My First Karate Demo

On Sunday I participated in a demonstration of karate put on by Empty Hands Karate and the West Chester YMCA. It went well. I feel proud to announce that for the first time, we have video! My Mom shot it on my iPhone 4S. Forty-five minutes took up eight gigabytes. Unfortunately I forgot to unlock the iPhone’s orientation. Fortunately my friend, the lovely a.minor knows how to edit video. Thanks everyone for pulling together and making a great presentation.

It began with Sensei Ken giving an introduction. He introduced Sensei Chris, and asked that we give him a round of applause now, because he will get beaten up later. I joined in the applause, since I had a good idea of at least part of what he meant. The world has become less safe, and martial arts help a disabled person defend themselves should the need arise. Additionally, martial arts have a therapeutic value. They help someone become more aware of their particular apparatus, a cane in my case. Chris spoke a little about his involvement with a camp for disabled children, and the benefits to all.

After the introduction, Ken had us stand in a line. THis included me, a student in a wheelchair named Gina, and Chris at the end. He had us all take a training stance, and showed the difference between a fully able-bodied individual, someone in a wheelchair, and someone with no ambulatory issues but who can’t see anyone. Gina and another teacher named Stephanie demonstrated some blocks she had learned. I know she did a fine job, but I knew I would come next, and felt so focused that I don’t even fully know what exactly she did. And sure enough my turn came next.

He called me up, and asked Loretta to join us. She acted as my ski instructor, and hosted the expo where I met Ken and Chris for the first time. “Be nice to me.” she said half jokingly. “Nice to see you.” I said. Ken said that I have the challenge of knowing my location and the location of my attacker, since I can’t see. He demonstrated an exercise we have begun doing where he and Loretta move around me in a circle, he in his wheelchair and her on foot. They would not say a word. Chris would say “Stop” and I would point to Ken and Loretta, and estimate their distance from me. Loretta said she should have worn her clicky shoes, but Ken dismissed that, pointing out that she would not in the real world. This builds something called passive echolocation, and I will have much more to say about echolocation very shortly. Even though I find this somewhat difficult, Ken assured me beforehand that this would really draw some wows, and it did. If I hear someone close to me, it means that I should increase my awareness should something happen. Cultivating this skill not only helps survive an attack, it also helps in day to day mobility. This perfectly shows how martial arts skills transfer to real life, a reoccurring theme. I welcomed the applause and we moved onto the stances and blocks.

Ken had me get into a training horse stance, with knees slightly bent, feet comfortably apart, arms parallel to the ground at the level of my heart, fists with palms turned upward, ready to throw a punch or launch into a sequence. He had me do an inward block with my left hand, bringing my fist up to the level of my ear then forcefully moving my upper arm out past my center line and ending farther out and to the right, my arm at an angle. He then had me do an inward block with my right hand, in which I held my cane. I made the same motion, but with a cane this becomes far more potent, with blocks becoming strikes. He had me do some more inward blocks. “Power, speed, quickness, accuracy, outstanding.” We then switched to outward blocks. This involves bringing the fist or cane to the center line, but instead of continuing out on that diagonal, shifting back out and ending on the other corner. Again, a cane made this more potent, but I have to learn to do it with and without a cane. Ken pointed out how the cane allows for greater protection of the center line, a key point.

“Remember I told you that we’d better give Sensei Chris his applause now? You’re about to see why. Chris lay out a mat. I think Loretta may have started getting a little nervous. We began with Delayed Sword. This technique has two applications: defending against a grab or a punch. Sensei Chris faced me and grabbed me with his right hand. I stepped back with my left foot and did an inward block with my cane, hitting his arm. Next, I did a kick to his groin, and while he bent over I landed and chopped at the back of his neck, again with the cane. I used this to hold his neck down while I gave him two knees to the head. I ended the technique with an elbow, and with the cane this becomes a cool forward strike. Then I stepped to my left and struck him with the cane going across. Finally I turned to the left while arching my cane and striking him across the back of the legs, causing him to fall. “Oh Jesus!” someone gasped. The crowd applauded. This felt awesome!

Next, we did a similar technique called Sword of Destruction. In this case, destruction actually means that it attacks the left side of the body. Sensei Chris grabbed me with his left hand. Instead of doing an inward block, I did an outward block. I then did exactly what I have just described for Delayed Sword, with the same result. I walked away whistling Singing in the Rain, a reference to A Clockwork Orange, a movie which should convince anyone to learn martial arts!

Ken set up the scenario for the final technique. “And See, Sensei Chris doesn’t have the good sense to stay away from Austin. This time he figures I’ve got both, I’m gonna really control him. This is called Aggressive Twins. Go!” Sensei Chris grabbed me with both hands. I stepped back with my left foot and did an inward block, followed by a kick to the groin, just like Delayed Sword. However now I did another kick with my back leg. I then spun around and did a backward kick with my right leg. Or at least I tried. I missed and tried again and missed. I tried a third time and connected, though had lost some balance and power. “Finish!” commanded Ken, so I did. I spun to the left while swinging my cane down and behind me to the right, the counter-rotation giving the strike power. “I hate to do this to you Sensei Chris, but I’d like to see that done again.” So did I. I wanted to do it right. Sensei Ken let me do it on my command and I pulled it off! I tried whistling my song again, but couldn’t. Everyone laughed. “You’re running out of breath for the whistling.” joked Loretta. I said: “That’s all right. That’s good.”

Since Loretta had seen me at the first expo, Ken asked her how I had done. “Unbelievable.” she said. “Again, I’d like everyone here to challenge what their belief is about what people with disabilities can do, what the reality is. Understanding that Austin and Gina both took the self-defense course in the summer, and Gina just rejoined us for the belt ranking course, but Austin has been here the whole time through the belt ranking course. In that period he has learned three techniques. I would not be surprised if we tested him within the next few months for a full yellow. He’s showing incredible understanding.” This felt great to hear from my Sensei, and I look forward to getting my yellow belt. Ken then let me say a few words.

I told the story of how I went from attending a demo to participating in one. I took karate as a kid. Two Christmases ago, my brother got me an adaptive skiing lesson as a gift. I didn’t know if I’d like it, and neither did he, but we figured why not. I enjoyed it and knew we would go back the next year. While skiing for the second time, I had Loretta as one of my instructors. She told me I should come to her adaptive sports expo. I did and met Ken and Chris. I then took the self-defense course, and wanted more. After a break, I began taking the belt ranking course. And now I write this article. Compare it with past articles and note the clearer descriptions of the moves. Things have begun systematizing.

I repeated the point that skills learned in martial arts transfer to real life. For example, when I strike someone with my cane it also conveys information, in exactly the same way a cane conveys information while walking. The increased sense of spacial awareness has a similar benefit. These just represent examples from a blind person, the people at Empty hands Karate really adapt the art to your unique disability. It also makes a great way to get in shape, something more than a monotonous exercise routine. Now I work out for an hour a day. I’ve heard rumors that girls like that sort of thing. Taking martial arts will benefit you no matter what, and with the reduced prices offered by the YMCA you really can’t lose.

I concluded my little speech with a demonstration of the universe’s sense of humor, what I would call Goddess at work. When I learned Aggressive Twins, they asked me if I knew what the aggressive twins meant. They actually refer to the two hands of the attacker, but I had another idea. “Yeah, I do, my twin sisters. If one uses the other’s hairbrush or something then you will have your aggressive twins.” And as it happened, they celebrated their birthday on the day I performed this technique in front of a crowd for the first time. Happy birthday, Girls!

After that, Ken demonstrated some kicks, and Chris demonstrated a kata. Unfortunately I cannot comment on them, since they far exceed my level of understanding, but I will understand and comment one day. They then opened it up to questions, and in the course of them Ken had me do Delayed Sword to show what an inward block would become. I asked if I should do it with empty hands or with the cane. “It did seem slightly ironic that I didn’t do any techniques with empty hands while demonstrating for Open Hands Karate. Good point.” said Ken and took my cane. Chris thanked me. Later, while answering a question, I interjected the phrase natural moves. I knew Ken would love this, and of course he elaborated. “There is a limited number of ways in which the human body can move. The big deal is what is your intent with those moves.”

And that ended it. I hope anyone who attended enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed participating. I hope it encourages others to take martial arts. I hope to participate in many more of these demos and write about them. Remember to check out the high definition video. See you next time. For more information, visit Empty Hands karate or call 215-884-0699.