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.