As a 14-year-old growing up in a small town, Rick Bjorkquist was picked on because he stuttered. Fantasizing about the day when he'd acquire the physical skills needed to pound his tormentors into submission, the boy traveled 22 miles to the nearest martial arts academy.
Today, Bjorkquist is a 40-year-old martial arts master who lives in Algonquin and says he now teaches a better way to stop bullies -- verbal judo. Bjorkquist and his wife, Christine, a former McHenry County sheriff's deputy, are offering a free verbal judo workshop they hail as the most complete defense against bullies.
While some people still labor under the impression that the way to stop a bully is simply to ignore him or maybe even give him a good sock in the nose, those methods often make a bad situation even worse. The techniques and strategies used in verbal judo are the same Christine Bjorkquist says she was taught as a police officer learning how to alleviate volatile situations.
"If the program works for police officers, it definitely works for children and adults," she says. "Having the knowledge really builds your confidence, whether you are a police officer or a child. It's a great program. We're really excited about it."
While the Bjorkquists credit the recent bullying seminar at the White House for raising awareness of the problem, the key to stopping bullies lies with teaching people "a method of responding rather than reacting," Rick Bjorkquist says. A sick person who reacts to a medication has a problem, while a patient who responds to treatment is doing better, explains Bjorkquist, who says the concept is the same with bullying.
"When we are prepared to respond to situations, it becomes positive," he says.
Starting with basics, such as how you stand, walk and carry yourself, the mental principles of verbal judo mirror the physical skills in any of the martial arts.
"In the martial arts we teach people to move out of the way, to block and move," Rick Bjorkquist says. In verbal judo, "we teach people to verbally block and keep on moving."
In their classes, the Bjorkquists role-play so would-be victims know how to avoid bad situations, verbally deflect taunts, lure the crowd to their side, get out of harm's way and even deliver a proper apology when needed. Instead of one method to use as a weapon against bullies, verbal judo gives students a diverse arsenal of strategies.
"It gives them a system to try different options," says Christine Bjorkquist, who says she was painfully shy as a child in Crystal Lake before she began studying the martial arts at age 19.
Teachers and parents, who often feel helpless because they don't know how to protect a child from bullies, also benefit from learning the strategies, say the Bjorkquists, who own and operate Kyuki-Do Martial Arts of Huntley. Their bully-prevention workshop, from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, March 26, in the studio at 10993 Ruth Road in Huntley, is free to the public. Phone (847) 669-6030 or visit www.Huntley.TheBullyExpert.com to find out more information or receive free tips through a daily e-mail.
"The concept that it (enduring bullying) is a rite of passage is archaic," says Rick Bjorkquist. "I truly want to make this area bully-proof. We're all working toward the cause of making better people. We want everybody to be on the same team."