Breaking Boards and Barriers
You’ve seen it on the big screen: martial-arts greats kicking and punching themselves out of harm’s way. But is it possible from a wheelchair?
When you think about what you’ve seen in the media or contemplate what you’ve heard about the training or competitions that often accompany martial arts, you might not see yourself being a martial artist. But, why not? Whether learning the forms required for belt rank progression, getting “in the ring” and sparring with an opponent, becoming proficient at various weaponry tactics, using skills for self-defense or just having fun with a new passion, martial arts can be for everyone. In fact, the skills of the various martial arts can be therapeutic in many ways, as the training can benefit your mind, body and spirit.
People have naturally been fighters and hunters and engaged in war since the beginning of time. And from nearly every corner of the earth, combat techniques developed into various styles of martial arts. The term “martial arts” comes from the Latin, as it was considered the “Arts of Mars,” derived from the Roman god of war.
Today’s martial arts have history in nearly every continent and continue to grow in number as additional off-shoots of the traditional arts are developed. Although many of the most recognized martial arts come from Asian countries, especially China, Japan and Korea, the list is nearly endless.
Something for Everyone
Bill and Patty Auvenshine run Auvenshine’s School of Tae Kwon Do, based in Illinois. Students, young and old, with or without disability, can learn the martial arts.
The martial arts encompass a wide array of techniques including full-contact combat sport, military-based styles, arts focused on fitness, self-defense tactics, meditative arts, weapons-based styles and martial arts that emphasize punches, kicks, grappling or throws. And even if an art involves kicks and you do not have use of your legs, there’s no reason you can’t train in it. Martial arts are for everyone. In fact, they are one of the greatest resources for increasing core and body strength, self-confidence and overall health.
If someone like the now infamous Aaron Fotheringham, born with spina bifida, can do a back flip from his wheelchair at a skate park, there are no limits for those with disabilities in any sport, including the martial arts. Finding a school that has a committed instructor and flexible program is key. If you focus on hard work, dedication and advancement, you will quickly find yourself healthier, mentally and physically, regardless of where you were when you entered your first class. Your specific disability may fit better with some arts than others, but you shouldn’t feel limited to what traditional definitions or popular portrayals prescribe.
Regardless of your physical needs or challenges, nearly every move can be adapted, such as doing a wheelie or punch in place of a kick or a spin in place of a roundhouse maneuver. You can punch with one hand instead of another or position your body differently to accomplish other movements. If you are a chair user or end up on the ground, you’re in a great position for self-defense techniques, as the groin is often a key target and you’ll likely be in direct striking range.
Martial arts training can be an incredible asset to rehabilitation and regaining skills such as balance, coordination and mental focus. Students with single or multiple limb amputations can use prostheses to replicate nearly every move. Those with visual impairments often practice the martial arts with very minor adaptations, as people who are not disabled often practice their forms or spar blindfolded to gain increased skill and use their “sixth sense,” something those with variations of blindness often already possess.
But replicating the actual movements is not the essence of martial arts: It’s the heart and effort you put into learning your selected art that’s truly important.