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Doing Taekwando with a visual impairment

Hello, everyone, first of all I want to appolagise for my complete and utter tardyness in getting this post up. I have no excuse as to it’s lateness. I hope you’ve had a good week so far. Today’s blog will be concerning my experiences so far with taking part in Taekwondo classes as a visually impaired individual.

Anyone who knows me well probably wouldn’t describe my physical fitness or prowess as a high priority for me. That’s not to say that I’m a complete and utter lazy slob, but I’m not someone who spends two hours every day sweating it at the gym or running marathons every other month.

However, when I am interested in pursuing a sport, I do so for pleasure over fitness. That is in part, why I started doing Taekwondo. I had done another form of martial arts when I was younger but stopped when I went off to college. Therefore it had been about ten and a half years since I had last done any martial arts.

I have always been attracted to this form of sports/fitness. Mainly due to the ability to learn self-defence, increase confidence, flexibility, stamina and self-respect. Even though Taekwondo may be perceived as more ‘violent’ than the previous martial arts I had done, it is a self-defense sport. It is never to be misused. We are not allowed to use it unless you feel threatened or someone is already trying to hurt you. Even then you are only authorised to take your opponent down. After that, you are liable, by law, to be tried for assault and grievous bodily harm. One of the main principles in all martial arts is self-discipline. The use of force can only be used if you feel it necessary for self-defence, anything more will get you into a lot of trouble.

I have only been doing Taekwondo for six months, roughly. I am a member of a non-disabled group. My instructor knows that I have a visual impairment, but this has never meant I have been treated differently. My instructor has the same expectations of me as he does with any other members of the group. I am expected to participate in all the warm-up activities, which can include running around the hall and punch, small hand pads while running. I am also supposed to do the same pad work (to improve kicking and punching techniques and power).

For me, this is perfect. I’m able to take part in a sport that I enjoy without feeling that I’m being singled out because of my disability. Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t do little things to help me because of my disability.

I feel that I have been able to slot into the non-disabled taekwondo training scene quite quickly so far. Of course, my reactions may be a bit slower at times, and my distance perception does affect my ability to judge the distance between myself and equipment during pad work. I believe that these would be the same issues I would face if I were at a disabled training class, so it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

My instructor is friendly and great at what he does. As well as physically showing the movements and the proper techniques to carry out the actions, he also describes what he is doing. Thus there is a physical and verbal direction for everyone. This dual method of information delivery is useful as it allows the information to be processed in a way that suits different people.

Last Sunday I did my second grading and managed to, somehow, get my yellow belt. During the first training session, I went to after this; I learnt my next pattern and some of the line work I would need for my green tag grading.

As I know that there is a lot of pad work and sparring work as part of the gradings after you receive your yellow belt, I stayed behind to talk to my instructor about the impact of my sight on these aspects of training and grading.

He couldn’t have been more understanding, helpful and reassuring. He works with and knows of people with visual impairments that have managed to spar and to compete against sighted opponents. He assessed my general field of vision and my distance vision by asking how far away I could recognise him and when I could see his hand while looking forward.

He was very sure that being aware of that range of vision along with my height, I’m only 5′, is very useful regarding the close-up hand to hand combat which Taekwondo is famous for. He has also said that he is always willing to work with me to help improve any techniques that would work for me, having to be so close to others.

When you start learning Taekwondo, it can be tough to judge how far away to stand from someone when doing kick shield work. You want to be close enough to be able to hit the target but far enough away to get your technique right to enable you to kick with enough power.

This is something that you have to learn over time. However, if you have a disability that makes distance perception challenging you face an extra challenge. One, which for me, is easily combated by walking up to the pad feeling where it is and then moving in accordance. It’s such a straightforward and easily imperceptive technique that it’s almost stupid.

I know that I don’t have to worry too much about doing it in front of others. I know that I can carry on with the sport without having to worry so much about not being able to do or learn certain techniques. I just have to work with my instructor to figure out how to perfect them in a way that is suitable for me.

Knowing your limitations and challenges that you may face is an important part of accepting yourself as an individual and as someone who has a disability. Asking for help and advice and going about things differently is the only way to move forward. Hiding away and shying away from the things you find difficult will never assist you in the long run.

I know that I’m good, or at least can be good at taekwondo. I know that I want to continue to learn it and get my black belt. If I didn’t acknowledge and ask for help at this stage in training, it would get to a point where it could be a lot worse. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn things that could be useful to me.

The fact of the matter is that you should never shy away from doing a sport just because you feel your disability would stop you from enjoying it or being able to fully access and learn every aspect of that particular field.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t do a sport just because you have a disability. For example, if you have a visual impairment you don’t have to do goalball or blind football. If you’re a wheelchair user, you don’t have to do wheelchair rugby/basketball if you don’t want to. If you want to take part in sport but happen to have a disability, know what you are interested in, enquire into it and follow it up. If you are passionate about continuing in that sport and improving yourself, accept the challenges, be open and honest about the help you need and work to find ways around those problems.

Never let your disability dictate your life. By taking charge, you’re proving that you have the ability and right to be respected and treated as a human being rather than your disability. We have the right to lead our lives the way we want to and participate in activities just like everyone else. We do have to work that little bit harder to prove ourselves and our worth but being sure of who we are, what we like and how to go about it will show society that disability does not inhibit willingness, passion and ability.

Until next time my lovelies I shall love you and leave you :).

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