Martial Arts for All

Four smiling boys and girls in karate outfits

In recent days, the topic of sexual assault has dominated the news cycle. What few realize, is that people with disabilities are far more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities. In fact, a recent report on NPR’s “All Things Considered” found that “people with intellectual disabilities — women and men — are the victims of sexual assaults at rates more than seven times those for people without disabilities.” Likewise, “Not on the Radar,” a new report by the National Council on Disability found that “nearly one in three disabled undergraduate women experience sexual violence.”

For a variety of reasons, people with disabilities can be more vulnerable to sexual predators than others. Some people with disabilities are turning to self-defense training or martial arts to protect themselves.

According to Advanced Martial Arts Connect (AMAC), a website for all things martial arts-related, martial arts styles such as taekwando, judo, karate and others can be useful to individuals with a variety of special needs. For example, says AMAC, the American Taekwando Association has partnered with Autism Speaks to educate instructors about best practices in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

AMAC also recommends martial arts to students with Down syndrome who “tend to have some degree of cognitive and muscle impairment.” Says AMAC: The strength and coordination training that martial arts offers is “invaluable” to individuals with Down syndrome.

Blind people can benefit from martial arts training as well. “Blindness martial arts — Judo especially — are not heavily dependent on sight because they are not typical contact sports,” says AMAC. “In Judo, the experts usually practice blindfolded to improve their reflexes and strengthen their other senses. Karate also is easily adaptable to blindness.”

Those with movement disabilities such as paralysis, multiple sclerosis and other syndromes that cause severe mobility challenges, can also gain helpful self-defense skills through martial arts.

“As well as being therapeutic, martial arts help with confidence and self-defense, both of which can be useful when an assailant targets a disabled person for being a stereotypically easy target,” says AMAC.

The Adaptive Martial Arts Association serves as a clearinghouse for people seeking adaptive martial arts classes, instructors and resources. The organization also offers a school outreach program that helps to match students with disabilities to adaptive martial arts programs in their areas. They even provide free martial arts uniforms and tuition assistance to those who qualify.

Founded by Jason “The Animal” Davis, the association was a response to Davis’ experiences as a youngster with cerebral palsy. When he was 8 years old, Davis was turned away from a martial arts training course because of his CP. But his desire to pursue martial arts remained.

At 31, Davis reached out to a friend who was a martial artist and agreed to train him. The duo set out to adapt a martial arts curriculum for people with disabilities.

“The first few weeks both student and teacher wondered if it would work,” Davis recalled. “But then the physical and mental changes began to appear. When medical doctors and therapists noticed the difference, it was apparent that martial arts training was working in ways both never expected.”

To find a class and trained instructor near you, visit the Adaptive Martial Arts Association.