and being good listeners. Lucas practically beams with pride when he gets a new stripe, as do we. Self-discipline and self-confidence are worth their weight in gold. As is the ability to give some bullying asshole a flying spin kick to the jaw.

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