written by Clay Johnson
The two questions I’m most asked by new students when they come to my academy for the first time are: “How can you teach me, you’re in a wheelchair?” and “Can you fight?”
As for the first question, most of the students who come to my school are able-bodied, and I totally understand why they might ask, because when they walk in, they see a guy in a wheelchair. Then they ask to speak to the instructor. I reply, “You are speaking to him.” Sometimes people just turn and leave. Most of the time, I get strange looks and they ask questions about the class. Sometimes, they don’t ask the questions, but the look on their faces asks for them.
I give new students three free lessons, so they can see if they like the classes. I tell them,”Take three classes, and you’ll be hooked.” My teaching style includes breaking down everything to the bare essentials. I ask my students to try and picture in their minds what I’m asking them to do, and then do it, and it really works. Years ago, when I first started teaching, I had trouble teaching kids because I thought they wouldn’t understand me, since I teach not so much by doing as by talking. I learned that I had to break down the material even more for kids. Today, 50% of my classes are kids.
My teaching style comes from all my teachers. My first karate instructor, Eddie Thomas, had me start teaching at blue belt. I learned how to teach from watching and listening to him teach. I think this has helped me learn from my other teachers. I think I really surprise new students, and s easoned martial artists, who come to visit or train with me, that I am able to teach kicking skills so well without ever throwing a kick myself. I make a deal with new students, sometimes spoken, sometimes not. I tell them I will make them good, but they have to listen to me and they have to do 60% of the work, and I’ll do 40% of the work teaching them. As students go through the belt ranks, they come to realize over the years that I have to prove myself to everyone who comes through my door. I’ve had several of my students get their black belts in karate under me. Also, two students have rank in Thai Boxing, one at level one and the other at level 2. Several other of my students have rank in what I call my Multi-art Class. So, I guess the answer to “How can you teach me, you’re in a wheelchair?” is “Yes, I can!”
As for the other question, “Can you fight?” I have to say, the answer is yes and no. If you mean can I defend myself, I think so. In all the years I’ve been in the martial arts, I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to use my skills in a fight. As far as sparring goes, I love it. I’ve been sparring for over 20 years, and I’ve had my share of black eyes, broken nose, and bloody lips. I don’t do too badly for a guy in a wheelchair. Along with boxing, I’ve also done stick fighting and knife fighting. I like it better than boxing because the stick and knife make the fight or sparring more even reach-wise. Range is what makes a fight for me. If I’m boxing and my opponent stays at kickboxing range, he’ll beat me with no problem. If he stays at boxing range, I’ll do a little better. I will never say I’m a good fighter, but I do the best I can, and from the time I started training in martial arts, I think I’ve improved greatly thanks to my teachers. I do believe if I weren’t disabled, I’d be a greatly skilled martial artist. I know that sounds cocky, but that’s what I believe.