Remember the days of the old school yard?
Today, I am writing this post in response to a video that has done the rounds online. You may or may have not seen it but I thought I would share it today. It is about a young man named Keaton Jones. Keaton has been bullied at his school, and his mother is filming his emotional outburst in regards to the bullies giving him a hard time. This video touched many people including a list of celebrities who reached out to the young man in question and offered support. It goes to show you, that bullying still affects others regardless of their status.
I chose to write this post today because I know the pain of bullying all to well. I grew up much different to my peers during my primary school years and even later into high school. In fact, my life was much different to most I went to school with. For starters, I never was interested in sports like most children were into particularly AFL. Most kids liked kicking the football around. I was not interested in football, but to fit in I feigned interest in football and even chose a team to barrack for. Essendon Bombers was the team I chose, and the only reason was because my uncle Bill, is a devoted supporter. My mother often dressed me in Target brand clothes and I often wore daggy Aerosport Sneakers, as opposed to Nikes and Adidas like the other kids. I always dreamed of owning a pair of Nikes, but Mum refused to buy them. (I was in Year 10, when I got my first pair as a bithday treat)
I also had a hard time, because of my ethnic background. I am of Maltese background, despite being born in Australia. My last name Sultana, was often seen as a joke by others and I had a few nicknames. "Dried Grape, Sultana Bran, Sulty" Not many people called me by my first name Simon as there were several other Simon's in my class. Nobody truly understood the meaning of my last name. Sultana despite being a dried grape, actually means Queen. In Arabian culture, Sultan is a King, and Sultana means Queen. So if you were to say my name in English it would be Simon Queen.
Honestly, I prefer Simon Sultana over that name. I once was ashamed of my name and often was called a Wog, and told to go back to my own country. Australia was my own country I always would explain. But, often the bullies wouldnt see it that way when I brought Kunserva sandwiches to school. Affectionately known as "Wog Sandwiches" they are a crusty bread roll, lathered in tomato paste, tuna, olive oil, capers and olives sprinkled with salt and pepper. This sandwich is seen as a delicacy in Malta, but in Australia was seen by my peers as disgusting. I would try to exchange these sandwiches with other kids for Vegemite sandwiches or Fruit Roll Ups to no avail.After a while, I would stop eating these sandwiches because of the ridicule I received and would often bin them and skip lunch for the day.
I was a skinny, unathletic, bookworm who liked reading Tin Tin, Mr. Men, playing Nintendo and was the teacher's pet. I had a vast vocabulary, was reading novels meant for year 4 students, when I was in Year 1 and my claim to fame was reading the Macquarie Dictionary cover to cover. I even was called upon to help correct homework, in particular when we did spelling tests. I was affectionately dubbed by my teachers as the "Walking Dictionary".
If I did play with friends it would be my childhood friends Leigh and Trent, but other then that I only had a small group of friends. I began to act out and do strange things such as stealing people's lunchboxes and hiding them in trees, ingesting strange liquids like cordial syrup and eating serviettes to gain approval from others proving I could handle any dare.
I even remember defending a Prep from a Year 5 bully, who thought it was alright to throw stones at a little boy. Norman was my Peer Support buddy, and I actually was rather attached to him, because he liked hanging out with me. I stood up for him and took on the bully, by biting a chunk of flesh out of his arm. He had to have a tetanus shot and he swore revenge on me. I was in lots of trouble because I chose to defend an innocent kid. Back then I couldn't defend myself or others so thats why I bit him. Norman was thankful, however I was in deep shit with the principal.
Time went on, and I began high school. I thought my problems would dissapear. They got worse, when the bully told his sister about me. His sister was in year 9 and I was in year 7. I lived in fear because his sister would embarass me in front of other people, and would remind them of what I did to her brother. She would shove me into lockers, tip my schoolbooks over when walking past me, throw gumnuts at me and made death threats against me. I eventually told my mother, and she went to the principals office and demanded justice. Political correctness, as usual stood in the way and because she was a girl, and there was no evidence of the behaviour, she was deemed innocent.
At the time, I was seen as a 'Rebel without a Cause" because of the fact I would swear at teachers, when they told me off, got into a fight protecting my friend Glenn, and tried to break the bully's nose by smashing it into a steel handrail. Oh and the fact I managed to hack into the library intranet computer system and write an offensive yet suggestive private message to the head librarian Miss Kirkwood. My mother, despite being a sweet, kind Maltese lady went into beast mode and declared that if the girl touches my son again, I will beat her up myself. In her eyes, I did no wrong.
To hear my mother say that was unbelieveable, but I guess it is true a mother's love is stronger then one can imagine. Time went on, and eventually the abuse died down. But, two years later, it came back as I would often sneak around the school yards doing my best to avoid the bully's sister. She finally confronted me near the lockers and went beserk. I was shaking like a leaf, and I thought she was going to hit me, but thankfully a teacher walked by and saw her abusing me verbally and finally put a stop to it.
I was no longer a victim, and for the first time I felt safe. It was around this time to cope with the stress of being stalked by the bully's sister I began drinking alcohol, and I remember being able to purchase 200ml flasks of Johnnie Walker Red Label from the IGA. I was growing facial hair, and because of my hirsute ethnic background looked much older then I actually was at the age of 15. I could actually grow a moustache. I found that a daily swig of scotch before school and afterwards would make it easier to deal with life. Thankfully, I dropped this habit of drinking alcohol regularly. I began hanging with different people in order to fit in and be accepted.
I was invited to a house party a few months later and got blind drunk on a mixture of bourbon, beer and scotch. The host of the party kicked me out as I supposedly spilt bourbon on the persian rug. I would rather not disclose what happened next, as to me it still affects me to this day, but to cut a long story short he assaulted me physically and pushed me down the stairs outside his house. I then remember stumbling home drunk, with jacket clenched in my fists and eventually settling into the fetal position on my friend Glenn's front doorstep. His dad, almost tripped over me as he headed out the door for work. I explained what happened and he let me inside. His mother made blueberry pancakes and gave me a shoulder to cry on.
My siblings could see over time I began to withdraw and suggested I take up martial arts, despite initial objection from my mother. She then conceded and realised this may actually be good for me. In fact doing martial art, changed the trajectory of my entire life for the better.
17 years on, I am still training in Kung Fu and Kali, I am a qualified self defence insructor and accomplished security officer and crowd controller. Looking back, those moments of weakness defined my life as it is today. That boy who once was a weak coward, became a man. I know longer let people push me around and I am not afraid of fighting for what is right.
Keaton, I just want you to know that your situation unfortunately isnt unique, but dont let these experiences define you. Martial Arts changed my life and if you ever see this blog post I would be honoured to mentor you and teach you my craft. I been where you are, and know how much it can hurt to be subject to bullying. Stay strong, and you have my support as well as the fighters of the UFC. Never let those bullies get the best of you and remember to never back down...