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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Martial Arts for the Blind

I'd like you to imagine you're walking down a deserted street.--It's late at night.--You hear footsteps following yours.--Has the person following you decided you are easy prey because you are blind? Are you able to defend yourself?

I invite you to learn judo. I know what judo has meant to me, and I hope to share some of those benefits with you. As most of you know, it isn't easy growing up as a blind child in the public school system. Your peers can be pretty rough. I remember being punched in the face by the school bully as a way to test my vision. I also remember attending gym classes for many years before I was given a permanent waiver because I couldn't participate in the classes.

I recall, there was field hockey, volleyball, tennis, soccer, softball and ping-pong. Come to think of it, I wish someone had told the gym teacher that there are other sports besides chasing after a ball, but I didn't understand that at the time. I just felt totally incompetent at sports.

When I was older, I decided I was going to change all this. That's what brought me to the Federation and to judo. When I first heard about judo classes, I was hesitant. Based on my past experience, I didn't think the judo instructor would consider me as a student.

Happily, I was wrong. The instructor didn't care if I couldn't see, he was more interested in what I could do--and I could do judo. I sincerely mean it when I say that my life hasn't been the same since that day.

Judo is a full contact form of self-defense that includes throwing techniques, joint locks, pins, and chokes. These techniques range from simple foot throws that trip your opponent, to dramatic techniques that involve picking your opponent up and throwing them over your shoulder.

The basic principle of judo is that you can throw someone by using the motion of that person. Let me give you an example: Imagine someone is standing in front of you with their hands pushing on your shoulders. If you defend yourself by pushing back, then you'll have to push with a greater force than that of your opponent to overcome their force. This could be impossible if the person is larger and stronger then you are. Instead, by using judo, you take hold of the person's arms and when they push you, you pull them, using their force to throw them. These techniques are done with balance and leverage. They don't require strength at all.

You don't have to be a great athlete to start judo training. If you would like to get back into shape, then judo is a great exercise program for physical fitness and weight control. One thing I like about judo is that you exercise your body and your mind at the same time. So many exercise programs can be boring and you can lose interest in them. Judo literally keeps you thinking on your feet.

Judo is like ballet and gymnastics and one of the benefits of training that you will notice is an improvement in your balance, coordination, and orientation.

Unlike other forms of martial arts, judo needs no adaptation for blind people. Blind players have been active in judo for many years, practicing with sighted players on an equal basis. Judo is part of the United States Association of Blind Athletes program and is included at the Braille Institute in Encino, California, and at Perkins School.

Although these programs show the involvement of some blind players in judo, my emphasis has been to mainstream blind players with sighted players for the benefit of all. This equality embodies the philosophy of judo and the philosophy of the NFB as well.

My students and I have attended many tournaments and clinics, both large and small, and we have never been excluded or shown any favoritism. I remember one tournament we attended at West Point. One of the club instructors wanted to present my student with the Best Player trophy based on her blindness. The tournament director's reaction was to say "It's no big deal that she's blind. I'll give her the Best Player trophy when she comes here and wins."

Well, she won a lot more than a trophy that day. On the way home from the tournament, she told me that it was the first time in her life that she felt like she was "just one of the kids." And for the first time, I began to realize that I was giving back some of what judo has given to me.

The philosophical benefits of judo are as important as the physical benefits. As you challenge yourself, you gain a feeling of accomplishment that carries over into every aspect of your life. The knowledge that you can handle a physical conflict makes a verbal confrontation much less threatening.

You develop strength of mind to stand up for what you believe in and strength of mind that will allow you to step back when it is wise. You actually become less defensive and more relaxed. In twenty years it has never been necessary for me to use judo for self-defense, but I have used this strength of judo every day in all types of situations.

Part of this strength comes from a feeling that you are in control. You carry this control with you and demonstrate it with confident body language in the way you walk and communicate with people. When you project confidence, you are less likely to be confronted.

The self-confidence that can be gained from judo is so important to children. The blind child who is frustrated by his limitations in mainstreamed gym classes--or who is segregated in classes for disabled students--can feel less capable than his classmates. Judo gives the blind child the opportunity to participate in a mainstreamed activity on an equal basis with his peers.

When the other kids are talking about their sports and club activities, the blind child can join in with their accomplishments. This equality is important to the blind child, but it is also very important to their sighted peers as well.

The focus is on what you CAN do, not on what you can't do. It becomes less important that you can't play baseball when there is something unique you CAN be proud of. "I CAN" is what becomes important.

Self-defense is important to everyone nowadays, but as blind people, we are perceived by some as being more vulnerable than others. Judo is a balance to this misconception. Each of us should learn to defend ourselves, not just for our own benefit, but as a means to change society's image of blindness.

Self-defense can be as simple as being sure of who is at your door before you open it, or as involved as defending your life. The ability to think on your feet that you learn from judo can be important in preventing a dangerous situation from taking place.

Some Tips For Staying Safe:
You should avoid short cuts through less traveled areas and stay in areas where there is safety in numbers. Also, avoid walking along buildings since doorways and alleys are places where someone might hide. Stay in the central area of the sidewalk, so you can be clear on all sides.

When I walk down the street, I try to identify the age, gender, number and location of the people around me. This is kind of a game, but it is also a way of training yourself to be more aware of everything around you, so you can anticipate a situation before it develops.

As you learn judo, your skills and attitude will develop. The school bully will be less of a threat. You can walk down that deserted street and be a lot less vulnerable than some might think. Those people who attempt to dominate you will not be successful.

The unsolicited helper who attempts to take you across the street or the airline employee who attempts to load you into the airliner will both be surprised to find that you are in control of the situation.

Judo is a way to "even the odds" and change what it means to be blind. I have made judo my ultimate alternative technique and I hope you will make it yours as well.

This article is reprinted by special permission of the author.

Check the Web!

The judo information site, http://www.judoinfo.com, has everything you need to know about judo. A major section of the site deals with judo for blind athletes, including coaching tips and rules for judo with blind participants (which primarily remind the referee to use vocal directions in addition to the hand signals). Judo for Blind Athletes is located at the following URL: http://www.judoinfo.com/usaba.htm.

This website was written by Neil Ohlenkamp, a Judo instructor at the Encino Judo Club and at the Braille Institute. He has been the coach of the Braille institute's judo team since 1976. He has also been the coordinator of training camps, national and local tournaments, and other training opportunities for the visually impaired. Many of his blind students have become national and international champions. He also served as the US Representative to the International Blind Sports Association Judo Technical Committee from 1988 to 1993 and was instrumental in creating the international rules for visually impaired competitors.


Blind Zen

Stefan Verstappen is a writer and martial arts instructor with over twenty-five year's experience. He spent four years studying martial arts throughout Asia and writes and lectures about his experiences. Verstappen is also the author of, The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China, The Little Warriors Street Safety Manual. He has also written for a number of publications including Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, and Jade Dragon magazines.

Stefan is the author of "Blind Zen A case Study in Sensory Enhancement for the Blind and Vision Impaired", which tells the story of how a blind woman's efforts to learn self-defense led to a unique experiment to adapt martial arts and eastern philosophy to develop new skills and increase self-confidence.

The book is guide written for the blind, vision impaired and the people that live and work with them, but also for martial arts instructors and sports trainers to provide insights and ideas for developing athletic programs for the blind in their communities.

The book includes descriptions and scientific explanations of the unique Zen inspired exercises that anyone can learn and provides a new approach and exciting possibilities to improve the quality of life of the vision impaired.

The book also provides practical easy-to-learn exercises that teach how to:

  • Become more physically fit and active
  • Improve your sense of balance
  • Improve your sense of proprioception
  • Refine the sense of hearing
  • Train the sense of smell to gather information from your environment
  • Overcome the numerous fears associated with blindness
  • Become more aware of the unconscious sensory information known as synesthesia
  • Defend against an attacker
For more info on the book and how to order see website at: http://www.chinastrategies.com/blind.htm. Blind Zen: A case Study in Sensory Enhancement for the Blind and Vision Impaired Size: 7.5" X 9.25" Trade Paperback high gloss soft cover 165 pages, Over 85 Illustrations Includes Bibliography, End Notes, and References. ISBN 1-891688-03-0 Library of Congress Control Number: 2004095543 Red Mansion Pub, SF, 2004 Blind Zen Blog for Blind Martial Artists

Are you a blind or visually impaired martial arts practitioner? Are you looking for contact information for other practitioners?

Martial arts training for the blind is still a pioneering effort and the few teachers and students there are, are scattered throughout the world.

The Blind Zen Blog is an open forum where students and teachers can exchange advice and training tips, personal stories, information on seminars, classes, and competitions.

You can post any article, up-coming events, announcements for seminars and workshops or personal writing that you feel would be of interest to this group. Click this link to visit the Blind Zen Blog: http://www.chinastrategies.com/blindlinks.htm.

Interested in the martial arts? Read Ron Peck's book, Parents Guide to Judo from the Blind Judo Foundation at http://www.aph.org/pe/ParentsGuidetoJudo.pdf

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