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:


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

Two Questions

written by Clay Johnson

The two questions I’m most asked by new students when they come to my academy for the first time are: “How can you teach me, you’re in a wheelchair?” and “Can you fight?”

As for the first question, most of the students who come to my school are able-bodied, and I totally understand why they might ask, because when they walk in, they see a guy in a wheelchair. Then they ask to speak to the instructor. I reply, “You are speaking to him.” Sometimes people just turn and leave. Most of the time, I get strange looks and they ask questions about the class. Sometimes, they don’t ask the questions, but the look on their faces asks for them.

I give new students three free lessons, so they can see if they like the classes. I tell them,”Take three classes, and you’ll be hooked.” My teaching style includes breaking down everything to the bare essentials. I ask my students to try and picture in their minds what I’m asking them to do, and then do it, and it really works. Years ago, when I first started teaching, I had trouble teaching kids because I thought they wouldn’t understand me, since I teach not so much by doing as by talking. I learned that I had to break down the material even more for kids. Today, 50% of my classes are kids.

My teaching style comes from all my teachers. My first karate instructor, Eddie Thomas, had me start teaching at blue belt. I learned how to teach from watching and listening to him teach. I think this has helped me learn from my other teachers. I think I really surprise new students, and s easoned martial artists, who come to visit or train with me, that I am able to teach kicking skills so well without ever throwing a kick myself. I make a deal with new students, sometimes spoken, sometimes not. I tell them I will make them good, but they have to listen to me and they have to do 60% of the work, and I’ll do 40% of the work teaching them. As students go through the belt ranks, they come to realize over the years that I have to prove myself to everyone who comes through my door. I’ve had several of my students get their black belts in karate under me. Also, two students have rank in Thai Boxing, one at level one and the other at level 2. Several other of my students have rank in what I call my Multi-art Class. So, I guess the answer to “How can you teach me, you’re in a wheelchair?” is “Yes, I can!”

As for the other question, “Can you fight?” I have to say, the answer is yes and no. If you mean can I defend myself, I think so. In all the years I’ve been in the martial arts, I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to use my skills in a fight. As far as sparring goes, I love it. I’ve been sparring for over 20 years, and I’ve had my share of black eyes, broken nose, and bloody lips. I don’t do too badly for a guy in a wheelchair. Along with boxing, I’ve also done stick fighting and knife fighting. I like it better than boxing because the stick and knife make the fight or sparring more even reach-wise. Range is what makes a fight for me. If I’m boxing and my opponent stays at kickboxing range, he’ll beat me with no problem. If he stays at boxing range, I’ll do a little better. I will never say I’m a good fighter, but I do the best I can, and from the time I started training in martial arts, I think I’ve improved greatly thanks to my teachers. I do believe if I weren’t disabled, I’d be a greatly skilled martial artist. I know that sounds cocky, but that’s what I believe.

Daily Challenges

written by Ken Chun

Clay Johnson, a good friend and fellow disabled martial artist, contacted me a couple of times because he wanted to discuss disability awareness and accessibility issues in the martial arts community.Having been a disabled martial artist since 1984, this prompted me to write this article.

Let me start with a simple statement: Life is sometimes a daily challenge.I?m not talking about the daily grind of going to work and putting up with an irritating boss and then coming home to a stack of bills that need to be paid.I?m talking about something more basic than that.I?m talking about just getting through normal, dull, daily life ? but doing it with a disability.Whether it?s being able to get into a building, or being able to get into a restroom, or just being able to get in and out of my car in a parking lot, these are things that many able-bodied people take for granted.As a man who was born with Spina Bifida, I can tell you without hesitation that life is, indeed, a daily challenge.

Ken Chun

You might be asking yourself, ?So, what?s your point with all of this, Ken??I am glad you asked!I will try my best not to get on a soapbox, but I think it?s a very important issue that is often mishandled, or just plain unhandled, because people just don?t know how to deal with these admittedly uncomfortable situations.

During my conversation with Clay, I could not help but think back to those times that I too found myself faced with school owners who were not as open to the possibility of disabled martial artists, or those who were open to the possibility, but were not, perhaps, as sensitive to the special needs of disabled martial artists as they ought to be.I would like to discuss these two points.

As has happened with probably most, if not all, disabled martial artists, when I began my search for a school I encountered a great deal of something that might not quite be discrimination, but it certainly was not acceptance either.The conversation usually went something like this: “Hi, I’m interested in taking lessons at your school and would like to get some information.”?Sure! You can come on down and check us out any day of the week.”Great!” I would reply.”Just one thing”, is your place wheelchair accessible? That was usually met with, “Uh, I think so”. Are you in a wheelchair??When I answered I was indeed in a wheelchair, I was usually discouraged by the instructor. ?Well, we?re really not set up for wheelchairs.?Or, ?We do a lot of kicking.I don?t know how much you?d be able to get out of our program.?

In my martial arts career, I have only come across five instructors who thought of me as just another student who was welcome to join in.They had no problem with modifying the curriculum so that I could basically learn what the others were learning.One of my instructors even went to a thrift store and bought an old wheelchair, which he used to modify Okinawan Karate kata (forms) for me.How cool!

There are two very important questions for a disabled person that I always ask: ?Can I get into your school?? and ?Can I get into your restroom??I have been fortunate to have found instructors who could answer yes to both of those questions.Sadly, during conversations with my disabled friends in the JKD/FMA/TB community, I have been disheartened to learn that there are some who have to answer no, even if they are more than willing to accept a student with disabilities.I was told of journeys of hundreds of miles to get to a seminar, only to find that while adequate parking was available for the handicapped, there was no way for a wheelchair to get into the school, or worse, for a wheelchair to get into the restroom.How silly!

There are usually two reasons given for not having adequate access: ?We just don?t have the money to do what needs to be done,? is one I can somewhat understand, because not everybody?s wallet is bursting at the seams with money.The second most popular reason given (and sometimes in the same sentence) is, ?Legally, I don?t have to do it because it?s an old building.?How convenient.What is this notion that the letter of the law is the be-all-end-all of moral and ethical culpability?Is there nothing in either personal or professional ethics that says you cannot do better, particularly in the martial arts, where we strive to improve ourselves physically, mentally, and/or spiritually?Why not go beyond the letter of the law?There are plenty of resources today that can help you improve handicapped access. At the end of this article, you will find a useful website to help you with just such an endeavor.

I used the term ?adequate? above.Some of you may be confused as to what this means.The best answer I can give you is that ?adequate? means making reasonable accommodations so that a disabled person has the same access to your school?s amenities as an able-bodied person.As to what ?reasonable? is, I refer you to the web page below.

I would like to leave you with one thought:If you don?t know what a disabled person might need in terms of accommodations, ask someone who might have an answer, or even better, put yourself in our place, and then you?ll find out quickly how challenging life is for us.

Useful web site for handicapped accessibility and the law: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm

An Interview With Lynda Hatch

Khru Lynda Hatch tells her story of how a person with a handicap can still succeed in achieving goals.

TBA: You were born deaf, correct?

Lynda: Yes, but the politically correct word nowadays is hearing impaired.

TBA: How does this affect your martial arts training?

Lynda: Well, I miss a lot during seminars, lectures and dialogue with more than two people. Lip-reading helps, but it is sporadically understood. Everyone?s lips move differently. Most instructors move around, and I cannot read their lips. I rely on my husband, Dave, to interpret during seminars, which can be difficult for him at times because things move so fast. At best, I go by visual movements. During sparring/demos, I cannot hear verbal instructions or subtle sounds, such as an opponent?s breathing or foot and hand movements. It is strictly a visual event for me.

TBA: When did you begin studying martial arts?

Lynda: In 1969, I started learning martial arts when I was in my first year at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan. It was a Japanese system of Karate called Shito ? Ryu. During that time, I met my husband, Dave, who was an assistant instructor. I received my first Black Belt in 1977.

TBA: What other martial arts have you studied?

Lynda: We moved in 1985, and Dave and I started going to seminars on Fun Fan Gung Fu / JKD and the Filipino Martial Arts taught by Guro Dan Inosanto, in Lansing, Michigan. I really wanted to learn how to handle knife attacks, and this seminar was an eye-opening experience. Since then, I became a part of Guro Dan?s Instructor program and achieved the Associate Level in 2001. I have several rankings, which include Mande Muda Pencak Silat under the late Pendakar Herman Suwanda, Lameco Escrima under the late Punong Guro Edgar Sulite, Wing Chun under Sifu Francis Fong and Muay Thai/Thai Boxing under Ajarn Surachai Sirisute.

TBA: How and when were you exposed to Muay Thai?

Lynda: During the late 1980?s, my husband and I attended a joint seminar in Chicago with Guro Inosanto and Ajarn Chai, and my first impression was, WOW! What a workout. It was tough, but it kept me in great shape. I had never even thought about testing for an Instructor Level in Muay Thai. My initial impression of Ajarn Chai was not too good. To me, he seemed mean and arrogant, but as the years went by, I got to know him better, and would enjoy seeing him smile. However, the training and conditioning were still tough and demanding. More than ten years later, I finally decided to take the Muay Thai apprenticeship test, six months after my husband took his test.

TBA: How old were you when you took your test?

Lynda: I was 48 years old. I am 5?2″ tall and weigh 112 pounds. My two feeders were LaTanya Charlson from Virginia and Oscar Kallet from Ohio. Both were taller, bigger and younger than me, and because I was over 40, Ajarn Chai said that they would not be as hard on me during the test as they are on younger people. HA! It was not quite true, as far as I was concerned. It was a tough and nerve-wracking test, but I was determined, and focused on getting through it as best I could

TBA: Because of your profound hearing loss, were there any adjustments to your test?

Lynda: I went through the same test as any hearing person would have had to go through it. Dave would interpret the instructions from Ajarn Chai for me. Due to not hearing the music for the Ram Muay Ceremony, I had to perform at a pace I thought to be correct. According to Ajarn Chai, I was a little too fast, but I had great form. During the two three-minute rounds of my test, I could not hear the counters for knee strikes and round kicks, or people cheering me on. Dave tried to fill me in on the numbers of kicks and knees when I happened to see him in front of me, but to get through it, I just had to depend totally on an inner strength and faith in myself. Knowing that the people supported me really helped a lot.

TBA: Any last comments?

Lynda: Yes. I hope that people reaslize that any worthwhile goal is valuable enough to keep the persistence to achieve it. Most importantly, regardless of the physical or mental handicap, never give up.