By: Glenn Moses
Editor’s Note: Our industry is replete with instructors and school owners who teach bully-prevention techniques and programs, especially to their young students. They do so because they sincerely care about their students’ welfare. Others, particularly those instructors who were victims of bullies themselves earlier in their lives, place even more emphasis on such training at their schools.
But few in our field go as far as Arizona’s Johnny Williamson. For him it’s a serious passion. So powerful is his commitment he’s more akin to an anti-bullying crusader or deeply engaged activist.
Consider this: When we made first contact with him about doing this major feature article you’re now reading, he was somewhere over on the East Coast attending an anti-bullying event. We told him half the article would focus on his bully-prevention activities, in association with October being National Bully Prevention Month. The other half would be devoted to his successful school, Starworld Martial Arts in Goodyear, AZ.
He was ecstatic — but guess what? Not about the well-deserved praise he’d receive for his thriving school or for his skill as a savvy businessman, but about the national attention his bullying activities would get! He was so excited, in fact, he immediately launched into a detailed account of his multi-tiered crusading efforts! We had to politely ask him to save his explanation for the taped interview.
Growing up in the early 1960’s Johnny Williamson, often found himself the target of racist bullies, especially in the south.
“I grew up as a military brat in the early 60s,” Williamson explains. “My father was in the U.S. Air Force. I’m African American and, back then, there just weren’t a lot of African Americans in the Air Force. So, when we got stationed somewhere, I really stood out — and because of that, people started picking on me.
“I was young and couldn’t understand why these guys were messing with me. Then, I realized it was because my skin was darker and I didn’t look like everyone else. That made me different and that bothered some people. As we moved from base to base, I just learned to adapt. But when I got into high school, that’s when it really hit hard.”
Whenever a bully confronted Williamson, he took evasive action. As anyone who has ever been picked on knows, running away only adds fuel to a bully’s fire. He perceive you as an “easy target” which commonly encourages his bad behavior.
In Williamson’s case, there was one particular trio that were doggedly intent on causing the young man grief.
“I have no idea why those guys were always after me,” he says today. “I never did anything or said anything to them.”
Up to this point, Williamson had managed to elude his pursuers most of the time. However, on one eventful day, his luck ran out.
“I was walking home and there they were — waiting at the end of a cul-de-sac in front of my house,” Williamson recalls. “I’d been running from those three guys for a long time. Now, they have me cornered. I thought, ‘No way am I going down there.’ So, I snuck through a yard to the rear of my house to avoid them.”
Fueled by a surge of nervous adrenaline, Williamson made it to his back door, but it wouldn’t open! His knuckles pounded with lightening speed against the locked door.
“Both my parents opened the door wanting to know what in the world was going on,” he says. “My dad demanded to know why I was trying to break down the door. I was brutally honest. I told him about the bullies, and that they were out front. And that I ran to the back of the house trying to get away.”
What happened next played out like a scene from every Western movie ever filmed. There comes a time in such movies when the good guy has got to face down the bad guys. He does so by walking toward them, not away from them.
So, this was Williamson’s OK Corral moment, and it would change his life forever! After pleading his case to his father, the youngster was given a dose of tough love.
“You don’t tell your dad, a sergeant in the Air Force, that you’re afraid to fight,” Williamson points out. “Dad firmly told me that I had to learn how to deal with people like that. Then, he opened the door and sent me back outside to do just that!”
This time, there was no running away, no back yards to cut through, no place to hide. It was time to face the music.
With a sense of false bravado, the nervous teen began walking forward, closing the gap between him and the three bullies. One slow step after another, Williamson moved toward his destiny as a future anti-bully crusader; he just didn’t know that at the time.
“This was the first time I’d ever shown any courage,” Williamson says. “I had no idea what to expect, but I knew this was the right thing to do.
“As I approached, I looked all three of them squarely in the eyes. They appeared confused now. They were used to me running away. So, I sucked in some air and puffed up my chest. I was trying to make myself look three times my actual size! Then, I gave them a look that said, ‘If you do anything, you will regret it.’
“I was scared. Heck, I was [actually] petrified! But because my parents wanted me to face them, I felt as if I had permission to be tough. And believe me, I am not a tough-looking guy. In hindsight, I now call that puffy thing ‘confidence.’
So, guess what? I walked right pass them and they never bothered me again.”
Shortly after joining the U.S. Army at 19, Williamson began training in taekwondo. A year later, he was reassigned and, along with the new post, the young soldier found a new martial art he loved, tang soo do. He’s been climbing up its ranks ever since.
18 years later, the now-seasoned black belt retired from Uncle Sam’s service to, first, open a private security agency.
“After securing all the necessary credentials, I opened my company in 1995,” Williamson explains. “My focus was in bodyguard protection, in addition to a canine unit. I did this for five years. It was wonderful, but I really wanted to do martial arts full-time.
“I ran into [tang soo do] Grandmaster Jae C. Shin, and he suggested that I look up [certain people] for some advice on how to run a school. By getting with them, I started to realize that I could teach martial arts full-time.
“I had just been promoted to master rank in my organization and decided then to open a full-time studio. As time went on, MAIA [Martial Arts Industry Association] came on the scene.”
Later in this article, we will discuss in detail how applying the knowledge of what Williamson learned in MAIA transformed his school, Starworld Martial Arts in Goodyear, AZ, into a thriving operation will be discussed in detail later in this article. In keeping with the topical focus of National Bullying Prevention Month, let’s jump forward and see how he applies anti-bullying techniques to his martial arts instruction.
Williamson’s passion is to help other people achieve their goals in life. He especially enjoys accomplishing that goal through teaching martial arts. At this stage of his life, he has become a successful school owner and respected black belt instructor.
His passion for helping others, combined with the firsthand experience he’d had dealing with bullies, was about to usher Williamson into the next phase of his career — an author.
“My biggest joy in life is helping people to learn how not to be the victim of a bully,” Williamson says, proudly. “I grew up being bullied, so I understand that. When a friend of mine challenged me to write a book on the subject, I did.”
Coincidentally or not, Williamson’s entry into the literary world was greatly influenced by a traditional judo technique called kuzushi, the breaking of balance.
In the sport of judo, a judoka must first control the situation by taking his or her opponent off balance. As a writer, Williamson learned to do this with his words.
“As I began thinking about how to approach my anti-bullying book, I was getting involved with verbal judo,” he says. “Verbal judo was created by Dr. George J. Thompson. In addition to being an expert in judo, he was also an English-professor-turned-street-cop.”
Understanding the power of the spoken word can be a useful weapon when used to control a situation. Williamson related how Dr. Thompson developed his verbal judo tactics. He would watch police officers participate in real-time crises, and observe strategies for talking down violence using, instead of force, what later became known as “verbal judo.”
Williamson infused verbal judo’s wisdom into his book on how to deal with bullies. He preferred using words to defuse a bully over a roundhouse kick to the head.
“Having the ability to take an adversary off balance with words and confident body posture is the best and safest way to get control of a situation,” says Williamson. “This way you can get [the bullies] to calm down without anybody getting hurt.
“There is actually a verbal judo course offered at Wisconsin Technical Institute. As I went through the course, I saw that their course in verbal sparring techniques is exactly what I used to do. I just didn’t know that it had a name.”
According to Williamson, “Bullying is the same no matter where you’re from! So, I came up with seven strategies that I use in my method.”
1. The Tactical Ignore
2. The Confident Insignificant Look
4. The Peaceful Threat
5. Higher Authority
6. Stand Your Ground
7. Be Physically Ready
“We [in the martial arts] roleplay [physically],” says Williamson. “That’s the problem we have in our industry right now: we roleplay fighting and self-defense, but we don’t roleplay verbally.”
Any martial artist understands the value in learning sets or forms, and how to break those moves down into a self-defense situation. But those are just physical applications. Williamson’s verbal katas are roleplaying techniques designed to create a nonviolent outcome.
“I roleplay what to say and how to say it to control a bullying conversation. I roleplay proper stance, which is body language. I even roleplay the proper way to sit to offset a negative situation. And I roleplay the proper way to look at somebody that’s said something they shouldn’t have said. I call it ‘The Confident Insignificant Look.’ To describe it, I tell kids, ‘That’s the kind of look your dad or mom would give you after you’ve said or done something you shouldn’t have.”
“I teach people how to give that look and how to ‘ignore’ a bully. Ignore also works. You can’t show fear. You can’t show that you’ve heard him, let alone acknowledge him.
“To teach that look to a kid, I say, ‘Pretend that you’re playing your favorite video game and winning, when your mom and dad tell you to stop and come eat.’ You don’t flinch, you don’t do anything. You just go about your business as if you didn’t hear a thing,” Williamson says.
“Kids need to be taught how to ignore bullies. You can’t just say, ‘Son, ignore them.’ Kids don’t know what that means or how to do it. And that’s what I do and what my book [explains]. It shows people how to teach others these techniques.
“I also teach what to do if someone pushes or shoves you or hits you. People have the right to defend themselves. But in my eyes, fighting is always the last resort.”
To date, Williamson has written two well-received books, Bully Prevention and 7 Strategies to Defeat a Bully: Defeat the Bully Without Fighting.
“My first book, Bully Prevention, became popular within my little circle of people who wanted to teach my techniques,” Williamson says. “So, I wrote a second book on how to teach it.”
The rapid and exponential proliferation of social media in the New Millennium sadly brought with it an ugly new platform for bullies that also saw a massive increase in the number of young females targeting female victims. Williamson also addresses this hi-tech problem: What you should do if you are a victim, or the parent of a child, who is dealing with cyber bullies.
Last, he offers private lessons when it’s necessary.
“I work with people one-on-one that are really having serious issues dealing with a bully,” he says.
From the moment in 2015 when Williamson opened MAIA’s monthly Success Kit for school owners, he was sold on the Martial Arts Industry Association’s unique marketing strategies and the way in which they were presented.
“I was very impressed with the package,” admits Williamson. “I thought, ‘Wow, there’s no one doing marketing like this!’ MAIA’s presentation was very effective and very pretty. I have a master’s degree in business and understand marketing, so I knew what they had to offer was unique. I started with MAIA and I’ve been with them ever since.
“When I say ‘it was pretty,’ I’m referring to the fact that MAIA paid attention to their color schemes. It’s the little details [that impressed me], such as the size and type of font used that matched the headline and subheading that set them apart. Plus, the package had great [written] copy. And the Call to Action was left blank, making it easy to fill in. MAIA made the entire system easy to plug in and play.”
As most martial art school owners know all too well, the business has its slump periods as well as its peaks. When Williamson’s peak began to stagnate at his Starworld Martial Arts in Goodyear, AZ, he again turned to MAIA for more
“My business was kind of stagnated at 100 students or so,” Williamson says. “Then, I got to 120, but was having a hard time busting past that 130 mark. I had a friend visiting me. He was going to a MAIA Wealth event. He told me what that was all about, in addition to informing me about MAIA Elite.”
Williamson checked out both programs and decided to hop on board. Once the decision was made, the high-ranking black belt knew he had made the right call.
“I felt like they really knew what they were doing,” he says. “The reason I felt that way was because it wasn’t a one-man show. So I took a leap of faith, and I’ve been with them for three years. I went from 130 students to where I now have 230.
“It’s the little tweaks they have you do that make the biggest difference. For instance, my MAIA coach, Adam Parman, told me I should be using themes for my events. Like, a Ninja Turtle event, for example, then have another one that’s a Super Hero event, then do an anti-bully themed event.
“The event theme worked great!” Williamson says. “When I started doing that, a lot of people starting coming in. And they taught us how to do back-to-school events, too. That got us into the [local academic] school system and things began to skyrocket from there. It worked so well that we were running out of room. We didn’t know where we were going to put all these new students! That’s a good problem to have.”
“Because MAIA had already solved this problem — too many students, not enough room — for other school owners, it was an easy fix for me,” Williamson says. “When you’re dealing with MAIA, you aren’t dealing with just one person. They have a team of people they can go to for a solution to any problem.
“The people at MAIA are great and I recommend them highly. Everyone in MAIA is like a family. Everybody shares, and I really like that because that’s how my karate organization is. I’m with the World Tang Soo Do Association. We are a tight group. We share; we don’t expect anything in return and we don’t charge to help somebody out.”
Williamson was also quick to endorse MAIA’s philosophy regarding the importance of building relationships. It matched his own high value he had already placed on relationships through past personal experience.
“Like I said earlier, [tang soo do] Grandmaster Shin was very important to my career. Over the years, I’d built a relationship with him. When I was in the army, I worked at the University of Pennsylvania in the ROTC department for three years. The headquarters of our association wasn’t too far away in Philadelphia. So, at lunchtime I’d go there to work out.
“I lived in New Jersey and that was where my main instructor, Master Britt, was. So, I’d work out in New Jersey at night, then the next day, at lunchtime, I’d be at the headquarters where I’d run into the Grandmaster and others.
“Those relationships started building. That’s important because you never know who or when you’re going to meet someone that will be important to your career down the road.”
Martial arts is also a family affair for Williamson. His successful school business will eventually be passed on to his heir, his black belt daughter.
“I have a daughter, MoShay, a 3rd-degree black belt who’s also a world tang soo do champion,” Williamson says. “She just turned 30 and she’s eager to pick up the business when the time comes.”
One of the many lessons Williamson heavily applies from his MAIA education is the importance of creating strong bonds with people. Professional school owners all know and practice very astute level of customer service today. It’s part of the modern business-success model. But Williamson takes it a big step farther in one markedly unique way.
“We really work on customer service a lot,” he explains simply, before throwing his business curveball at you. “If someone isn’t happy [training at my school], I don’t say, ‘Well, too bad. You’re stuck to a contract.’ Instead, I let them leave [without enforcing the contract payments]. That’s because I’ve come to realize that karate isn’t for everybody. And also, sometimes people just grow out of it. So, when they want to quit, I let ‘em go.
“We live in the same town,” he adds, to bolster his reasoning. “I don’t want a former student to run from me when they see me because they’re stuck to a contract. I want to be a part of my community. This is where I live and I’m proud of that.”
In the final analysis, it seems pretty clear that Johnny Williamson, a formerly bullied kid, has captured the coveted American Dream — but, in his case, on a rare dual level. He’s integrated his two main goals in life: Doing martial arts full time and teaching students how to handle the serious social problem of bullies/bullying. Presumably, he’s gotta be one of the happiest and most fulfilled black belts in our field!
His father was right. That day he forced his son to confront his fears was perhaps the most important turning point in the young man’s life. That day when he bravely walked up to and right past the trio of bullies was the day Johnny Williamson quit running away and started running toward all the various goals he set out to achieve: Veteran military man, university grad, teacher, successful businessman, social crusader, author, and father.
And we especially like this one: Role model.
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