I actually enjoyed playing bullrush as a kid (even though as a small, weedy and non-competitive kid, I was quite useless at it). At my rural primary school, almost all the children participated. But I also remember the damage it caused: occasional concussions and destroyed clothing were just two of bullrush's more unpleasant side effects.
I get kind of annoyed with people who go on about how soft we've made our kids, giving the ban on bullrush as an example. If you want kids playing unregulated, physical games, you need to a) not complain when kids occasionally break a collar bone or knock out a tooth, or b) be prepared to pay more tax, so schools can employ enough staff to supervise kids as they play.
Having the opportunity for physical play is really important for kids. Maybe I'm a bit boyish in this regard - I grew up with three brothers, and spent a lot of time climbing trees and wrestling, and at times getting up to far more dangerous mischief.
Not all kids want to play the same way my brothers and I did, and nor should they be expected to. But for those kids who need the outlet of rough(ish) physical play, I don't think the answer is to ban it. I certainly don't think the answer is to let them go for it, regardless of the consequences, so they don't go 'soft'. That's a recipe for stupidity, with somewhat homophobic undertones. I remember kids dying from avoidable accidents when I was a child, during dangerous play activities like tunneling in sand dunes (a local child suffocated when the tunnel collapsed), and bouncing on a trampoline without safety pads (another child had his neck broken when he landed between two springs). Even the most gung-ho, don't-let-kids-go-soft parents don't want their children seriously injured or killed, surely?
Last night, Campbell Live featured an item about a school which has reintroduced bullrush. Initially, I prepared myself to cringe at a redneck extravaganza of the 'harden up' variety. But what this school was doing was actually quite sensible. Kids were taught to play bullrush as safely as possible - it was explained how they should tackle in a way that avoided head and neck injuries, and an adult supervised their play. Hopefully, the adult kept the lid on sporadic fights, which were prone to break out in my day, and helped the kids be mindful of the difference between competitiveness and aggression.
The aim of this supervision wasn't to take risk out of the game altogether - and, indeed, the risk is part of the joy of bullrush. The goal was to preserve the fun, but make sure the risks weren't out of proportion to the fun. Skinned knees are a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a good game of bullrush. A spinal injury isn't.
So I take my hat off to the school that's instituted this sensible approach to physical play. I just hope that, if safety-conscious bullrush becomes a widespread phenomenon, we parents of school children appreciate that the time of the teachers needed to supervise is not an endless resource.