Martial Arts Classes For People With Disabilities

Martial Arts Classes for the general population have gone up in enrolment over the past few years.

Although there is no single reason why this is so, various studies and some martial arts experts have indicated that Hollywood is a key aspect of this , while self-defence reasons may be another. According to Simmons Market Research, 18.1 million Americans practiced or learned Karate or another martial art at least one time in the past year. This includes 9.4 million adults, 3.2 million children and 5.5 million teenagers.

Advantages Of Martial Arts Classes

An advantage of this sport/exercise’s popularity is that there is no shortage of classes available locally for every demographic, including those people who have a disability. From specialty classes to modified positions in more traditional classes, there is a lesson suitable for everyone who wants to learn martial arts. In many schools, classes teach self-defence or fitness, or occasionally both in each lesson.

Self-defence can be one reason to learn martial arts. For someone with a disability, simply knowing that one has knowledge and confidence in a situation can be very empowering.

From a fitness perspective, martial arts is a full workout for every part of the body. Even the modified practices and skills will work muscles in the cardiovascular system and increase strength and flexibility which are all important for good health.

Starting Out

Depending upon preference, talking with a teacher or coach of martial arts and observing a lesson or two can be a good way to determine if one is interested in starting martial arts classes. The adventurous might want to start right away in a class; the main precaution would be consulting a medical practitioner or your GP first to ensure physical readiness for this new type of activity.

Is Modified Martial Arts Still The Real Thing?

It is in no way invalidating to modify martial arts moves. Just as people have strengths in different areas; the same is true with martial arts. Where one may have a deficit in one skill, their skill in another area can be ‘out of this world’ talented. It is all about the attitude and how much work the person is willing to put into what they are trying to achieve. Disabled people can and have achieved Black Belt status and awards for the areas of martial arts which they are able to do well.

All martial arts follow a logical and strictly principled ideology. Once a person has learned the basis for the martial art of their choosing, studying the moves is easy because the moves are meant to enhance the philosophy. Therefore, the modification of the moves is unimportant, so long as the ‘reasoning’ behind them and the purpose they serve stays intact. It is said that the biggest adjustments occur within the student, facing up to insecurities and conquering them.

Specific Modifications

Depending upon mobility, some moves may need to be adjusted. Common modifications include substituting a heel strike for a front kick, or a round-house kick for a elbow-strike to help someone with difficulty walking or balancing. For the visually impaired, learning defensive moves with the cane as well as special close-up hand to hand combat may be a positive area of focus. The cane has long been a respected branch of martial arts learning. Modified chokes, rear-defence moves, and even modified knife-defence can be learned by people with disabilities just as readily as those without.

The Tools

Physical implements of martial arts classes for people with disabilities can include everyday items such as foam swim tubes for blocking, knee pads, hula hoops and stress balls. Sometimes with modified martial arts, the easiest and most effective adjustments are whatever occurs to student and instructor in the moment.

The Testimonials

For those who are disabled and involved with martial arts, the testimonials are almost invariably positive. One example is from Norwich, UK by 6th dan Chiefmaster Bob Banham. Bob began his martial arts career back in 1967 when he was just 14. At age 33 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but this didn’t stop him from doing what he loved. Today he is a wheelchair martial arts participant and is the number one ranked Hanmudo black belt in Europe,( and 5th highest in all the world). He is a 4th dan in Taekwondo and head coach of a martial arts school where he also teaches.

The Big Question

The biggest question about martial arts classes and the disabled is not, ‘will it be possible’, but rather, ‘which martial art style do I want to learn?’. There are schools registered specifically for disabled teaching, and most regular classes can be modified if there is the interest. For a student who may be shy, private lessons to start could be just the right motivation to get into martial arts and feel more confident before joining a class of disabled and non-disabled students. Others may feel more comfortable in a class which is specifically geared toward the disabled, but with so many forms of martial arts to choose from, there is undoubtedly something for every eager student.


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