Several years ago whilst teaching in Jarrow at a place called the PHAB Club I observed a young man who was watching the class from a wheelchair. I could see from the center of my Aikido mat that he was very interested in what was going on.
During a break for cold drinks, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with him.
After introducing ourselves to each other I learned that he had been watching several of my classes looking through a window so he would not be seen. He explained that he was very shy and it took a lot of courage to actually come into the practice room.
He said that although he could see the Aikido demonstrations, he could not hear what was being said and his curiosity to find out more brought him into the room.
As I had taught Blind people, Deaf people, and people with learning difficulties over the last 25 years I said to him What’s stopping you from taking up Aikido.)
I said you have already taken several lessons just by observing, so you have actually visually and mentally started to be a martial artist. He said I never thought about it like that. He thanked me and said he would think about it and left the room to go back with his friends in an adjoining room.
After the break, I told the class that I was going to do a demonstrate Aikido from a chair
Which was duly placed in the middle of the mat by my assistant. After explaining to the class that Aikido is possible to be practiced by anyone even if they have disabilities,
The only proviso is it is up to the instructor to access the student’s limits (he/she may need a doctor’s approval, say for a heart condition) so common sense is an issue.
I duly did the demo from the chair which required only upper body movements and doing so noticed from the corner of my eye my friend again watching from afar.
Peter was hooked and the next lesson was his first. After helping him out of his chair we found that his best and most comfortable place was the safety of the corner of the matted area. It is taught that at the end of each technique students change partners so Peter trained with everyone including myself from his corner of the mat. He had a white Aikido suit on during practice and if he could he would have gone home wearing it because he was so proud.
This is the beauty of Aikido.
It does not require vision or to hear it only requires you to be able to feel.
If the leg disabled, you have upper body movement as in Peter’s case.
If blind you can sense touch.
Of course, there are limitations but that is down to the instructor and support staff to determine.
After several years he attained the rank of Black Belt in the art of Aikido. His Grading was no different from anyone else (only modified to his needs).
When Peter died in 1999 he was buried in his full aikido attire including his certificates,
His family said that the last months of his life were fused with quality because of his Aikido.
Written by Jon Stokoe
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