The other day I was interviewing Brandon Ryan of Adaptive Defense Methods for Karate Talk. Mr. Ryan brought up an interesting point about how disabled people are hesitant to try martial arts. I continued to think about his comment and several other thoughts occurred. I soon realized that there are a few common misconceptions people who are abled and disabled alike seem to get wrong when it comes to martial arts.
One thought that occurred was a conversation I had years ago on a Facebook group for people with dwarfism. An individual was interested in participating in a physical activity. I naturally suggested martial arts. I was explaining how martial arts can provide cardio and strength training. Plus I explained some of the self-defense techniques are simple and how people with dwarfism could easily perform them with little effort. Another individual called me out saying I was spreading a false sense of security by encouraging other dwarfs to try out martial arts. The person on Facebook commented that not everyone could be a Power Ranger or Neo from the Matrix. He is correct; the Power Rangers and Neo are fictional characters. Though the way the characters fight on screen is fun to watch; however is not what learning martial arts or self-defense is all about.
Self-defense is about learning the tools you need to change the outcome of a situation so you do not become a victim. It is not about going after the bad guy and doing flashy spinning aerial roundhouse kicks and punches all while letting out loud Heee-Yaaa! In self-defense, you are learning situational awareness (you know learning to get the spidey-senses to tingle) and knowing what you can use in your environment that can help you defend yourself and not becoming a victim or a statistic.
As I have pointed out in a previous post, martial arts is 98% mental. This means understanding situational awareness is the most critical aspect of learning martial arts or self-defense. This is where most conflicts are won by simply avoiding it when possible. What is situational awareness? It is the ability to know what is happening around you and in your environment. In other words, you will be able to identify potential threats and avoid getting into any type of conflict.
In situational awareness, you will learn to utilize the OODA Loop. Observe, orient, decision, and action. Observe what is happening around you. Get to know your surrounding by orienting yourself to the environment. Make decisions based on your observations. Then act on those decisions. The best example of the OODA Loop being used is from the movie Finding Dory. Don’t worry I won’t be giving away spoilers if you haven’t already seen the movie.
Throughout the movie every time Dory got separated from her family or friends she would observe what was going on in her immediate surrounding. She would stop and orient herself to the environment. If Dory saw another fish that could offer her help, she made the decision to ask, and then go ask for assistance in finding her family or friends.
At the time I had been practicing jujitsu for almost a year. I had been working techniques that did not take a great deal of strength or mobility to redirect my opponent’s attacks. Many of these techniques I feel were simple. Despite a person’s range of mobility, they could do the technique and possibly change the outcome of an attacker’s intent. Some of these techniques included moving your head to the right or left a few degrees when a punch is coming to your face. Or moving to a 45-degree angle and gently redirecting the attacker energy into the wall that was behind you. Or bending the attacker’s wrist towards his body and causing him to go into the direction his hand is going.
The reason why you would want to practice defensive techniques is because avoiding the conflict may not be an option. It is better to practice defensive techniques and hope you will never have to use them. The idea is to prepare for worst case scenario.
My parents once asked me why would you be in a situation where you would need to know how to protect yourself? I know for a fact there are people out there in the world who do not have good intentions. They see a disabled person and they feel they need to show that their power over them by hurting them. If it had not been for a good friend of mine watching my back one day, I would have been the recipient of someone’s trying to prove they were superior over someone smaller than themselves. I know of disabled people who have been victims because someone could assert their power over them.
I am an advocate of disabled people learning a martial art or some form of self-defense. From the aspect of practicing martial arts as a physical activity, there are many benefits. It is a good form of physical therapy if you have a limited range of mobility. A style such as Tai Chi is really good for restorative care. Another benefit is that it is a way to get healthy. I have known people who started practicing in order to control their weight, gain strength, and stamina. When a person has developed some proficiency from learning with an instructor it is something that can be practiced on their own or with another person.
DISCLAIMER: If a person (disabled or not) decides to learn martial arts (or self-defense); I won’t guarantee them 100% safety. Chances are they will get hurt during training and most likely in a confrontation. To be honest I have been hurt a few times during my years of training. I have dislocated a finger in jujitsu, I bruised my tailbone in karate, and I have hit my head a few times on the ground. I have had friends break ribs, toes, feet, noses, dislocate shoulders, and get black eyes. I have also been kicked across the dojo. Occasionally some nights after class, people tend to walk out with their pride hurt. It is better to be hurt in a controlled situation rather than a non-controlled situation.
During my years of practice, I have only seen one person go to the hospital after a class. The injury that was sustained in class was not even related to a martial arts technique. The assistant instructor was standing off to the side of the room barefoot on the tile floor. He had a jump rope in his hand was thinking about incorporating the exercise into our routine. A lower ranking student advised him that jumping rope barefoot on tile floor was not a good idea. He didn’t listen. After two seconds of jumping his foot was in extreme pain.
Other times I have seen when people are hurt during class; is when the students do not use control. Prime example; a student throws a punch as hard as he can and overextends his reach. Physics tells us that an object in motion stays in motion until acted on. In this case, sometimes it can be a wall behind the opponents back. Or losing your balance and going to the ground. New students are usually paired with higher ranking students during sparring matches and practice drills. The higher ranking student can show the newer how to control their moves. Also, the higher ranking student is usually conditioned to take the hits from a newer student.
Learning martial arts; a person becomes aware of their surroundings and they are more cognitive about what they can do with their own body. Why practice martial arts if someone is going to get hurt during training? Think of it as conditioning and preparing the body and the mind. If a person is in a confrontation they will more than likely get hurt. It is the degree of severity that changes if one knows how to defend themselves. If a person does face an attacker, they can sense it before it starts and leave the situation; or if not a possibility they have the element of surprise by fighting back. That may be enough incentive for an attacker to realize they need to disengage and leave them alone. Most people will pick an easy target. Another thing I can guarantee, they will not look like a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger or Neo from the Matrix that is CGI.
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