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?

Snake Disarm To Abanico

Single Stick vs. Single Stick.
Inside deflection.
Kedana Royal (Kambiata).
Hook with the punyo under the arm.
Snake with your left hand and apply an abanico (fan) to the head.
Continue the abanico.
Finish with an angle 1 (forehand) strike to the head.

Split Entry to Outside Wrist Lock

Parry the jab.
Split entry against the cross.
Hook the elbow and wrist.
Pull opponent down.
Switch hand position to an outside wrist lock.
Apply the lever to finish the lock.

Wheeled Warrior Clothing

Wheeled Warriors – Merchandise for Disabled Martial Artists. Our logo is a warrior in a wheelchair wielding a knife and an escrima stick. This is just another way of showing that disabled people can participate in the martial arts.

Wheeled Warrior Gear now available!

Wheeled Warriors – Merchandise for Disabled Martial Artists. Our logo is a warrior in a wheelchair wielding a knife and an escrima stick. This is just another way of showing that disabled people can participate in the martial arts.

– Ken Chun

Life may not be the party we hoped for…but while we are here we might as well dance!

Get your gear today!

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.