April 2014


April Blog of Education

Kevin teaching how to use the Karambit at IPD in Tolland, CT.

On Aggression

Just the other night I heard on the evening news, “studies confirm video games cause aggression in kids.” As a High School History Teacher in the public education sphere, I’ve heard games like tag and dodge ball are no longer politically correct because they promote aggression in children. Sitting in my living room, I occasionally hear the local kids drive by shaking my windows with their high-end stereos in their low-end vehicles. I better lock my doors then since aggression has been linked to certain music as well. It seems like aggression is the cause behind so many of the problems. My personal opinion, aggression isn’t the problem, the lack of parenting/mentoring is. Aggression, in fact, can be good when tempered with guidance.



We live in a world that seeks instant satisfaction and immediate answers. We text instead of call, E-mail instead of write and Google instead of flip pages. Look at the responses our “leaders” have to real world problems. In the wake of Sandy Hook, legislators pushed for firearm restrictions and unilateral change. No legislator was willing to address the reason why the shooter was able to gain access to the building, why the school security measures were lacking, how there was no “security corridor” built into the structure or how the shooter, who in retrospect was clearly disturbed, bypassed scrutiny without proper mental health treatment for so long. By the way, ask any educator if any real structural changes (safety glass, metal detectors, and removal of easy access plate windows) have been made to their buildings since any of these violent events have taken place and see what their answer is. If we model our leader’s knee-jerk reactions, it is easy to see why we look to place the blame quickly rather than analyzing the causes.



Getting back to aggression. The word has been demonized. Heaven forbid if you or your child is labeled “aggressive.” We fear the label and therefore want to shelter our youth from anything else deemed aggressive. If aggressive is defined (by just about every online dictionary) as “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront” do we seek to be the opposite? In our world of seeking easy answers try to find an easy answer for the opposite of aggressive. It isn’t easy. Some opposites of aggressive in my opinion are passiveness, non-confrontational and apathetic. I know I don’t desire for any of my students to embody these traits. I want them to be “go getters”, to stand up for what is right, I want them to be as passionate as something in life as I am in teaching survival skills, martial arts or history. I want them to be aggressive. Yes, I said it and I will say it again. I want them to know when it is ok to be aggressive and how to use aggression constructively and with good intentions.



I’m not saying all aggression is good. Aggressive drivers are obviously punks. Aggressive spouses reacting emotionally can be dangerous. Aggressive large group protests usually don’t end well when fueled by hatred or ignorance. I am saying aggression can be focused and directed for good.  Can you imagine hearing that on the nightly news? Neither can I. Then again, the folks who watch the news or buy into the easy fixes aren’t those who are willing to learn the hard way what aggression can do to an individual. I’ve learned to overcome insurmountable odds on the mat during Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class and have taken the metaphorical lessons there and applied them in my life outside the dojo. I’ve learned aggression focused can yield results. I’ve learned the value of creature comforts by aggressively challenging myself in the outdoors. I’ve learned to be more cautious on the road by taking an advanced highway safety course which taught me to drive actively and aggressively. In all of these scenarios, there was always someone watching over me providing guidance. What is lacking in many “aggressive” scenarios today is the voice of reason. What is lacking is oversight.



Aggression isn’t bad. No battle, no challenge, no adversity was ever won without aggression. You can tell the difference between a sports team playing aggressively and one that is not. You can predict the outcome of a confrontation in nature between predator and prey by gauging which is fighting more aggressively to survive. I recommend my students to face problems and fight them off aggressively. Notice I did not add “foolishly.”  Calculated aggression is a great strategy and emotional responses are not. Students should be willing to use proper aggression at all times but understand and be willing to seek other means if necessary. Never should a student simply abandon aggression because it is labeled “bad.” Aggression is a great tool in their tool kit.



As a product of the 1980’s and 1990’s, I was exposed to more aggression than most kids growing up today. Rambo, Commando, GI Joe, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was thrown head first into an aggressive testosterone driven childhood and I wound up normal. I thank my parents who were a constant guiding force for teaching me how to direct my actions. They told me what was right and wrong and when aggression was appropriate. I really worry today when kids aren’t allowed to play aggressively and are told to put their actions in time out. What happens when this kid grows too big for time out? All the years when that child could learn the consequences of their actions were wasted. Imagine instead what could happen if a child’s aggression was channeled into hitting a heavy bag, into physical activity like canoeing/kayaking or running, or into lifting weights. What is the worst thing that could happen if a child directed their aggression into doing something physically good for them?  Don’t restrain aggression, direct it. I’m not a parent but I do see the potential problems in making your children far too passive.



Critics can say “well, would you like your daughter to date an “aggressive” guy?” or “do you want your son to be aggressive toward his teacher?” Given the right direction, absolutely yes. If I ever have a daughter, I would want her to date a guy who will aggressively protect her.  Then again, my daughter will likely be the one protecting her date when I’m done training her. If I ever have a son, I would want him to stand up to his teacher if he felt he was being taught something morally wrong. Throw him in In School Suspension for doing something right and I’ll take him out for ice cream! Throwing the label “aggressive” around is easy. Coming to terms with the conditions which make it right is not.



Don’t be afraid of aggression; be willing to use it. As a survival instructor, I teach students to suppress emotions when making decisions but sometimes good emotional responses yield good results. When that rock is pinning your loved one, use your aggression to wage war with it and harness your superhuman strength to lift it off them. Then again, you could always seek option two found in the news and be unaggressive in your response. Tell me again how that works out for you. Spend the vital time with those you are teaching and teach them right from wrong. Be that parent, that watchdog, that coach, that friend and be willing to let your student learn how to make aggression work for them.