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.”