Rener Gracie with jujitsu students
Photo: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy
When I met 7-year-old Mathew, he seemed like any other child on his first day at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy—a little nervous and shy. His mother, Maria, sat on the couch in the lobby filling out the new student registration form, and he sat beside her, quietly, staring at the floor. I introduced myself and then reached out to Mathew.

"Hey champ, my name is Rener. What's your name?"

He sat motionless.

I pressed, "How old are you, buddy?"

He continued to stare blankly for several seconds before mumbling, "I wish I was on flight 800."

It took a moment before I realized that he was referring to the airliner that exploded over the Atlantic Ocean killing all passengers. I will never forget the feeling of utter and total emptiness that swept over me when Mathew shared his dark outlook with me. I pulled his mother aside and asked what could cause a child of such a young age to feel this way. She explained that an older boy had been bullying Mathew at school for several weeks. The bully was always well behaved in the presence of teachers, but as soon as they disappeared, he would drag Mathew by the ankles around the bathroom floor. Mathew never spoke of this harassment, but eventually refused to go to school for fear of the bully.

Upon learning of Mathew's plight, Maria notified the school principal. The principal spoke to the bully and his parents and arranged for Mathew to meet with the school counselor. The counselor quickly discerned the depth of Mathew's anguish and recommended that he see a psychologist. The psychologist tried to help Mathew understand that the bullying wasn't his fault and that he should confront the other boy to get him to stop. But, without self-confidence, there was no way Mathew could muster the courage to act on this sound advice. His world was crashing down inside of him, and he desperately needed help. On the advice of a friend, Maria brought her son to the Gracie Academy in a last-ditch effort to restore Mathew's confidence and help him regain control of his life.

How bullying affects young children like Mathew