Not So Lethal Weapon

A few weeks ago I was participating in a martial arts related discussion group on Facebook. One of the members had been reading my posts. They mentioned that they were interested in reading about my experiences with weapons. My training with weapons have been sporadic over the years.

Before I began my official martial arts training my former brother in law introduced me to various types of martial arts weapons he had received training on while living in another state. I remember one of the first weapons he showed me were kali sticks. He demonstrated the “Heaven and Hell”  combo drill that he personally liked to practice. He explained how you can practice the drill by yourself and how you practice with a partner. In an attempt to help him practice I held a kali stick in my hand. As soon as I made contact with his kali stick mine flew out of my hands and across the living room. – I do good to hold a pen in my hand let alone an inch and half to 2 inches in diameter round stick. Wrapping my fingers around a kali stick has proven difficult for me to do.

Not wanting to give up the idea of learning how to use the kali sticks; I have spent years wondering what would be the best way for me to keep it from flying out of my hands. I recently had an epiphany while watching Marco Polo on Netflix. Thanks to the character One Hundred Eyes, I understand why the Tai Chi sword has a sash coming off the handle. As One Hundred Eyes explained; “it is not there to be pretty, it is there to wrap around your hand and sword so you can learn how to hold it.” – Though I am not as proficient in the Chinese martial arts, so I have not checked the accuracy of that statement from the movie. Feel free to comment below if you want to provide feedback. – I am hoping this concept will work for me. I am in the process of trying finding the right sticks and a couple of sashes.

While growing up and years before starting martial arts I always regarded the samurai sword as the ultimate weapon. What can I say, I was young and naive.  My former brother in law explained to me that in modern day society you don’t find people walking down the street carrying a sword. He explained to me that the most practical weapon is the bo-staff or jo staff. There are many everyday items lying around that can be used as a bo-staff such as a pool stick, mop or broom handle, a wooden or metal pole, and so on. He explained how in some styles of martial arts such as Aikido they train you how to disarm swordsman. This concept had me interested.

I learned in my early years of karate how to use a bo-staff. My instructor found a lightweight staff and cut it down to size for me. I learned a few basic striking and blocking techniques. I really enjoyed working with the staff even though I never got to learn how to disarm someone with a sword. Shortly after receiving my bo-staff I came home from school one day and found that my mom’s dog used it as a chew toy leaving one end slightly pointier. I was upset at first, but my dad sanded down the end that had been chewed on.   It was awesome going into class with it. I went from having a bo-staff to having a spear. My sensei was very concerned that I was planning to turn my classmates into a shish-kabob with my staff

IMAG0984However the only time we worked with the bo-staff is to do the bo kata or the bunkai. I did not care for this kata. As you can see by the picture of my hand, I do not have much dexterity and it is hard for me to curl my fingers around an object. My arms are not long either, so raising a bo-staff over my head for a block is out of the question. I learned very early in karate there is no changing or modifying a kata. I did the best I could with the kata because it was a requirement for advancing to the next rank.

Despite the fact that the only time we worked with the bo-staff was to do kata, I did feel comfortable using it as a weapon. I would go home and work on the striking and blocking techniques that were easiest for me to do and still maintain control of the staff. Before too much longer I began collecting broom handles and dow rods and placing them around the house. I even had a stick in one of the corners at the office I worked in. It was provided for me so I could use it to press the elevator buttons since they were slightly out of reach. Anytime I needed to go to another office on the second or third floor, I had my stick in hand. After working for the agency for several years, one of the elected officials realized I knew how to use it as a weapon and would steer clear of me in a jokingly manner of course.

The Time I Almost Used My Skills

I will say that having a stick around the office was beneficial. I worked for a local government agency and regularly had to deal with the public. Not all citizens were full of sunshine and happiness coming to our office. On one such day, my boss and I were sitting at the main conference table having a chat. The rest of the staff was either out to lunch or out in the field. A citizen came into the office upset over a noticed that they had received. They made complaints and accusations about a particular staff member. There was a partition with a counter top that separated me and my boss from the citizen. In a fit of anger, that citizen came around the counter very fast. As they made their way I jumped up from my seat and grabbed my stick. I got in front of my boss with my stick in hand in a ready position. I had already sized up the person and knew which areas of the body I was going to attack. That person didn’t get any closer once they realized I was ready to defend my office and co-worker.

The bo-staff isn’t the only weapon I am familiar with using. In my jujitsu class, we learned how to defend ourselves from batons, clubs, and edged weapons. Since we are “civilians” we learned a few striking techniques with the weapons so we would know what to do once we disarmed the attacker. As far as I have seen in my local area, if a person wants to learn a specific weapon system then there is the Iaido (samurai sword) class. Again, where is the practicality of samurai sword class when people do not regularly carry swords? Unless your names are Conner or Duncan MacLeod then you might get away with carrying a sword everywhere. However some of the dojos in my area do offer a more in-depth training session on weapons. These classes and seminars were mostly designed and advertised for people working in the public safety profession.

Defensive Bladed Weapons Seminar

I am using energy, not strength, to hold up Professor Ernie Boggs from hitting the ground. This was taken at the West Virginia Public Safety Expo 2013.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend such seminar. This seminar was specifically developed for law enforcement officers and public safety officials. The focus was on edged weapons. The seminar was taught by Professor Ernie Boggs. I was excited to find out that I would get to learn from him. Many of my classmates I practiced karate with over the years had been to several of Bogg’s seminars. My classmates only had good things to say about his seminars. I also knew that Boggs would have an assistant instructor with him. I was most excited to work out with the assistant since that instructor knew me from a very young age and had been following my progress in martial arts. This was the person I remember my father telling me about when he was working road patrol.

I practiced a variety of offensive and defensive techniques with a knife for 8 hours. The best part is that Professor Boggs understood I had limitations. He and the members of his entourage worked to modify techniques so I could execute the moves effectively. Boggs even found a practice knife that would work for my hands specifically. I learned how to strike and block attacks. I learned where all of the vital areas in the lower half of the body.

In the last year, I have become fascinated with the Filipino art of Kali and learning as much as I can from YouTube videos with Doug Marcaida, Brian Johns, and Jackie Bradbury. I would like to continue exploring various weapons and try to find one that will fit my needs perfectly. Maybe perhaps I will take a page out of ninjutsu history and use everyday items that are within reach as weapons for self-defense. The next post we will look at using assistive devices that people with disabilities can use for defending themselves.

I would like to hear from you the readers about your experiences with weapons. Have you been able to adapt a weapons system to your disability? Feel free to comment below and share your story.

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Practical ways to include disabled people in martial arts training

Hello again Karate Kickin Dwarf readers. Here is the second article from Kai Morgans on the practical ways to include disabled people in martial arts training. Kai Morgan normally focuses on women’s issues in martial arts. I hope you all have enjoy her insights as much as I have.

I recently attended an excellent workshop called, “How to Coach Disabled People in Sport”, run by Sports Coach UK. You can read my write-up of the event here: 10 Tips for Coaching Disabled People in Sport.

In consultation with Larry, here are some thoughts and ideas about how the course material applies to the martial arts in particular. Part One of this post was about how teaching or training alongside students with disabilities can enhance your own practice. This second post looks at some practical ways you can modify activities to include people with disabilities.

The heart of the workshop was an in-depth discussion on Stevenson and Black’s Inclusion Spectrum (2007). This divides activities into five main types:

1. Open activities – A simple activity based on what the entire group can do with little or no modification

The warm-up and cool-down may fall into this category. Participants with a disability or other limitations are supported to change some exercises as needed, but otherwise they just join in with the rest of the class.

Activities such as practising drills as a class can also fall into this category. This can also be combined with some time spent in one of the other types of activity, to give the person more intensive support as needed.

2. Modified activities – Everyone does the same activity with adaptations to challenge the more able and support the inclusion of everyone
Firstly, bear in mind that your first response doesn’t always have to be to modify techniques and other movements. Often, the real barriers for students with disabilities can be more about lack of confidence; or things like spatial awareness or lack of balance.

Remember too that people with disabilities generally participate in sports less than non-disabled people, so they may have a general level of inexperience and/or lack of fitness. So a lot of your coaching and support may focus on supporting with these aspects.

However, there will be times when modifying a technique is appropriate and helpful, to make it more accessible for the student. For example, if someone doesn’t have the physical strength to handle a full-size weapon comfortably, you could use modified training weapons, such as a smaller or lighter (e.g. junior size) version.

You can also modify a technique, by splitting it into its component parts, and letting the student just focus on some parts of it. For example, someone might have a physical impairment which prevents them taking someone to the ground (or being taken to the ground) at the end of the technique. Or someone with a learning disability might find the full technique over-complex, but be fine to just practise a part of it.

And you can make it clear that it’s fine for students to practise the techniques slowly, if they are less flexible, or find it hard to grasp what to do.

3. Parallel activities – Participants are grouped according to ability – each doing the same activity, but at appropriate levels

In this case, a disabled student could be paired with a senior student to work on the given technique at their own level. Terry Taylor gives some excellent examples of how this might be done for students with different types of disability. He recommends involving students themselves in finding solutions to barriers, as they tend to be the “expert” on what works for them:

  • For people with a visual impairment, try being very descriptive about how the technique is executed, supported by hands-on correction if they are comfortable with this
  • One blind student wasn’t able to grasp the three-quarter turn in Kihon Kata. So Terry and the student worked together and realised that if they split it into three one-quarter turns, it made more sense to the student.
  • For people who use wheelchairs, the chair replaces certain aspects of what the legs would normally perform. So again, using kihon kata as an example, the chair will turn left or right according to the direction in which the techniques are being executed. For the middle portion the wheelchair is ‘freewheeled’ forward whilst three oizuki chudan’s are performed.
  • For a deaf student who uses lip-reading, be prepared to repeat instructions several times if needed; and always face them directly when speaking to them, and double-check their understanding.
  • Similarly, students with learning difficulties may need a technique explained and repeated many times; and may need more correction, and longer to learn it.

4. Separate activities – An individual or group does a purposefully planned different activity

In this case, you or someone else would work specifically with the student, on some aspect of training which they find challenging, or need to strengthen. Stefan Verstappen has written up a fascinating, detailed case study of his 1:1 work with a woman (Alice) who went blind in later life. This included:

  • Fitness training, as Alice was very unfit when she first joined the dojo.
  • Developing Alice’s ability to “see” the attacker, for example learning to be able to tell which hand someone used to grab her; and where and how they were standing in relation to her
  • Learning to use her white cane as a weapon, whether in response to someone trying to take it from her, or against a direct attack to her body
  • Learning to defend herself from grappling attacks

Above all, Stefan did some crucial, intensive work on helping Alice learn how to balance, which was causing her a crippling lack of confidence in everyday life. As he explains in the case study:

The key to Alice’s lack of balance was that she had lost her sight later in life; her nervous system had already been programmed to rely on visual information for balance. When Alice lost her vision a large part of her ability to feel balanced was also lost […] Alice believed that her lack of balance was just another ability lost with her vision. She was surprised and encouraged to learn that there is absolutely no reason she couldn’t learn to be more steady and solid on her feet. The knowledge that she could greatly improved her ability to learn the drills.

5. Disability Sport activities (“Reverse integration”)

This means that non-disabled participants participate with modifications, to meet the needs and abilities of the disabled players in the group. Reverse integration can provide enjoyable challenges for non-disabled students, and also increase their sensitivity and positive attitude towards disability.

It can also be great for the self-esteem of disabled participants, as they may even have an advantage over their peers (for example, wheelchair sports can be really difficult for those not used to using a wheelchair).

An obvious example in the martial arts would be practising techniques with a blindfold or eyes closed. You could also try practising freestyle from holds and grabs.

I don’t believe this could work for sparring that involves kicking or punching (although would love to hear any differently!), but Judo for the visually impaired is a recognised Paralympic sport. Paralympic Judo for the visually impaired follows the same rules as Olympic judo, except the judoka start in a gripped stance.

And Kelly Baggett argues that training without vision is an excellent was to develop proprioceptive efficiency (our sense of position and movement – often described as our sixth sense). She cites research that has found that exercises are performed with greater precision and stability when the eyes are closed or in darkness.

Lori O’Connell has also written an interesting article on this subject.

And the possibilities are endless. Try adapting an activity in the light of your student’s specific needs – or just explore and experiment with disability sport activities for the sake of learning. Examples might include:

    • Practise from seiza (both of you kneeling), or hanmi handachi (one person kneeling and one standing), to experiment with different height and balance. NB this is supposed to be great for strengthening the legs and hips!
    • Watch this intriguing video: Fighting with one arm and try out some of the techniques:

  • IF grappling is your thing, you have to watch: The Gracie Way (Episode 16): NO EXCUSES Featuring Kyle Maynard. Kyle has arms that end at the elbows and legs near the knees – but that doesn’t seem to get in his way!

This is only a really brief dip into a very vast, complex and fascinating subject. If you have any further ideas, Larry is keen to build his site into a repository of good practice, so please feel very free to share your thoughts, and examples of “what works” in your own dojo . . .

Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger with a special focus on women’s participation in and experience of the martial arts. Check out her blog and download her free e-book on how to attract and retain more female students in your dojo.

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How teaching disabled students can enrich your own martial arts

Hello Karate Kickin Dwarf readers. I recently had a wonderful opportunity present itself to me. This week I am not writing the article. I am featuring a guest writer and martial artist – Kai Morgan. Kai Morgan normally focuses on women’s issues in martial arts. She recently had an opportunity to attend a course on coaching people with disabilities. She wanted to reach out to the people that follow Karate Kickin Dwarf and share the knowledge she gained. The article provides an insight on how to teach disabled students in martial arts. This article gave me a better insight on train with me and how I can improve their training experience.

Wheelchair fencing
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 3.0

I recently attended an excellent course called, “How to Coach Disabled People in Sport”, run by Sports Coach UK. You can read my write-up of the event here: 10 Tips for Coaching Disabled People in Sport.

The course placed a heavy emphasis on how being inclusive is good for all of us – and this really got me thinking. It’s wonderful to help other people – but could being inclusive also end up helping us all ourselves too, as students and instructors?

I believe the answer is yes – and here are some reasons why . . .

1. It helps us to take a more open-minded view of what disability actually is

The course spent some time exploring the “medical model” of disability versus the “social model”. The medical model is all about labels and impairments and people having problems. So it categorises people as being blind; or having epilepsy; or being unable to walk, and sees this as the reason they can’t do things.

The social model however challenges this view and makes us question what disability really is. So if someone is in a wheelchair and they can’t get into the dojo due to lack of access, then they are disabled. Or if a person who lip-reads can’t see the sensei speak, due to their standing in direct sunlight, they are disabled.

But who or what has caused this disability? It isn’t necessarily the disabled person themselves, or their impairment. Uncomfortably, the responsibility may rest with society, and ourselves as individuals.

IMAG0644Bringing it closer to home – It might appear that Larry is “disabled” in the dojo, due to his short stature. But if you train with kids in your class – they are short too and we don’t think anything of it! We just adjust the technique as needed, without even thinking.

Because in our minds, children are supposed to be short but adults are not supposed to be short. But if we can move beyond these assumptions, we start to see that it shouldn’t really matter . . .

The social model therefore gives us a huge amount of power to question our own assumptions, and challenge society’s views on what disability actually is. And it also gives us the power to resolve that someone in our class is NOT going to be disabled – and work to remove the barriers that could stand in their way . . .

2. It brings us in touch with our own limitations
Good martial arts clubs tend to promote a thoughtful and nuanced approach about training through injury and other impairments. Here’s an extract from an email my own sensei sent me last year when I was thinking of staying away from class for a bit with an injured elbow:

Hopefully it will feel better. Try to keep it moving using slow movements. Go through the sword and jo but at half or quarter speed. And you can still train. I find weapons allow you to extend a stretch beyond the norm in a controlled way. I can show you Thursday. Usually I tell students to train with the injury as it forces them to change how they would react and limits.

It is a difficult one as on the one side only when injured can we reflect on our weaknesses and understand the limitations we may face. On the other hand from an insurance standpoint I should be saying don’t train 🙂

It is a case of risk acceptance and finding your own limitations.

By Joey Leonardo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Joey Leonardo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the end, we all have impairments. Older people often can’t kick as high as younger people. Some people find joint locks more painful, due to stiff joints. Some people have emotional barriers or scars, which can make it harder for them to train than others.

99% of us have one dominant side to our body (left or right); and this is definitely an impairment in martial arts training, compared with truly ambidextrous people. We just don’t treat it as a disability, because it’s so common.

Martial arts training is all about clearly understanding our limitations and working to overcome them. Or if they’re insurmountable, working through or around them to become the best we can.

3. It can inspire us to explore training with other limitations
The tutor on this course talked about running Disability Sport activities or “reverse integration”. This means that non-disabled participants participate with modifications, to meet the needs and abilities of the disabled players in the group.

An iconic example of this can be seen in the inspirational Guinness advert, where you see a group of men playing wheelchair basketball. When the game finishes, all but one of them get out of the wheelchairs and the group walks away together, showing that they have been playing an adapted game for the sake of including their friend.

On the surface, this might just look like being “nice” and inclusive towards the disabled person. But actually there’s more to it. The course tutor said that wheelchair sports can be actually incredibly difficult for able-bodied people, who aren’t used to handling the chair, let alone competing in a sport at the same time.

So how about adding in a new challenge to your training – either to accommodate a disabled student, or just for the sake of challenge in itself. For example, students in Larry’s dojo – or any dojo – could try practising techniques from seiza (kneeling) to bring their height down. Here’s an example:

The trainer also said that people in general can tend to be quite “lazy”, in that they rely so heavily on one sense – sight. So training blindfolded can be a very useful exercise, for developing focus, sensitivity and awareness.

On a darker note, if our training is preparing us for real-life violence, we need to consider and prepare for the possibility of sustaining severe possible injury. Rory Miller writes in Meditations on Violence: You must get used to working from a position of disavantage. Put yourself and your students in the worst positions you can (face down, under a bench, blindfolded to simulate blood in the eyes, and with an arm tied in their belt) and start the training from there. (page 117)

4. It helps us to become better instructors and practitioners
All sports coaching is about sensitivity and adaptability; and perhaps the martial arts more so than many other activities. Working on the principle that all students are instructors in development, the opportunity to train with a disabled person can provide a really valuable opportunity to adapt your practice and find alternative ways of achieving the same outcome.

And it’s not just about the physical and technical side of teaching. Wendy Dragonfire writes, The biggest adjustment and challenges don’t lie with the physical aspects of training; they come from overcoming students’ insecurities and learned behaviors. The same is true for students without disabilities.

So when training with people with disabilities, a lot of your work and the support you give may be in this area.

And there’s more! In our pursuit of our chosen martial art(s), most of us would agree that learning and practising humility is absolutely essential. And training with people who have disabilities can help us do this in two ways.

Firstly, it should remind us of our own physical and mental vulnerability. We are all getting older, and in any case, could be struck by illness or accident any time. No one is immune to disability, and arguably everyone is disabled at one time or another in their life.

Secondly it can teach us inspirational lessons about human resilience and ability to overcome barriers. Training alongside someone who has overcome major challenges just to be there can be pretty humbling. This is true whether the barriers are due to disability, illness, emotional damage, or challenging life circumstances.

And talking of inspiration, here are two very different videos to end with.


Look out for Part Two of this post which will focus on some practical ways you can modify activities to include people with disabilities . . .

Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger with a special focus on women’s participation in and experience of the martial arts. Check out her blog and download her free e-book on how to attract and retain more female students in your dojo.

Join me on Facebook where we can continue the discussion and you can share your experiences.
Follow me on
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