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Physical disability is not a barrier to training
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I have been totally blind from birth and am one of the black belts at Ju-Jitsu Dojo of Columbia. I've been training in our dojo since it opened in 1990.

For lots of reasons, ju-jitsu is an ideal style of martial art for a blind person to study. Unlike karate, ju-jitsu does not rely on kicks and strikes - which tend to be delivered from a greater distance away from an opponent - for its effectiveness. Our style of ju-jitsu teaches that kicks and strikes are used at close range to "set up" an opponent for a throw, choke, lock, etc. In most situations, no one is going to launch a long-range karate kick at you; they are going to attack you from "close range". Ju-jitsu is ideal for anyone, blind or sighted, to defend against these attacks.

Because ju-jitsu is truly a "close quarter combat" martial art, one gains a tremendous amount of knowledge - and advantage - from being in physical contact with an opponent. If, for example, I'm grabbed from behind, I know instantly such things as the location of my opponent's hands, body, legs, and vulnerable areas.

Ju-jitsu is also a very psychologically-oriented martial art. It relies on guile, cunning and misdirection - "playing with your opponent's mind" - more than sheer physical strength. My perceived weakness as a visually-impaired person gives me a tremendous advantage if I'm ever, God forbid, attacked.

Being a blind ju-jitsu student training in a dojo with sighted students and teachers has meant that we've had to make a few adaptations in training methods. For example:

  • When I'm attacked with a punch or a knife, the attacker will yell (kiai), to warn me an attack is coming. Although it's not 100% realistic, we do that for my safety and the safety of the attacker.
  • The sensei who is teaching a class will often use me as their "demonstration dummy" when demonstrating a technique to the class. In this way, I'm able to feel what it's like to have a technique done correctly. I can also check out the sensei's hand position, or observe his or her body position.
  • The teaching sensei or other students will, as needed, physically move my hands, arms or legs to demonstrate how an attack or a defense is performed. This helps me begin to develop "muscle memory", and helps me better visualize how my body is supposed to "feel" and move when doing a particular ju-jitsu attack or defense.
  • And all of the instructors have become true experts at verbally describing techniques in ways that are meaningful to me: "Take your left foot and turn it about 45 degrees to face the wall to your left..."

    Just because we've made certain adaptations in teaching techniques to accommodate my disability doesn't mean I'm held to a different standard than the other students. In order to advance in rank, I am expected to demonstrate the same level of proficiency as are all our other students. I'm grabbed just as hard and attacked - and attack my fellow students - with the same speed as everyone else.

    What makes Ju-Jitsu Dojo of Columbia such a special place is the attitude of caring and mutual respect that permeates our dojo from the head sensei to the newest student: we all help and care about each other. I'm treated as a ju-jitsu student who happens to have a disability, not as a disabled person who wants to learn ju-jitsu.

    What I've learned from my years as a ju-jitsu student is something that's really true about all of life: each person has their own set of skills and limitations, and by helping and caring about each other, whether we're blind or sighted, short or tall, is the way to bring out the best in all of us. Ju-Jitsu Dojo of Columbia is one place where this is most in evidence, and it's one of the main reasons I love training at our dojo.

    As of 2017, the writer continues to train, and holds the rank of nidan (second-degree black belt).