More than anything else in the world, Tim wanted people to think he was tough.

I’m sure there were sociological or psychological reasons for this. Maybe he was craving respect. Maybe he just wanted to be acknowledged. Maybe it was just a misguided way for him to secure love, admiration and acceptance. I didn’t know. And frankly, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get through sixth grade and move on with my life.

And Tim was an annoyance.

It would be stretching things to say Tim was bullying me. I was the biggest kid in the school and Tim was the smallest boy in the sixth grade. I was a solid foot taller than he was, and at least double his weight. His constant attempts to goad me into fighting him were pesky and irritating, but not at all disconcerting.

Until he dropped the “K” word.

“You’re gonna get it now, fat boy,” Tim said one day on the playground after school. He was crouched in a peculiar looking stance, with one foot way in front of the other, his arms bent at the elbow and his hands extended straight and flat. “I just learned karate!”

The only thing I knew about karate was what I had seen on Hai Karate TV commercials, where the girls went so wild after they got a whiff of the men’s cologne that the company had to give you self-defense instructions with every bottle of the stuff that you bought — it was like a law or something. And they always warned you: “Be careful how you use it.” So I just stood there as Tim took two shuffle steps toward me and karate kicked my knee.

“Hey!” I said, wincing at the blow Tim had just delivered.

“Haaa-yah!” Tim shouted as prepared to kick me again with his left foot.

Evidently Tim hadn’t had time to read the left-footed kicking directions from the Hai Karate self-defense instructions. Either that, or my elephant-like reflexes had been literally kicked into gear by his initial attack. In any event, I blocked his second strike at my knee. Well, OK, that’s not quite right. His second strike at my knee was more like him lifting his foot into the air and leaning toward me. I grabbed his foot as it hovered near my knee — and I held on to it. The panicked look on his face made it clear that at this point, I was in complete control.

“I was just playing!” he said, fearful tears welling up in his eyes. “Please don’t hurt me!”

I had no intention of hurting him — I just didn’t want him to kick me. But I have to admit, I did kind of like the feeling of control that having his foot securely in my hands gave me. I thought about holding onto his foot and making him hop around the playground a little. But he was just so much smaller than me. I mean, who wants to watch Goliath picking on David?

“I’ll let you go if you promise to quit trying to fight me,” I said, twisting his foot slightly.

“I promise! I promise!”

“Scout’s honor?” I asked, twisting just a little more.

“Cross my heart and hope to die!” he shouted, his pre-adolescent voice straddling the fence that separates whimpering from screaming.

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“OK,” I said as I let go of his foot. He ran about 20 feet away from me, then turned and in a final act of quivering bravado, he stuck his tongue out at me. Then he scampered home.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes — in the playground and in the geopolitical world. Sometimes they are small and have skills or weapons that sound scarier than they actually are. And sometimes they push you to the point at which you finally have to deal with them. But at the end of the day they are still just bullies: Pesky. Irritating. Annoying.

And not nearly as tough as they’d like you to think they are.

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