(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?