March 26, 2017

This One’s For You, Mom & Dad

written by Clay Johnson

This article is about what I have been through in the last year and a half and how my martial arts training and family and friends have helped me get through one bad thing after another. As many of you know from reading my article, “Parents,” my father passed away on January 13, 2005. On that day. my life changed more than I can ever tell you. Any time someone close to you dies, you can’t believe the pain. This was especially true for my mother; you see they had been married for 49 years. They were each other’s back up system. The day my dad died it was like someone had taken a pin and let all the air – or life – out of my mom. It was very hard for me, my girlfriend, Kimlee, and my sisters, Ann and Kandi, to watch. For me, it was especially difficult because I had lived with my parents all my life. I made up my mind that I was going to do my best to help my mother through this time. I would be there if she needed me.

I think we were all numb for the first few months after my dad’s death. My mom went in o hospital several times that year due to pneumonia. Part of this was because she had lung and respiratory problems from years of smoking, even though she stopped smoking in 1997. Also, mom had been on oxygen at night for years. As a result of this, I decided to spend as much time with her as I could. The only time I left her was to teach my classes, and once in awhile catch a movie with Kimlee. I tried to help her as much as I could with such things as taking care of monthly bills, and if something needed fixing around the house, I would ask one of my students to help out.

In the spring of last year, I took mom to the doctor because she was having some trouble breathing. They took an X-ray and found that she had pneumonia and put her in the hospital again for a week. While she was in the hospital one of her doctors suggested that she try respiratory therapy because he thought it would help her get her strength back and build breathing endurance. The respiratory therapy was 3 days a week for 12 weeks. The only hospital in the area that offered respiratory therapy was Bath County Hospital, which was about 20 miles from our home. I took my mom to therapy most of the time. I would go in with her and watch her work out.

One day, one of the therapists asked me if I wanted to do the same exercises mom was doing. I said sure, so I wouldn’t just be sitting there watching. In the beginning, the therapy was hard for my mom, and two bouts of pneumonia had left her very weak. As the weeks of therapy passed, mom got stronger and stronger and she was breathing much better. She was confident in herself once again, and I thought mom was going to get back to where she was heathwise before my dad’s death. She was much happier than she had been in months. Unfortunately, during her tenth week of therapy, mom was working on a rowing machine and pulled a muscle in her upper back. At that time I thought it might take a few weeks to a month for her back to heal, and I could get her back to therapy, but that would never happen.

One night, mom got up to use the restroom, slipped, and fell back-first against the toilet, which resulted in her having a compression fracture of two vertebrae in her upper back, and about a week’s stay in hospital, which included the Thanksgiving holiday. These setbacks were very hard on her because she had came so far with her therapy. I tried to keep her upbeat, but it was not easy. Since my dad passed away, I had been staying up at night to listen in case she needed something. This wasn’t hard for me because I don’t sleep well anyway. When I did make it to bed late, I would check to see if mom was ok. Most of the time she was asleep, but sometimes she was awake and she would ask me to get her a Coke or just come and talk with her awhile. She would say, “When I’m gone I want you to go have some fun. Take a trip or do something you have been wanting to do, because you have been looking after me since your daddy died.” I told her that I felt that I was not a great help to her. She got upset because I felt this way. I also told her, “You are not going anywhere if I can help it. “

January of 2006 rolled around, and mom wanted to try therapy again at our local hospital. She wanted me to do therapy with her, but my therapy was going to be stretching my legs and hips so it would be easier for me to get my shoes on by myself. Mom did therapy for a few weeks, then decided she couldn’t do it anymore because it wore her out breathing-wise. I continued to go for the stretching, and even though it was very painful, I hoped it would help me in the long term. Towards the end of January, I noticed mom was having more trouble breathing. I told her I was going to take her to see her doctor, but she said she had an appointment to see him later in the week. I said ok, but I thought she needed to see him sooner. One morning, I checked on her and she was in very bad shape, so I called my sister, Ann, who is a nurse and my girlfriend Kimlee, who is an OR tech, because I didn’t think she had much time left. When they got here, Ann said we taking mom to the hospital. Mom’s doctor met us there and checked her over. He said that it was pneumonia again.

This time she was in the hospital for 13 days. Mom got to come home around the first of February, but her doctor told her she had to have help around the clock help because she was still very weak and not too steady on her feet. I had someone come in and stay with her during the day, then my girlfriend and sisters would take turns staying at night to help her if she needed it.

On the morning of February 8, 2006 my mother died in her sleep, in her own bed at home, like she had wanted. My sisters woke me to give me the news. I knew it was coming, but it still hurt. I knew that my mother was in a better place with no more pain, and she was with my father, where she had wanted to be for a long time. The next few days were very hard for us all. I remember thinking to myself, Both mom and dad are gone, what am I going to do with them not here anymore? I have to thank all of my friends and students and friends of own family for their condolences and prayers at the time that it meant a lot. Lucky for me, I have Kimlee, whom I’ve been with since 1981, and my sisters, because I would have never realized how much I would need them in the weeks and months to come.

After my mother’s funeral, I felt like I had to go on with my life; that my mom wouldn’t have wanted me to sit at home and be so sad. I thought the best way to do this was to go back to what I normally did. One of these things is teaching, and another was stretching therapy. So on Thursday, February 16, 2006, one week and a day after my mom’s death, I had my last stretching therapy appointment. That morning a friend – Jerry Entsminger, whom I met while I was just getting started in karate years ago – came to visit. He’d heard about my mom’s death. He had come from California, where he now lives, to visit me and another friend he grew up with who was dying of cancer. Jerry wanted to visit with me for the whole day because he hadn’t seen me in several years. I told him I had an appointment, and he offered to take me. Then he planned on taking all my classes that night. While I was at therapy, everything was going like it normally did, until the last stretch of the day (which required me having to sit up on the edge of the therapy table and put my left foot on my right knee and push my left knee down slowly for the stretch). I had done this stretch for a month or so, and it was a very painful stretch for me. This time, I heard a bone in my left leg snap. It was my left femur and it had broken in two places. The therapist who was stretching me thought I had a dislocated hip at first, but I knew something had gone wrong because the sound in my body was like a shotgun going off. Then the wave of pain came. I didn’t pass out, but I had a death grip on that table. I remember thinking to myself, What the hell else can happen to me this year, and, I’m going to be late getting to class and I will probably never be able to walk again with my crutches. My therapist called the emergency room and they came and put me on a stretcher and took me to the ER. All this time, Jerry really didn’t know how to help or what to do, but he stayed with me the whole time, and I thank him for that. Before I left physical therapy, I asked them to call Kimlee, who was still working upstairs in the operating room, and let her know what had happened.

I have to say here and now that my broken leg was purely an accident. I don’t blame anyone for it happening. When I got to ER, they put me in an examining room.

While I was waiting to go to X-ray, Kimlee and a friend she works with came downstairs. When I saw the worried look, and the tears in her eyes, I started to cry, not because I was in pain, but because I felt like I was causing too much trouble for everyone. By then both of my brothers- in-law and my sisters were there. I don’t remember how or when they got there. I asked one of my brothers-in-law to go to my school and put a sign on the door telling what had happened, and that the school would probably be closed for some time. When I returned from X-ray, my orthopedic doctor, Dr. Weidman (who is also a good friend of the family) looked at my X-rays very carefully. He and his colleagues were trying to decide how to proceed. The problem was that I had, and still have, a curvature in my femur. Dr. Weidman decided to call a friend of, his Dr. Edwards, an orthopedic specialist from Roanoke, Virginia. Dr. Weidman explained the situation and Dr. Edwards said to send me over to Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he would probably operate on me the next day. Then the doctors explained what was going to be happening. They had to straighten and splinter and immobilize my leg so that I could be transported by ambulance to Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

When I got to Roanoke Memorial Hospital, I was taken to the ER. Dr. Edwards came in and examined me. He said he would operate on me the next day. They found me a room and got me into bed, but not before putting a weight on my foot to keep the leg straight and they gave me something so I could sleep. Kimlee, Ann and Kandi had followed me over in their own cars. The next day, we were all a little scared, not knowing how things were going to turn out. The operation to repair my leg took about an hour and half. They put a piece of thallium rod, about 24 inches long, in my femur, with two screws at the top of and two screws at the knee to hold it in place so the bone would grow back right, and my leg would have added support. The hospital physical therapist had me up, bearing weight on my leg the next day, while I tried to walk with crutches. I didn’t have much success because it was very painful. The only side effect from surgery was from the anaesthesia, which makes me sick: I had a very bad case of hiccups off and on for four days – more on than off!

The next time I had physical therapy, the therapist had me try the parallel bars. This time I did much better. I walked six feet, but it was very painful. I used the parallel bars each day until I left the hospital. I was there five days total, then transferred to the Roanoke Memorial Rehab Center because Dr. Weidman said I would probably need rehab to get back on my feet and walking again. Dr. Weidman asked Dr. Stelmack (who is head of the rehab center and good friends with Dr. Weidman) to come and see me, and he did while I was still in the hospital. Dr. Stelmack said I would probably be in rehab 2 weeks, and when I got to go home, I would have to stay on one floor and have help around the clock for a month or more.

When I got to the rehab center, my sister, Ann, helped me get squared away. I got to meet the people who were going to be helping me. I didn’t start any of my therapy until the next day. I was in rehab for three weeks, and my schedule was about the same everyday: get up in the morning, get dressed, go eat breakfast, go to occupational therapy for an hour and then go to physical therapy for an hour, and then go to lunch. The schedule was the same in the afternoon. Sarah Grogan was my occupational therapist. She was great because she knew I had been a very independent person before I got hurt and it was really hard for me to do simple things, such as getting myself dressed. Sarah taught me little tricks to make this easier. She also helped me learn to transfer easier (like from my wheelchair to the bed, etc).

The whole occupational staff was great to work with. My physical therapist, Angela Gitner, understood that I had been very independent before I got hurt, and it was hard on me because I had to learn how to walk all over again. First, she started me on light stretching and walking with the parallel bars. I walked on the parallel bars for about a week, then the rest of the time I was there I used a walker.

One day, I asked Angela point blank if she thought I would ever be able to walk with crutches again. She said, “Sure you will; it will just take time.” Just like the occupational staff, all of the physical therapy staff helped me all along the way, and I have to thank them for that. They had me laughing everyday. For instance, one day I was telling Angela about the plastic surgery done on my left ear when I was a child. I told her that they had taken skin from my belly, left leg and butt to build my left ear. Without missing a beat, Angela rubbed my ear with her finger and said, “Guess this means I’m rubbing your butt.” I said, “I guess so,” and we both laughed. Another time, Angela wanted to put me on a freestanding table. The freestanding is used for weight bearing and stretching, and you can’t fall while you are locked into the table. Angela knew I wasn’t to sure about getting on the table, so when they got me up in it, she pulled me around and said, “Let’s dance.” The table has wheels on it, and we “danced” for about a minute. I laughed and felt better about being in that table.

Right before I got to come home, Angela had me walking on crutches with help; it was hard, but I did it. I don’t trust people right away as a rule, but both Sarah and Angela cared enough to make me believe that I could walk and be independent again. I had almost given up on myself, until I got mad at myself and had to prove that could do it. I learned something valuable in rehab: my troubles were not as bad as those of many others. There were people there with much bigger problems than mine. A lot of them came from car accidents, some had strokes, and some had gunshot wounds to the head. I made friends with most of them. One day while I was in physical therapy, Angela told me that I had helped someone without knowing it. One of the guys who was with me in therapy didn’t like to do his therapy (stretching & walking, etc.) because he said it hurt too much. I would push myself to the limit of what I could do at the time, while trying to walk or do anything I was asked to do – painful or not. He saw me doing it without quitting, so he starting working out because of what he saw in me.

Two of the hardest things about rehab were that I was a “fall precaution risk,” so I would have to ask for help to go to the rest room, etc., and this was very hard on me because I’m very independent. The other thing was being bored when the day of therapy was over, or on the weekends. We only had a half a day of therapy on Saturday and no therapy on Sunday and you can only watch so much TV. Kimlee and my sisters came to visit me as much as they could. They would bring new clothes to wear and mail from home, and take my dirty clothes home to be washed. Kimlee would try to come see me two or more times a week after she got off work in the afternoon. Ann would do the same, but her days off are different each week, so she was able come spend the day a few times and watch me in therapy and meet my therapists. My training partner, Chip Reves, came to see me a few times. Once, he brought some sticks and we trained in the dayroom.

I came home on March 15, 2006. Remember, I said they told me when I came home I would have to stay on one floor for a month? I stayed in the basement. I rented a hospital bed, and the bathroom in the basement was already set up for me. I also had to have someone with me all the time, around the clock. Kim and Ann took turns staying at night, and one of my students and good friend, Tim Presley, stayed with me during the day.

I had to continue my physical therapy when I came home. The place I picked to continue was Highlands Therapy and Industrial Rehabilitation in Covington, Virginia. The staff there was great to work with. I went for about a month and a half, two times a week. I have to thank Mark McCoy, Libby McCoy and Christina Callahan for all they have done for me during my rehabilitation.

During this time, my mom’s sister, Aunt Nancy, came to visit for a week to help and give everybody a little break. It was really great to have her visit. I have to really thank Aunt Nancy, because she took me anywhere I needed to go. She fixed my meals, helped me with my stretching exercises, and lots of other sthings. In April, I started going outside and walking with my walker at a park near my house. I would do laps on an old skating ring track with Tim holding onto me by a gate belt to keep me from falling. Tim told me one day while we were walking. “ I think you are ready to try your crutches the next time we walk.” I said I’d try, and I did use my crutches the next time I walked, and I did better than I thought I would. Libby from therapy wasn’t even planning on starting me back on crutches until May 1st, but I beat her to it by about two weeks. Around the beginning of May, Libby said she was “graduating me” from therapy because I didn’t need it anymore: I was already ahead of schedule with walking on my crutches again. Libby also said I could still come in and use the total gym and the leg press machine and get lightly stretched once in a while.

There was one nice thing that happened this year: in April I was inducted into the American Freestyle Karate Association Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement. I think my parents would have been proud of me.

During times of trouble you find out who your real family and friends are, and I sure found out who they were and were not. I have to give a big thank you to three of my black belts: Wayne Rumfelt, Dwayne Rumfelt and Kemper Murray for keeping my school open and running while I was recovering. Without them I would have probably lost my school. I thank everyone who visited me, or called to check on me while I was in the hospital and rehab. It meant a lot to me. I also want to say a big thank you to Guro Dan and Simo Paula Inosanto and Simo Paula’s sister, Carmen, for the phone calls when both my parents died and for all the get well cards and phone calls I got from them when I got hurt. If that doesn’t say “Family” I don’t know what does. I love them dearly.

It’s been six months since my mom died and got I hurt. I’m almost back to 100%. Kimlee is staying with me now and I know mom and dad would have liked that.

Some people may wonder what this article has to do with martial arts. It has a lot to do with martial arts. If it weren’t for that training, I might not have had the strength and stamina to make the “comeback.” Also, the friends within the martial arts “family” who helped me played an important role in my recovery.

Editor’s Note: “It is our hope that this article will be an encouragement and inspiration to anyone who has gone through very difficult traumatic times.” Clay Johnson has overcome many, many obstacles in his life. I am proud to know him, and proud to have him as a friend. CPB

I Would Have Never Thought

written by Clay Johnson

It has been about two years since Simo Paula Inosanto ask me to help her start The Martial Artist with Disabilities Page on the Inosanto website. I have written 4 articles so far, and this one being the fifth one. Three of my friends who also are martial artist with disabilities also have written articles or bios for this page. They are Lakan Guro Joe Singleton, Ken Chun, and Glen Leonard.

I have to admit at first that for myself I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to write about or say. And for the first few months I thought I was right then I started getting an email or two from people saying they enjoyed my first article. Then over the last 6 months to year I have gotten emails from all over the place even from England with some just saying we enjoy your articles and keep up the good work to some asking “can you help me find a teacher willing to teach me even though I have a disability”. Lucky with Simo Paula help I have been able to help them find the right teacher willing to take up the challenge, then some have ask for advice on how train because there are no instructors in their area or none are willing to teach them. This is a very hard request sometimes because I don’t know how their disability affects their ability to move or use their hands and feet or arms and legs. I advise them to try to come and train with me and when they can’t because of distance I tell them to try to find an instructor in their area. Then I received an email from a gentleman who was also disabled and had read my articles and wanted to challenge me to a fight or sparring match. At first I thought it might be fun to do but after thinking about it for a few days and asking my family and Simo Paula about it I decided not to fight. Then about a month or so ago I received and email from Laura Kaminker who writes articles for a magazine for kids with disabilities called “Kids on wheels” their website is www.kidsonwheels.us. I was one of three people she interviewed for an upcoming article about the martial arts. It’s my understanding that the article will be out in February of 2006.

The really funny thing about writing for this page is that people write me for advice, because 22 years ago I was a very shy kid, who would have thought I would have a talent to teach and perform the martial arts pretty well. If you would told me that then I would have probably said you are nuts. I know that the great thing about the internet is that people like me are out there trying the martial arts for the first time and some are black belts maybe wanting to try a different style or just to improve their skills.

I know when I started the martial arts back in 1983 in VA I was the only disabled person training back then in my state. My role models back then were and still are to this day Bruce Lee and Guro Dan Inosanto. I have been told by many people that I’m their role model and inspiration it’s nice that they feel that way about me but I’m a guy doing the best with what I’ve been given but I don’t consider myself to be that good of a martial artist (fair) but I feel like I’m a good teacher. To close please keep sending your emails and letting me know if I can help or point you in the right direction.

Take A Seat In My Chair

written by Joseph Singleton

Now that I am in my third year as an apprentice with the Inosanto Academy there are a few things that I want to address to the members of the Inosanto Academy family. I am very fortunate to have been so welcomed and loved over the years when I attended any of Guro Dan’s seminars. I am a voice that is rising to be heard. Recently, there has been an awareness amongst a group of individuals who have sought out the Inosanto Academy family. As an apprentice instructor under the Inosanto Academy i am asking that as senior instructors as well as perspective instructors reach out and touch us. Guro Dan has said many times that he does not want us to mimic him, but to make what he teaches personal. We have a chance to test the theory that the martial arts should fit around the individual, not the individual around the martial art. I am sometimes disappointed that we are sitting on the sidelines at a seminar watching instead of participating. Of course, there will be limitations on what we can do, but I truly believe that it can be a short list if there were more willingness to share and explore.

I am blessed that I have been around long enough to speak to you frankly about my concerns. I will take it upon myself to open this door to my life and those in a similar position. We are showing our desire to learn Jun Fan and the Filipino martial arts, but we do need help. I believe that every instructor in this Inosanto family should touch us by taking a seat in our chair. Teach us what is useful through your experience and imagination. Please take the time to help, to lead, and to follow. Together we will do our family justice by not leaving anyone behind. It is important that you see what we can do instead of what we cannot do. It is obvious that mistakes will be made, but isn’t that what learning is all about?

What I will collect from my senior instructors will make them even more skilled of the unique opportunity to take a seat in my chair and see the world from a different point of view. I have learned many things in this family, such as, acceptance, inclusion, compassion, and commitment.

A friend of mine has a motto: “If better is possible, then good isn’t enough!”. I tried to live by this because it gives me a challenge for self-improvement. For this reason, I do understand where we stand in the tree of the Academy and if this tree is to grow tall and strong, all branches must be tended. Let us together agree and pledge that your knowledge and education will not just be a sponge for Guro Dan. Let us not make taking a photo with Guro Dan be the highlight of the seminar.

The first person to instruct me on the adaptation of the Inosanto Academy was Simo Paula. I am urging all senior instructors as well as fellow students to stop by and take a seat. Show and tell us how we can interpret what our beloved teacher wants us to do by expanding, exploring, and challenging yourself. Let me say that I am proud to be in this family and that is why I feel I can freely express my feelings. I felt loved from this family for many years. Even when I left to explore other opportunities, my family was there to welcome me back home. For me to become a better teacher and student of the Inosanto Academy, I must plead to my fellow students and instructors to take a leadership role and show us what can be usefully acquired in the study of martial arts under Guro Dan.

As different as we are as individuals, we are the best representation of what a skilled instructor can touch if he/she is willing to reach out beyond their box. In my culture, we are raised to believe that it takes a village to raise a child, so let us come together at the table and take a seat in my chair. Let’s talk. May I have the wisdom and courage to speak from my heart with conviction and sincerity. Together we can do it! Please read, discuss, and comment on what I have said here in this article. Together we can find a solution before it becomes a problem. Let us be the progressive school that believes in inclusion, and not another example of separatism. We have learned throughout history that this does not work.

What It Means To Be A Wheeled Warrior

written by Ken Chun

I must confess that there was a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted to be known as a role model for people living with disabilities. I didn’t want to be a role model because I didn’t think I would make a good one. I’ve had to change my thinking though because, as my wife, Diana and Bob Burgee recently pointed out, like it or not, I am a role model for other disabled people so I have to suck it up and deal with it.

I’ve begun to realize that being a “Wheeled Warrior” is actually a way of life for us. The American Heritage: Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000 defines the term “warrior” as, “One who is engaged aggressively or energetically in an activity, cause, or conflict.” We as disabled human beings, to say nothing of being disabled martial artists, are engaged in an aggressive battle against stereotypes every single day. As intensely as we may dislike it, we know that we have to prove ourselves as capable martial artists if anyone is to really take us seriously. But the physical training is just a small part of the bigger picture. There is also character, ethics, integrity and spiritual growth that I believe are equal parts of the picture. For me, a excellent character as well as ethical and spiritual growth are things that you can never, and should never, stop trying to achieve as a person. Ethics and integrity are especially important in today’s world. Without ethics and integrity a person becomes inconsequential.

So, what does this mean for you, the reader? Simply, that you must not allow yourself to become inconsequential. If you have the burning desire, as we did, to become martial artists, then you must engage yourself in the activity of martial arts and the daily conflict to show people that just because you’re in a wheelchair (or whatever your disability may be) doesn’t mean you’re relegated to a life of wallowing in self-pity and self-doubt because some idiot told you that you can’t participate in the martial arts (or whatever it is you desire). Show the world that you are consequential, that you are a Wheeled Warrior. Just be sure to accept the fact that there are things that you cannot do, no matter how much you want to do those things. I leave you with a quote from the great bard, William Shakespeare and a thought, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They all have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts” (“As You Like It”, Act 2 Scene 7) What will your parts be?

Try This!

written by Laura Kaminker

From “Kids On Wheels” Magazine
(Reprinted with permission)

Jackie Chan in a wheelchair? Why not?

Have you ever watched martial arts movies and marvelled at the fighters’ strength and speed? Have you ever wondered if someone picked on you, physically, could you defend yourself? Have you ever dreamed of learning judo or karate or tae kwon do? If so, you’re not alone, and people who use wheelchairs have done it.

Martial arts is a term that includes many different styles of fighting, such as karate, judo, kung fu and others. These styles are not only ways to fight, they are disciplines. A discipline is a course of study and a set of rules that must be followed.

Learning martial arts helps develop discipline in another sense of that word, patience and self-control. It also increases strength and flexibility.

Clay Johnson is a high-level black belt in the Filipino martial arts and jun fan gung fu. He teaches martial arts at his own studio in Covington, Virginia. Clay has cerebral palsy. He can walk using crutches, but he fights and teaches from his wheelchair. “I don’t have good balance and I can’t kick,” says Clay. “Sitting down, I don’t have those balance issues.”

Clay’s students are not disabled. “Some people are shocked when they come to class for the first time and see me in my wheelchair,” he says. “They might think, how can he teach? Can he fight? I can do both.?”

Another wheelchair-using fighter is Ken Chun, from Woodbridge, Virginia. Ken, who is 34 years old, has spina bifida.

Ken got interested in martial arts at the age of 10. His older, non-disabled brother, showed him some basic moves, and Ken told his parents he wanted to learn karate. “It took a couple of years, but we finally found somebody who was willing to teach me,” says Ken. His first instructor bought an old, secondhand wheelchair and figured out how to adapt his lessons for a seated student.

Ken practices Muay Thai (also called Thai Boxing), Filipino martial arts and jeet kune do. Ken believes the best course contains different styles to suit the student’s abilities. Clay Johnson recommends Filipino martial arts, in which the student holds a stick. “The stick gives you much reach, and helps your balance and your coordination.”

When asked what he’s gained from martial arts, Ken Chun doesn’t hesitate. “Self-confidence and discipline. We carry ourselves differently. We have so much more confidence. We know that if someone confronted us on the street, we could probably handle it.”

Prodigal Son

written by Joseph Singleton

My name is Joe Singleton. My friends know me by my nickname, Ebbony. I am an athlete, a student, a teacher, a martial artist, and an advocate for the disabled. For more than fifteen years, I have been involved with improving the political, economic, environmental and social issues that are related to persons with disabilities.

I am a Vietnam era veteran with a disability. In 1977, I was serving in the U.S. military when a car accident left me with a severed spinal cord injury and I was paralyzed from the waist down. I spent the next ten years in and out of Veterans Administration hospitals, battling medical problems, while trying to make the transition into permanent disability. Those first 10 years in a wheelchair were extremely challenging, and for the most part during that time, I was a shut-in in my own house. I experienced the worst of post-traumatic disability, including depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and thoughts of suicide.

After those first ten years, I finally found an avenue of hope that helped pull me out of the despair brought on by my disability. This path was the martial arts. I began my journey in the martial arts by taking lessons in 1984 with instructor, Will Maier, in Tai Ki Jitsu. In 1987, under Guro Pat Finley, college professor and long time student of Guro Dan Inosanto, I began studying Jun Fan Martial Arts/Jeet Kune Do Concepts as well as Filipino Martial Arts. When I first met Guro Pat, I began by telling him about my limitations as a person with disabilities. He said to me, “Do not tell me what you can’t do. I am only interested in what you can do. We will work together to discover what works for you.”

Since that time, I have continued to study Jun Fan Martial Arts/Jeet Kune Do Concepts and Filipino Martial Arts, as well as other martial arts, including Doce Pares Escrima under Diony Canete. I currently assist Guro Pat with his martial arts classes, and also teach martial arts at various conferences and functions for the disabled. I hope to continue to teach and serve as a role model for the disabled.

I have met many unique individuals during my twenty year journey in the martial arts. My training has been a compilation of dedicated teachers and fellow students who were willing to help me along my path in the martial arts. In addition to Guro Pat Finley, many teachers have selflessly guided me on my journey in the art and philosophy of the Inosanto Academy, including Guro Don Garon, Guro Scott Anderson, Guro Steve Braun and instructor Alvin Chan. Their willingness to share experiences and knowledge has strengthened my goal of making the martial arts accessible to all.

My twenty year journey cannot be fully understood without my expressing gratitude for the 17 years I have spent with Guro Pat Finley, a friend, mentor, teacher and confidante. His guidance has helped make me a disciplined student, a caring teacher, and a well-rounded martial artist.

Also, I will always have the fondest memories of the learning experiences that I had with the most impressive individual I’ve ever met, Guro Dan Inosanto. Guro Dan took me gently by the hand at my first seminar and showed me step-by-step how to parry and strike. This was the first of many invaluable lessons in the Inosanto Academy curriculum. Then came Simo Paula Inosanto, who was the gentle heart that watched over me for so many years. She made me feel like I was always welcome and had come home.

As a martial artist with a disability, I would like to leave my philosophy on the scroll: “If you try, you can; if you can, you will, and if you will, you do.” I am very emphatic when I say that having a disability is a struggle. Yet, any obstacle that attempts to hinder our progress will only build character. I dream of the day when an individual can demonstrate that regardless of physical impairment, nothing is impossible in the martial arts.

I would like to express to my fellow students with disabilities that we are a special group. We have the opportunity to share our knowledge with those who are disabled, as well as with those who are not. Our knowledge and experience must be well-honed to pass on this gift.

My life’s mission has been to be an advocate for the disabled. I have spent many years attempting to improve the opportunities and access availabilities for the disabled. I look forward to a time when the disabled have the unfettered potential to achieve anything they set their minds to, and work to accomplish their goals, whether they be occupational, athletic, recreational or personal.

As a result of my advocacy, I have received the Outstanding Sportsmanship Award, the Howard County (Maryland) Commission on Physical Fitness Student Award as well as many spirit awards. I have earned numerous community service awards. I challenged, and won, a legislative law change that had prevented persons with disabilities from purchasing personalized state plates in Maryland. I am an active member of the Howard County Disability Awareness Project, which regularly presents daylong educational events in local schools.

I attended Bowie State University full time, earning a Bachelors of Science Degree in Public Administration and Political Science. I have earned many awards for my athletic achievements. In the world of athletics, I have earned the title of Olympian. I was selected a weight-lifting athlete on the 1992 Paralympic Wheelchair Sports Team, competing in Barcelona.

As I look ahead to whatever life holds for me, I will view the car accident that disabled me as the crossroad of my life. With my mother’s guidance, I have learned how to take care of myself and how to live independently. I have become an athlete, a student, a teacher, a martial artist, and an advocate for the disabled. I’ve represented my country – both through military service, and as a paralympic athlete. The discipline, perseverance and determination I have learned as a result of my disability and through martial arts training, have helped me to do more and become more than I ever thought possible. I look forward to continuing my martial arts education and hope to be as positive a teacher and example as my own teachers – Guro Dan, Simo Paula, Guro Pat, Guro Scott, Guro Steve and Guro Don. To all these instructors, thank you for your love, your compassion, your teaching and your friendship. I am truly blessed to know all of you.

Useful sites:
www.wsusa.org
www.accessible-enviornment.com
www.paralympic.org

Parents

written by Clay Johnson

This article is about how important your parents are to you throughout your life. I realized this in a profound way on January 13th of this year when my father, Ernest Clay Johnson, Sr. died from a massive heart attack. He was 78 years old. He had not been sick; it was just very sudden.

My father was the backbone of our family. At the funeral home, I noticed how many people loved and respected my father. Some of them I knew, and some I didn’t, but they were telling me what a good friend my father had been to them over the years, and then they told me how proud he was of me for all the challenges I’d overcome in my life. They told me how proud he was of me for what I’d accomplished in the martial arts over the years. You see, I did not know that my father felt that way and it “floored” me.

My mother also told me that she and my father were very proud and happy for me in July of 2001 when I received my Associate Instructorships from Guro Inosanto. Again, I didn’t know that they felt this way about it. During this talk, I told my mom that I was thinking about stopping my training and going to seminars for awhile and she said no, that my father would want me to continue and not stop, and she felt the same way. In the six months since my father passed away, I have been remembering things both mom and dad did for me when I was a child, and I would like to share a few of these memories with you.

As I have mentioned in other articles, I’ve had lots of surgeries over the years. One particular summer, I had two surgeries: one on my left ear and one on my legs. I had a cast on my legs, and they were spread apart by a bar at a 45-degree angle. One afternoon, my dad said we were going to the drive-in movie that night. So, they put me in a long lawn chair that we had, then in the back of my father’s truck, and drove on the interstate 10 miles to the drive-in movie. When we got there, my father backed the truck into the space so I could see. I recall that other people didn’t like that because they said they couldn’t see, but my father said that if they didn’t like it they could move. That’s how we went to the a few more times that summer. Now that I think back, I see what a good thing it was, and also, it was “very cool.”

In 1969 or 1970, my parents got me my first 3-wheeled bicycle – or I should say, they built it for me. You see, like every other little kid, I wanted, and needed, a bike. The “need” part was that my doctors said I had to have some way to keep my legs loose. I simply wanted to be able to ride a bike. Up to this time, my father had put me on every size tricycle there was until I outgrew them all. Then, he went out and bought a 22” 2-wheeled bicycle. At that time, there were no 3-wheeled bikes for big kids or adults. My dad took the bike 50 miles to the nearest bike shop, and asked them to turn it into a a 3-wheeler, which they did. It was very important to a little boy who was handicapped and without many friends. That bike opened up the world to me.

A few years later, my mom got me into weightlifting in a round about way. A friend of hers from work said her son had a set of weights and a bench to sell for $30.00. When she got it home, I fell in love with it. I don’t think my mom thought I would stick with it, but I am still weight training today. It’s not to make girls notice me, like it was when I was 16! Now, at 43, weight training helps me with the martial arts, and also to get around better (walking).

I have to hand it to my mom and dad, because when I was born in 1961, parents who didn’t want a child with a disability had only to sign their parental rights over to the state, and that child became a ward of the state. They could have done that, but chose to keep me, and I am grateful. When I started studying martial arts at 22, my mom didn’t like the idea because she thought I’d get hurt, or someone would try to hurt me. I think my dad had the same fear, but he never voiced it. A few months later, a friend who had been going to class with me was working out with me at my house, and we decided to spar a round or two. My dad was watching us, although I didn’t know it at the time. As we sparred, my friend was getting the better of me, hitting me hard and often. I don’t think he was trying to hit me hard, but because I was in my wheelchair, and couldn’t move that well or get out of the way, it probably seemed harder. While we were sparring, he came in close, and I hit him with a backfist he didn’t see, and I think it knocked him a little silly, because he wasn’t too steady on his feet. I don’t think I hurt him, but it embarrassed him in front of my dad. After that, my friend said he had to go home and we never sparred again. Later, my dad said that he was always going to be worried, but after that, he knew I could take care of myself.

When I started competing in tournaments, my parents had to work. So they didn’t get to see me compete much, but when they did, they enjoyed themselves. In 1990, when I started training with Rob Kelly of Charlotte, North Carolina, I had already been training with Guro Inosanto for about a year. The trip from my house to Charlotte and back was 500 miles. I’d leave my house by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., meet Rob at 1:00 p.m., work out for 3 hours, and then drive back home the same day. I did this once a month for six years. In 1991, my dad retired, and he offered to drive me to Charlotte when I had class, and I said sure, that would be great. He did that until 1996. My dad also took me to seminars when no one else could take me. I know he probably didn’t always feel like it, but he did it anyway. I know my father liked and respected all my instructors, because they showed a genuine interest in teaching me, and they liked me.

I have one last little story to tell about my father. He told me this happened one day a few years before he retired. He said a co-worker came to his department and asked my dad how I’d gotten into karate, and without batting an eye, my dad told him he’d been a black belt for over 30 years. Dad said the guy never got within 10 feet of him from that day on. At the time, I thought it was really funny. I still do. The day my dad died, I gave him an honorary first-degree black belt and put a black belt in his casket with him. My dad always kidded with me, telling me he could whip my butt. If he were still with us, I wouldn’t mind if he did.

I would like to thank some people, including my family, friends and extended family who have been concerned about me and my mom during this very hard time: Guro Dan and Simo Paula Inosanto, Carmen Bergman, Chip Reves, and my students as well. Without their friendship, I don’t know if I would have made it through this very hard time.

I hope someday I’ll be half the man my father was.

Motivation, Goals, & Determination

written by Clay Johnson

As a disabled martial artist who has been studying the martial arts since 1983, I think motivation, goals and determination must go together.

1. Motivation: I’m often asked by my students and the public what motivated me to start studying the martial arts. Well, that’s a hard question to answer. First of all, when I was a child, I was more often than not told what I wouldn’t be able to do rather than what I could do. When I heard this, it would make me mad, but as a child, there wasn’t much I could do about it. My parents always told me I could do anything I set my mind to do. This may sound silly, but my parents also told me I was no different than anyone else, and they raised me that way. So, in my mind’s eye, I always see myself as able-bodied.

As I have said in an earlier article for this page, my interest in the martial arts started when I was about 10 years old. I was watching a television sports program where I saw a man in a wheelchair who was a double amputee (he had lost his legs) doing a demo in which he was defending himself against 3 or 4 able-bodied men. Needless to say, this impressed me.

In 1971, there was a martial arts school in our town, but I was told I couldn’t join the school because I couldn’t walk or kick. Of course, I was very disappointed. I think the martial arts would have really helped me have a sense of myself, because as a child I didn’t like myself very much. (Even today I still don’t, but I put up with myself!) Also, being the first disabled child in our town in grade school in the mid-sixties and seventies, I was picked on all the time. I think that was one of the reasons I got into the martial arts some ten years later. Another reason was that while I was in college taking classes in hopes of being a police officer, I thought martial arts training would be helpful in that line of work. My Administration of Justice teacher didn’t think I would be able to be a police officer because I was disabled. In the long run, I think he might have been right. As a result, I changed my major to computers and earned a Computer Operations Certificate. Because of my inability to type fast, I was unable to get a job in computers, so the martial arts became my main focus.

That’s how it all started some 21 years ago. During that time, I have trained with some of the very best instructors in the martial arts and have earned instructorships in 4 different arts, including a 2nd degree black belt in American Freestyle Karate under Eddie Thomas of Salem, Virginia, a Muay Thai – Thai Boxing Instructorship under Ajarn Chai Sirisute, an Apprentice Instructorship under Sifu/Guro Rob Kelly of Charlotte, North Carolina and Associate Instructorships in Jun Fan Gung Fu and the Filipino Martial Arts under Guro Dan Inosanto.

Today, what continues to motivate me to train and teach is that I still enjoy the research and learning about martial arts. Also, being a disabled martial arts teacher, I feel I have a responsibility to be better than the next guy because of my disability. At this time, on the east coast where I live, there are 3 other disabled people who are studying Filipino Martial Arts, Jun Fan Gung Fu and Thai Boxing. They are Ken Chun, Glen Leonard and Joe Singleton. Joe Singleton has Apprentice Instructorships under Guro Inosanto. Ken Chun and Glen Leonard are students of Sifu Pat Tray. All of us are friends, and stay in touch with each other by e-mail. We talk often on the phone and see each other at least once a year.

I met Joe in 1991 at a seminar in Maryland. I was so glad there was another physically disabled person there. I remember thinking to myself, Wow, he’s really good. In my opinion, I felt he was better than be at the time, and I still feel that way about it. Joe has better movement than I do with his chair, and he can move his chair and stick or knife as one. Because of my Cerebral Palsy, the left side of my body is not as good as my right. Back when I first met Joe, I thought he would be the first to get his instructorship under Guro Inosanto, but soon after that, he began competing in the Wheelchair Games and the Para Olympics for a number of years in weight lifting, and he was very successful at that. Luckily, I met Joe again in the summer of 2003 at a seminar, and he was as good as ever. When I heard Joe had gotten his instructorships under Guro Dan, I was very happy for him.

I met Ken and Glen in the summer of 2000. I think these two guys are very good martial artists. Again, they are able to move their chairs very well, and have good hand and weapons work. I know Glen and Ken will become instructors in the future: they are that good. These three guys make me a better martial artist and a better teacher. I may have been the first one to get instructorships under Guro Dan, but I don’t want to be the only one.

2. Goals: I had lots of goals over the years – not just in the martial arts. I had to wear braces on my legs for most of my childhood, and they were very painful at times. I had to sleep with them on at night. In the middle of the night, the pain would wake me up. I was finally able to get rid of the braces in my teens. Needless to say, I was very happy they were gone.

Another one of my goals was not met (the one to become a policeman). In the long run, that was fine. My goal of becoming a martial artist, black belt and instructor was met. When I began training with Guro Inosanto, I wanted to be good at the arts that he taught, and I worked very hard for a number of years to make it happen. When I got my instructorships under Guro Dan in 1995, I met that goal. I set another goal that day: to become even better, and one day, get my Associate Instructorships. This goal was met in 2001. Another goal that goes along with these, is that I always want Guro Dan and Simo Paula to be proud of me and glad they embraced the challenge of training me.

I had a goal, or your might say a wish, to go to California and train at the Inosanto Academy. This goal was met in 2002. I got to train there for a week, and it was very cool! I don’t know if I will ever get to go out there again, but time will tell.

I have two future goals: one is to work on becoming an even better teacher now and in the years to come, because the martial arts is the one thing I’m good at. The other is to one day become a Full Instructor under Guro Inosanto.

3. Determination: This is something you have to have to make it in life. If you want to read about determination and courage, check out the other biographical articles on this web page by Joe Singleton, Glen Leonard and Ken Chun. These men should be an inspiration to all martial artists – the able-bodied as well as the disabled martial artists out there. I know they are to me.

I think my determination to succeed in anything I ever tried to do – be it weight training, learning to drive a car, etc., is because I’m very stubborn and a perfectionist when I train and when I teach. When I was a child, I felt I’d gotten a raw deal because I was disabled, but I think it’s made me strong-willed. This has helped me get through life’s challenges, among them, having 32 corrective surgeries, and learning to walk on crutches. I have sort of felt like Humpty Dumpty, who fell off the wall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I used to dream of being “normal”, but who’s to say what normal is?!!

No Whining!

written by Ken Chun

I was born with Spina Bifida, which is a malformation of the spinal cord that caused paralysis in my lower extremities. I think it is important for people to realize that although I’m in a wheelchair, I’m still doing whatever I want. All too often, people stereotype a person in a wheelchair as a defenceless invalid who can’t do anything for himself without asking for help. Pardon my language, but that’s a stinking load of buffalo chips! It really burns my butt when people with disabilities choose to believe that crap, and it makes me want to slap ’em! Their excuse for not being more active usually goes along the lines of, Well, the doctor (or friends, parents, etc.) told me that I can’t do this type of activity. Screw the doctor (or whoever told you that). What does that idiot know?!

When I was born thirty-one years ago, the doctors said I wasn’t going to live, and if I did, I wouldn’t have much of a “normal” life. Can anybody give me a good definition of “normal”? Well, I?ve been proving them wrong ever since. Can’t join Cub Scouts and have fun? Did it! Can’t join Law Enforcement Explorers? Think again! Can’t train in the martial arts? Been doing that since 1984. Can’t get a college degree in Administration of Justice with a minor in psychology, and then actually find a place to work with that degree? Did that too!

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Good! You wanna do something? First, you gotta stop all the whining about how you can’t do something. Whining does nothing but alienate people and make you feel miserable. The only people who will ever listen to constantly whining, miserable people day in and day out are psychologists, and you have to pay them to do it! Second, find a way to do what you want to do, no matter what. If you’re passionate about something, then just do it, and tell all the narrow-minded idiots you encounter to ?shut the hell up!? The only limitation we as human beings have is in ourselves. To quote Bruce Lee, “Use no limitation as limitation; use no way as way.” What does that mean? In my opinion, it means you do what you want, regardless of what people (even you) tell you is not possible for you to do.

To learn more about Spina Bifida, check out the spina Bifida Association’s website at www.sbaa.org. To learn more about Trident Academy, go to www.tridentacademy.org. Tell ’em I sent ya!

Nothing Is Impossible

written by Glen Leonard

My name is Glen I. Leonard II and I?m confined to a wheelchair. I am also a martial artist. Impossible you say? Nothing is impossible once you put your mind to it. Never Give Up, Never Give In is my philosophy.
Let me start with a little background about my life. I was born on April 13, 1971 in Okinawa, Japan. I am a Japanese-American. We came to the United States when I was 1-1/2 years old.

I grew up like any regular kid until the age of 4. It was then that I was diagnosed with a Medulla Blastoma. A Medulla Blastoma is a brain tumor. The tumor was cancerous. I had surgery to remove the tumor, and was also given radiation treatment after the surgery.
I was a fairly normal ? kid just weaker than everyone else due to the radiation treatment. Then at the age of 9, I contracted the first known case of Transverse Myelitis. Transverse Myelitis is a weakening of the spinal cord. I was then confined to a wheelchair.
From the age of 10 to about 14, I started progressing from wheelchair to walker, then walker to crutches, and finally crutches to cane, but then everything went down hill. Everything started to go backwards. My hamstrings knotted up and I had a fluid-filled cavity on the spine. At the age of 15, I had surgery to rectify these problems. I have been in a wheelchair since.
My interest in Martial Arts started when I was about 6 years old. The interest was sparked by Bruce Lee, old Kung Fu Movies, and my older cousin who was taking karate at the time. Being weak and frail during most of my life, my doctors did not feel that it was feasible for me to do anything strenuous.
I was about 22years old before my health was good enough for the idea of doing martial arts. The first style I trained in was Shotokan Karate. .I trained in Shotokan for about 2 years. During that time, I only went up to yellow belt. My instructor really didn?t know how to train someone who was disabled. He was mainly trying to get me to do tournaments. My instructor wanted to ?show off? that he was training a guy in a wheelchair.
The reason that the training only lasted about 2 years is that one day, my instructor packed up and went back to Japan. None of his students knew anything about this. The nearest Shotokan School was in Vienna, VA which was out of the way for me. So from 1994-2000, I have been trying to find a school and instructor who would be willing to train me.
Then in March 2000, I went to check out Trident Academy of Martial Arts. That was when I met Sifu Pat Tray. I asked if Sifu Tray had any misgivings about training a person in a wheelchair. His reply was ?I?ve been in the Navy Seals for over 20 years. Nothing can phase me.? Right then I knew I found the school and instructor I wanted to train with.
Through Sifu Tray, I had the privilege to meet and train with Guro Dan Inosanto and Sensei Erik Paulson. I have also trained with Sifu Burton Richardson. I have also made good friends training in Martial Arts. The best friend I have made since I started at Trident Academy is Clay Johnson. Clay is my inspiration and my motivator. I like to refer to Clay Johnson as my ?Big Brother.?
I cannot forget to mention my best friend Ken Chun, who is also in a wheelchair and who trains with me. We have known each other for 19 years and we?re closer than any brothers could be. Clay, Ken and I like to refer to ourselves as the ?Wheeled Warriors: Self-Defense By Any Means Necessary.?
I currently hold a Red Belt in Thai Boxing, Filipino Martial Arts, and Jeet Kune Do at Trident Academy. I am also training in Sayoc Kali. One day I hope to be an instructor. I would mainly like to teach disabled children. I want to show them that there is nothing impossible if they really want to do something. I also want to give them the self- confidence so that no matter what obstacles come into their lives, they can be overcome.
The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do applies best to the Disabled Martial Artist: ?Use No Way As Way, Use No Limitation As Limitation. I take to heart the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do and my own philosophy of ?Never Give Up, Never Give In.?
If anyone would like to contact me here is my information:

Glen I. Leonard II
13422 Pinetree Drive
Woodbridge, VA 22191-1842
E-mail: chronos471@yahoo.com

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
~Glen I. Leonard II