My Path to Martial Arts Self-Perfection

written by Clay Johnson

You may think from the title of this article that if you are physically able to train in the martial arts many years, a person would gain some sense of self-perfection in the art they chose to train in. You would be right in your thinking, but what if a person had a physical disability and trained just as hard as the physically able person. Do you think they can also gain the same sense of self-perfection? I believe they can. As for myself I started studying martial arts at the age of 22, the system I started in was American Freestyle Karate under Grandmaster Eddie Thomas of Salem, VA. With my disability being Cerebral Palsy Mr. Thomas took up the challenge of training me. Since the AFK system is three styles in one, Shotokan, Tae Kwon Do and Boxing. Mr. Thomas created a sub-system to teach me with modified techniques such as katas, self-defense, and grab-defense techniques from a wheelchair. In place of the kicking techniques I could not do and still can?t do to this day. I had to work on movement of my wheelchair. As I have said in other articles Mr. Thomas and I opened an AFK school in my home town of Clifton Forge, VA in March of 1987, my rank at that time was blue belt. While the school was open I taught about 90% of the classes and Eddie taught the other 10%. During I had to learn the AFK system that Eddie taught to the able-bodied public which meant learning how to teaching kicking techniques. Back then the students didn?t want me teaching them for a few reasons, first I was just learning to teach and run a class second the students really liked Eddie because he was a black belt and could teach and show how techniques were done better than I could at that time. With Clifton Forge being such a small town and dropping enrollment it was decided to close the school in December of 1989. During the three years the school was open it was a great time for me because I found out I could run a business and teach the martial arts. One other thing I learned I had become a much better martial artist from teaching than I had been before. In October of 1988 I earned my black belt. In the years since then I have taught the martial arts non-stop. On April 1, 1989 my life changed with the meeting of Guro Dan & Simo Paula Inosanto at a seminar in Charlotte, NC. Also in October of the same year I attended my first Muay Thai seminar with Ajarn Chai Sarisute and initially I was just there to watch. Ajarn Chai came up to me and introduced himself and asked if I would be training that day, I said no I was just there to watch, his reply was no you will be training. After that seminar in January of 1990 I started training with Rob Kelly and Doug Bradford, Rob and Doug are long time students of Guro Dan and Ajarn Chai. I trained with them once a month for six years, the reason only once a month is because I live in Virginia and they live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I learned a lot from them and it was a very laid back and relaxed atmosphere to learn in and luckily for me they allowed video taping of my sessions so I could remember what we had worked on. In October of 1990 I received my second degree black belt in AFK and in January of that year I began teaching for the Covington Parks and Recreation Department so I would have a place to teach due to the closure of the Clifton Forge School, I taught for the Rec. Department until 1996. During those years I completed several seminars with Guro Dan and Ajarn Chai, in 1992 I took my apprentice Thai test and passed. A large majority of my test was written and probably a little harder than the physical tests from my prospective, I would have much rather done the physical part of the test and risked getting knocked out or failing, it would have been more fun ha-ha. In July of 1995 I received my apprentice instructorship in Filipino Martial Arts and Jun Fan Gung Fu under Guro Dan Inosanto. Needless to say I was overwhelmed by Guro Dan and Simo Paula?s faith in me. In March of 1996 the Covington Parks and Rec. Department informed me that they would need the space that I was using and that I would have to move, this was a turning point for me because I had to decide whether I was going to continue to teach or quite all together, after talking to my parents they said why don?t you open up your own school with the money you saved teaching those six years. Gladly I can say the school has been open for thirteen years and even though we are in an economically depressed area the school has generally broke even financially year after year. In June of 2001 I was promoted to associate instructor under Guro Dan in Jun Fan Gung Fu and the Filipino Martial Arts. Along with teaching and training I?ve enjoyed my relationships with my students over the years, I probably learn more from them then they have ever learned from me. In 2003 I was nominated into the American Freestyle Karate Association Hall of Fame for instructor of the year and then again in 2006 for life-time achievement. July of 2007 I was promoted to senior associate instructor in JFGF and FMA under Guro Dan, December of that same year I was promoted to forth degree black belt under Eddie Thomas in AFK and in the last few weeks I was inducted into yet another hall of fame, the United States Martial Arts Association, for apprentice master of the year. This article so far may sound as if I?m boasting and patting myself on the back but, it goes to show that if you believe in yourself and people believe in you, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I?ve been lucky and had a hand-full of great teachers in the martial arts that believed in me and didn?t look at my disability or my inability to do something or learn something; they saw the person not the chair. In conclusion my martial arts path to self-perfection is ongoing and never ending, because remember once you stop learning you stop living.



Clay Johnson Audio Interview

Clay Johnson Is Truly An Original

Message from Master Thomas

I began teaching martial arts in 1978 at the Virginia Baptist Children’s home upon receiving my first black belt at the age of 18.

From my first day as a student it was my desire to become the best martial arist I could possibly be.
I was able to overcome severe health issues from my childhood, as well as travel, train with world champions, become a member of a prominent national team, eventually winning a world championship in 1990.
Over the years I have continued my education and earned several black belts from multiple arts and over the last several years earned hall of fame honors from different countries.
When I opened my school I became a full time instructor in 1982 right out of college. At the time people thought I was insane to try to run a martial arts school as a full time business.
Almost everyone in the country accept a precious few did martial arts as a hobby and had other vocations that were thought of as secure.

When I began teaching for a living my thought was “this is something that I know will positively impact a person’s life for the better because it certainly did me.”
So I had conviction that I could do good for people while able to do what I personally loved and feed myself all at the same time.

Over this 30 year journey I have seen children who were my students grow to save their own families and bring their children to me as students too.

I have seen students go on to become world champions as well, movie stunt men, marines, doctors, lawyers, and even pastors.

It has been very satisfying to see them prosper from what I have taught them.

I have seen them become part of my extended family and friends that I have cherished for decades.
Unfortunately if you are part of something for this long or just live long enough in general, part of life is also to loose loved ones and have the unenviable position to see them pass away.

30 years is a long time and a person that walks a path for that long will do great things and make tremendous life changing mistakes as well, see amazing, heart warming, heart breaking, humorous, awe inspiring, embarrassing, humiliating, soul crushing, as well as uplifting adventures that make a soul strong.

One such adventure began early on when a young man on crutches and his girlfriend entered my school an asked if I would accept him as a student. The young man’s name was Clay Johnson and upon accepting him as a student we forever changed each other’s lives from that day forward.

I saw Clay as a person with a tremendous soul but a damaged body, not unlike the way I viewed myself as a teen entering martial arts for the first time.

I knew that with heart a person could overcome hardship and the world could see what the person was all about.
Not where they came from, not how much money the did or didn’t have, not their religion, gender, race etc. but their spirit.
To me martial arts is a vehicle to where whatever is in you can be developed much as a brush for an artist.
The art or magic is in you, you just need the brush to make it material and not idea.
Over the past several decades Clay and I traveled all over the country to events such as competitions, training events, exhibitions in order to live the martial arts lifestyle.
At a point Clay and I opened a school in his hometown and over time I turned it over to him and he has ran it by himself from his chair.
As a student Clay was extremely dedicated, hard working and goal oriented. Clay has never allowed anything to stop him from pursuing his childhood dream of becoming the entity and ideal that we both saw illustrated by Bruce Lee in film when we were children.

To me a true martial artist is not an athlete that just beats on people in competitions.
My ideal envisioning of what a martial artist is would be someone that can take everything life has to throw at them and continue to fight the good fight regardless of circumstances.

Every time in my own personal training that I felt lazy, uninspired, or like life was hard or unfair for me I would look at Clay and feel ashamed for my weakness.

From Clay’s example I have seen that everyone has handicaps in various degrees, most are of the spirit and not easy to see.

The Japanese say “fall down 9 times, get up 10”
I can think of no one I have ever known that illustrates this concept more than Clay.

For this reason and for his tireless efforts toward self improvement for the past several decades regardless of great personal, physical, and emotional obstacles on December 1st 2007 I promoted Clay Johnson to the rank of 4th degree (Renshi) master level in the art and science of human survival we call American Freestyle Karate.
I am more pleased and proud to call Clay my long time friend, student, and personal inspiration that I can easily articulate.

In the beginning of article I gave a summery of my personal evolution not to talk about me but to illustrate the time and effort of someone that has full use of his body and how hard this life choice is for so called “regular” people. For those of you in martial arts that know how hard it is to attain master level anyway, this only shows more clearly what a monumental task Clay has accomplished where so many countless people have failed.

Clay is truly an original.

Master Eddie Thomas

On Saturday, April 29, 2006, Clay Johnson =as awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from the American Freestyle Karat= Association. Johnson, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, has operated the A=erican Freestyle Martial Arts Academy in Covington since 1987. He teaches martial arts to students ranging in age from age 10 to age 70.

Click Here for video.

Related: Read the 2003 story by Matt Chittum — His abilities in martial arts have surprised many

His abilities in martial arts have surprised many
Clay Johnson can’t do everything he knows how to do, but he can teach it.

By Matt Chittum
November 24, 2003

Mean kids called him “one-ear” and “retarded.”

Clay Johnson was born with cerebral palsy. He had no left ear, twig-like legs that were contorted to the right, and only his right arm was fully usable. He didn’t like himself, and figured no one else did, either. People call hi= different names now.

Three nights a week, he sits in a wheelchair at the front of a room in a gra= cinder-block building on the outskirts of Covington. Bruce Lee watches fro= framed portraits on the wall. Students bow courteously when they enter Joh=son’s martial arts school.

They call him sensei, sifu, guro – teacher.

From his chair, he barks out the school credo, and the students repeat it: “To build true confidence through knowledge and mind, honesty in the heart and strength in the body; to keep friendship with one another and build a strong and happy community; never fight to achieve selfish ends, but to develop fight for right.”

Johnson, 42, gives and gets what 20 years of devotion to martial arts have taught him to give himself: respect.

On Friday, Johnson traded his second-degree karate black belt for a rented t=xedo, the first he’s ever worn. At a 6 p.m. ceremony in Lynchburg, Johnson was inducted into the American Freestyle Karate Association’s Hall of Fame and was named instructor of the year.

The crowd who saw him go up to accept his plaque learned what he knows more than anyone is true: Martial arts changed his life.

Teased unmercifully

“What are you going to do with him?” people would ask Johnson’s father when =hey saw the disfigured toddler. “I’m going to keep him,” Ernie Johnson would say.

Ernie, a Westvaco worker, and his wife, Smitty, a nurse, did what they could with limited means to help their son. Before he was 18, Clay had 30 surgeries on his legs, feet and jaw, including attempts to create a crudely fashioned ear.

They sent him to public schools, but say they were ill-equipped physically a=d emotionally to deal with a child who has disabilities. He spent most of has time inside his parents’ brick ranch in Clifton Forge, the only place he has ever lived.

Schoolmates picked on Clay unmercifully; frequently they extorted him for his lunch money, he said. Until junior high school, he had no friends. “I was lonely a lot, but I was happy,” he said.

Johnson roamed the Heights section of Clifton Forge on a three-wheeled bike he peddled jerkily with feeble legs, followed by a mutt dog named Joe. Mostly, he watched television and projected himself into what he saw.

He watched “Starsky and Hutch” and wanted to be a cop. He watched “Kung Fu” and felt connected to its lonely, drifting, misunderstood protagonist.

When he was 10, he saw a sports program about a man with no legs and witnessed the guy whip five able-bodied opponents in a karate match.

Johnson figured maybe he could do that, too. “I thought, if I was able to pop somebody, I’d get left alone.”

But except for one Alleghany County sheriff’s deputy who trained him briefly no one wanted to teach a man with disabilities. Some even laughed at the suggestion.

The first who didn’t was Eddie Thomas, owner of American Free Style Karate in Salem. Thomas strengthened Johnson’s upper body, sparred with him like any other student, and entered him in competitions to help Johnson overcome his shyness.

Johnson excelled in the “kato” competition, where contestants attempt to dem=nstrate perfect form. But he never did much as a fighter. His wheelchair make him a human punching bag, Johnson said.

He sought to punish opponents who disrespected him, though. In his first fight as a black belt, he sensed his opponent was babying him. He grabbed the men by the back of the head and knocked him semiconscious with a blow to the face.

“I never expected to win fights,” Johnson said. “As long as I get a good show in, and they respect me, that’s OK.”

Maybe one in 500 of Thomas’ students earn their black belt, though not all seek it. Thomas predicted it would take Johnson six years to get his. Johnson made it in five.

Award a ‘big deal’

Johnson retired from competition in 1991.

He has run his own school since 1987, but he’s never done more than break even on it, he said. It gets him out of the house. It also gives him a place of respect, though that still doesn’t come easily.

He sees concerned faces when he meets potential students or their parents: “How’s he going to teach me?” they wonder.

Johnson’s credentials should be convincing enough. He’s a certified instructor in American Freestyle Karate, Thai boxing, Filipino martial arts and Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu, the art developed by the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee Johnson has studied with Dan Inosanto, Lee’s protege, who took the helm of Lee’s martial arts school when Lee left to make movies. Johnson has trained nine black belts himself.

Still, new students are unsure, so he gives the first three lessons for free.

“It didn’t take but a couple of classes to see it [Johnson’s disability] doesn’t matter,” said Terry Clemons, whose son Brian, 7, is in Johnson’s beginners class.

“Out of all the stuff I know how to do, I can only do about 10 percent of it myself,” Johnson said. But he can still teach it.

Though he can walk on crutches, Johnson mostly stays in his chair. He instructs students verbally on form, occasionally adjusting their position by hand. He addresses everyone as “sir” or “ma’am.” But Johnson tolerates no laziness. “If you want to trade places, you take this chair and I’ll take your ability and go off,” he will tell a slack student.

He mentions Thomas often, telling students how Thomas taught him. It was Thomas who nominated his former student for the AFKA hall of fame, which recognizes mostly East Coast martial artists.

“It’s a big deal . . . because it’s people recognizing him for his work and tenacity,” Thomas said. “His determination is pretty inspirational to a lot of people.”

Johnson knows that. But the real benefits of his life in martial arts have been for himself.

Karate didn’t save Johnson’s life, but it saved it from loneliness and anonymity.

“It actually gave me my identity,” he said. “I tried to gauge myself by what I saw on TV when I was little. Now, it’s more like, ‘I’m me.’ “

Natural Weapons of the Wheelchair

written by Ken Chun

For the past twenty-three years that I’ve been practicing martial arts, I’ve gotten the same question time and again: “How do you do martial arts from a wheelchair?” I have a simple answer: “observation and adaptation”. Using what I have observed from the martial arts of Filipino Kali and Jun Fan Gung Fu in the last seven years, and taking my inspiration from Mr. Ron Scanlon, himself a martial artist who uses a wheelchair as well as an instructor in a form of Kung Fu called San Soo, I have come up with several adaptations using my wheelchair as a weapon. Please note that these are my observations and they work for me. If you ever attempt to use any of these you do so at your own risk. I am merely sharing these for your information, not instruction.

Removable arms – using FMA angles one and two you can disable an attacker by striking the collar bones or the knees, or by using angle five and thrusting the tip (or tips) of your wheelchair arm into an attacker’s solar plexus or abdomen. You could also use angles nine and ten to the knees, but I wouldn’t advise using more than four angles because then you risk having your weapon taken from you and used against you.

Quick-release legs – Using FMA angles eleven and twelve you can disable an attacker by striking his knees as hard as possible, but be prepared to drop the legs and use a follow up with your hands such as the plum from Muay Thai where you can then elbow or punch.

Using the footrests on the wheelchair while moving toward an attacker and ramming into the ankle or shin you can stop the attacker’s leg in the same way that a pendulum (or shuffle) kick from Jun Fan Gung Fu or a foot sweep from any number of other martial arts would do. The attacker may fall forward from this, so be ready to move quickly and use a follow-up from Muay Thai such as “jab – cross – plum – elbows or punches to the head” (can you tell I like this follow up?) or, simply move out of the way if you’re quick enough and let him fall to the ground. Then you can use your footrests again against the attacker’s head. Your wheels are also a weapon. Rolling over an attacker’s hands while he’s down on the ground has a wonderfully demoralizing effect, especially if you do it slowly.

To use the wheelchair to do a sweep like in Muay Thai (or other martial arts), swing the legs of the chair as fast as you can and as hard as you can to catch an attacker’s heel, ankle, or calf. This will either trip him or put him off balance and most likely cause him to fall into you as in the above situation. From that position you can do either a choke or execute an arm lock by hooking the arm closest to you as he falls and introducing his hand to his shoulder blades.

As with any technique, they do not always work as they should so be prepared to improvise and adapt to whatever happens. Remember, the main goal is to protect yourself from harm and get away as quickly as possible. When the odds are against you, do what you have to in order to get away and stay safe.

(In)Tolerance In The Martial Arts

written by Ken Chun

So there I was, enjoying the breeze blowing through the academy after a seminar given by Guro Dan. It was a great seminar; everybody seemed to enjoy himself or herself after training hard. Then it happened: a complaint that I just knew would happen about a blind student of ours who attended the seminar. He does mostly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Combat Submission Wrestling, but he likes to get in as many seminars as he can hoping, as we all do, to take something away from the seminar that is useful to him. The person who lodged a complaint after the seminar really is a nice guy, but he chose to express himself very poorly. While I agree it is improbable that a blind person would get into a situation where he would have to do any stick or knife fighting, it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. Besides which, he has every right to be at whatever seminar he wishes to attend.

It amazes me that there are still people around with the exclusionary mindset towards handicapped people that was so prevalent back in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and early 1980’s. I remember clearly being told so many times, “oh, you can’t do that!” simply because of my handicap. Well, guess what – I CAN AND I DID!! And so can he! The exact words to me were, “I’m not anti-handicapped, but he should be somewhere on the mat where he won’t be in the way of sticks.” He intimated that a “handicapped zone” should be set up on the mat. Okay, so his angles with his sticks aren’t pretty and he grazed a few people who got too close to him during the seminar. In my opinion it was their fault. Not to sound callous or prejudiced like the person who inspired me to write this but hey, if you see a blind guy with a couple of kali sticks you probably don’t want to get too close, am I right? After all, it’s not like he can see you getting too close and move out of the way.

More and more, I see seminars not only as an opportunity to get in some great training with true legends, I also see it as an opportunity for people to learn tolerance of other people’s differences. Whether those differences are from being less skilled in the martial arts or because of a handicap, everybody has the right to participate in training. Remember to keep an open mind, folks. If your mind isn’t open to new ideas and concepts, then how much are you really learning at a seminar anyway?

The Lesson

written by Clay Johnson

This article is about one of the most important martial art and life lessons I was ever taught, and it wasn’t taught to me by a martial arts teacher, but by a very unlikely source. I would like to share the story with you, the reader, because you may find it interesting and helpful in your study of the martial arts.

On December 31, 1989, I had asked my girlfriend, Kimlee, to dinner after I finished teaching classes at my first school in my hometown of Clifton Forge, Virginia. As it happens, that was also the last day the school was going to be open, because I was closing it for good. The restaurant we were going to was down the street from the school. Kimlee got to the school, and we decided to use my wheelchair to go to the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to walk. We asked one of my students, Kemper Murray, if he would like to come with us. He said he would meet us there, because he had to fix a hole in the wall at the school, since we weren’t going to be at that location anymore.

As we were heading to the restaurant, I saw a disabled guy I knew sitting in his wheelchair on the street, watching cars go by. First, I think I better explain how I knew this person. I’m not going to use his real name here. I’ll call him Brian. He’s since passed on.

I knew Brian back in high school, before his accident when he could walk. We were not friends. Brian and his friends gave me a very hard time for the most part. I had been out of school about a year or so when I heard Brian and a friend of his were in a car accident, and drinking and speeding were to blame. Brian’s friend died and Brian ended up in a wheelchair for life. (The old saying is very true: “What goes around comes around.”)

As Kim and I got closer to where Brian was sitting, I noticed that he had a new wheelchair – one of those you can use for all kinds of sports. As we passed him, we said, “Hi, Brian,” and I remember also saying something like, “Cool looking chair.” Brian said, “Yeah, I just got it!”

We stopped for a minute to ask about the wheelchair, and I asked Brian what it cost. He said it was around $5,000.00. He told me he had gotten a loan from the bank to pay for it. I said to him it was too bad his insurance couldn’t help with the cost of the wheelchair. Without missing a beat, he said, “I’m not like you. Everyone gives you everything.”

That was just like getting slapped in the face. I came back with, “Well, I wasn’t drinking and driving and killed someone and half myself.” Brian said something back to me – I can’t remember exactly what – but it wasn’t very nice. Kim realized I was mad, and knew I had a very bad temper. So she said, “Let’s go eat,” and starting rolling me down the street toward the restaurant. Meanwhile, Brian and I were shouting at each other on the street. Brian was trying to goad me into a physical confrontation.

Luckily for Kim and me, it remained a verbal confrontation.

Kim and I were now in the restaurant getting ready to order. I was very upset at myself for letting Brian get under my skin. My student, Kemper, came in and asked what had happened. He had heard all the shouting. So, we told him what had been said. He then told us that Brian had told him his side of the story.

Brian told Kemper it all started because I had said he was nothing because he didn’t do karate. Kemper knew I wouldn’t say that to anyone. He then asked me if I’d I noticed that Brian had one of his anti-tip bars off of his chair, ready to use as a weapon. This news really upset me because I did not notice it at all. Kim and I could have gotten badly hurt, because Brian was just mean enough to use that anti-tip bar on us.

Thoughts of this played with my head for a long time. I realized I was not really ready for any kind of physical confrontation. I remember thinking that I ‘d wasted six years getting a black belt, and I was useless if I couldn’t keep Kim safe.

This is the reason why the arts I now use are the Filipino Martial Arts, Jun Fan Gung Fu, and Thai Boxing. From doing these arts for almost 19 years, I feel I’m better prepared for a confrontation. I still teach American Freestyle Karate, but I don’t use it anymore. Don’t misunderstand; American Freestyle Karate is a great art, but it’s just not for me. So, in a way, Brian did me a big favor by showing me that I wasn’t where I should be as a martial artist.

I think about that night often, and today, I have to thank Brian because he helped make me the martial artist and person I am today.

How I Became A Martial Arts Teacher

written by Clay Johnson

 This article is about being a disabled martial arts instructor.  As of March 1, 2007, I’ve been teaching the martial arts for 20 years.  I would like to tell you the story of how it all started.

I started studying martial arts in 1981 under James Mays, who was teaching Tae Kwon Do in the area at the time.  I trained with him for a year. I never received any rank in that art; Mr. Mays had to stop teaching, because while he and his family were on vacation, they were in a car accident.  He injured his neck, and it left him unable to train or teach for a long time.

I had been looking for another teacher for quite awhile, when in  December of 1983, my girlfriend and I were Christmas shopping in Salem, Virginia, and we happened to drive by a new school that had just opened: “American Freestyle Karate.”  The school was owned, and still is, by Eddie Thomas.  We went in to check and see if they might accept me as a student. The answer I was expecting was No.”  To my surprise Mr. Thomas said, “We’ll give it a try.”

The art of American Freestyle Karate has 3 arts in it: Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and American Boxing.  At first, my training with Eddie was one-on-one, once a week.  The trip to Salem is 50 miles each way, but as time went by, I tried to make it over more than once a week, and Eddie and I became good friends. In the summer of 1986, Eddie came to visit me on my birthday. I had known him for 3 years by this time, and had become a blue belt.  This was the first time he had visited my hometown of Clifton Forge, Virginia.  Clifton Forge and the surrounding area has a population of about 5,000 people.  The first thing Eddie asked me when he got to my house was, “What is there for people to do in such a small community?”  I said, “Not too much.”  There were a few movie theaters at the time, but not much else.

I had mentioned to Eddie about a year before that I wished the school was closer to home so I could come to class more often.  After his visit, I didn’t think too much more about what he had asked me, until a few months later, when he asked if I would be interested in starting a karate school with him, in my hometown.  I remember thinking that would be cool!  Eddie told me he thought that if we both put in $3000.00, we could start looking for a place for the school.  Since I didn’t have that kind of money, I had to ask my mom and dad for the money.  My parents were not really sure how a karate school would do in such a small town, and they didn’t know if they could trust Eddie to put in his part of the money. They liked Eddie, however, and were very thankful for what he had done for me so far teaching me karate.  I think they thought that  if the school failed, it would really hurt me, while Eddie still had his other school in Salem, and could go back if the Clifton Forge school  closed.  I remember telling my parents I thought I could do this and asked them to please let me try.

They agreed to give me chance, but they were still worried. Still, by the middle of February 1987, we had found a place for the school.  We held a day of demo’s on Saturday, February 27th.  Two hundred people visited the school that day.  We gave everyone the first week of classes at no charge, to let them try and see if they would like it before signing up.  (I still do the same thing today, because I know I’m not the right teacher for some people.)

We opened for business on March 1st. 27th.   After the first week, we had a little over one hundred people sign up for class. As I recall, Eddie taught most of the classes the first month, and I taught a few.  Mostly, I answered the phone, signed students up, sold uniforms, etc. and learned the ropes about running a school.

The first class that I did teach, I remember Eddie wheeled me out on the floor and he said,  “OK, teach.”  Needless to say, I was scared to death to teach a class by myself.  I have to admit that first six months of teaching classes were terrible, awful and really bad.  You have to remember that I was still only a blue belt at the time.  I guess we could say it was “on the job training.”

The first year and half, the school did very well for being in such a small area. During this time, Eddie ask one of his brown belts to help with teaching duties.  This went on for about six months until the brown belt got tried of helping me, and felt he wasn’t getting paid enough.  By then, I had  my brown belt, and my teaching was much better.  I also noticed I was becoming a much better martial artist as well, and was becoming more intoned to my students.  For example, I can look at my students today and be able to help them fix a problem, such as doing a kick correctly.  I have had other instructors visit my school, see me do this, and say “How do you do that?”

The Clifton Forge School closed in December of 1989 because of declining enrolment, but five black belts came out of that school.  In the spring of 1989, I met Guro Dan & Simo Paula Inosanto at my first seminar with them.  That seminar changed my way of thinking about martial arts, and my place in it.  After the Clifton Forge school closed, I started a martial arts club, from 1990 to 1996.  Since June 1996, I’ve  have had my own academy, and eight black belts have came out of this academy so far.

In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and people in general.  I have met, and had the chance to train with, some of the very best martial arts teachers in the world today.

Before I conclude this article, I would like to thank my parents, who are no longer with us, for believing in me; Eddie Thomas for helping open my first school (I don’t think he ever believed that I would become the teacher that I an today!); Simo Paula Inosanto (I think she always knew I had it in me – thanks for giving me a kick in the butt when it was needed!) and my girlfriend of 25 years, Kimlee Reid, for being with me in good and bad times, and believing in me without question.

I believe I am a good teacher – not great – but give me another 20 years and we’ll see!

IAMA Salutes John Millard

The Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts Salutes John Millard for his work with brain-injured survivors in Vancouver, British Columbia.

John began the self-defense club about five years ago, and developed it into a Karate Club.  Officially established in March 2004, the Lower Mainland Brain Injury Karate Club has around 10 students.  They meet once a week, and there is no charge for the club.

To contact John, e-mail him at:

Hello 2007!

written by Clay Johnson

Hi everyone. We are now two months into 2007. I hope everyone is doing well. This article is my first of the year. The Martial Artists With Disabilities page is close to turning 3 years old now. I just want to give you some news about upcoming happenings for this page.

A new article titled, “Ying/Yang” by Joe Singleton, is up now and it’s great! It’s getting lots of hits. Glen Leonard has a new article in the works. It may be a while before he is finished writing it, because, see, Glen broke his leg late last year. (I can’t remember which leg he broke.) He’s now recovering at home. If you get a chance, drop him an e-mail. I’m sure he would like that. Here is his e-mail address:

I have a favor to ask of the readers of this page: if you have a question or an idea for an article, please e-mail me, Glen, Ken, or Joe. We would be glad to help. For myself, I have some ideas for upcoming articles, including an interview I did with Guro Dan Inosanto while I was at the Inosanto Academy for an instructor’s camp last fall. It was great fun to interview Guro Dan. He is very giving of his time, and I would like to thank him for taking the time.

I have one last thing to say before I close this article. As we are now into 2007, I can’t help but remember I started my teaching career 20 years ago this coming March 1st. I would like to say thanks to those of you who have visited this page over the last 3 years. Again, any suggestions are welcome.

Ying / Yang

written by Joseph L. Singleton

Both an able-bodied person, who is a martial arts instructor, and a disabled person, who is a martial arts instructor must comprehend the knowledge, the philosophy, and the attitude of the martial arts to be a good instructor.  They (the able-bodied and disabled instructors) do these in different ways.  First, of all, the knowledge of an able-bodied person who is a martial arts instructor, and the knowledge of a disabled martial instructor includes diversity in martial arts.  For example, the able-bodied instructor demonstrates skills by mimicking the physical movements used in martial arts, like seeing a reflection in the mirror of a graceful  ballerina.  However, the disabled instructor’s knowledge is a “conceptional view.”  For this reason, the disabled instructor’s view is like following instructions step-by-step in a “how-to” book.  Despite this, the able-bodied instructor’s ability to participate fully with the student, or the disabled instructor’s lack of mobility with the student has nothing to do with the knowledge of the instructor.  Each instructor can take a student like a piece of molding clay, and create a piece of art.

The philosophy of an able-bodied instructor, and a disabled instructor can be different.  For example, the principle that martial arts is important, but not the most important aspect of a person’s life, could be the cornerstone of the able-bodied instructor’s philosophy.  On the other hand, the disabled instructor’s theory is that breaking down physical, architectural, behavioral, and mental barriers, is part of the training in martial arts.

Most importantly, the able-bodied instructor, and the disabled instructor should  have concerned attitudes as instructors. For example, the able-bodied instructor’s attitude about martial arts might simply be, “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.”  Yet, the disabled instructor’s attitude about martial arts is that the four-letter word can’t
is a defeat!

To summarize, the knowledge, the philosophy, and the attitude of the able-bodied instructor and the disabled instructor should be shared in theory, and practice by both instructors —