I have been thinking a great deal about adaptability in martial arts of late. Every modern martial art has evolved over the years, no style has remained static. Of the martial arts I practise it is a requirement for the higher dan grades to show they can continue to evolve and adapt the martial art, “to make it a style that is uniquely theirs.”
The first trigger point for my thoughts was the excellent article by Kai Morgan, hosted by the Karate Kickin’ Dwarf, about teaching martial arts to people with physical disabilities. Amongst the issues Kai discusses is how we view people and the parallels between able-bodied and non-disabled. We frequently adapt our training without much thought for people taller, shorter, heavier, lighter etc, so this can be readily extended to people with disabilities.
The second trigger was I had injured my back, again. One of the side effects of this is I get horrible pain in my left hip so I cannot land from throws on this side. Ironically after the initial high intensity pain has eased off from my back pain (typically three to four days) I need the exercise martial arts gives me to prevent the muscles seizing up and becoming stiff. My doctor assures me that I cannot damage my back, what I have a is nerve issue rather than bone, disk or muscle damage. I can carry out the techniques, I just have a limitation in how I receive them, i.e. I can’t deliver right-handed punches because that leads to me being thrown on my left side. Consequently I couldn’t do my jitsu grading. To say I felt frustrated is an understatement, but everyone I spoke to said, “well, it’s just too confusing in the heat of a grading telling people you can only land on your right side.” To be honest, I partly agree.
Then the Stick Chick wrote a blog about some of the reasons she felt why women find it difficult to progress in martial arts. And I found myself glaring at the computer and muttering, “what is with the inflexible attitude of some martial arts?”
In the last three paragraphs I have shown that there are people out there who want to learn and progress and show that they have progressed in their chosen martial art, but often artificial barriers are erected that can lead to a person loosing heart. No, I don’t expect that with my back problems that I can carry out a full range of techniques, but there is a heck of a lot I can do. No the Stick Chick isn’t expecting her partner to take over the childcare so only she can progress, but she would like to see a more integrated approach with martial arts classes and childcare. And again, I am sure people with physical disabilities acknowledge that you can’t do things exactly the same, but if a man with one leg can learn taekwondo then it just shows that adaptability to teaching, training and assessment is vital.
So next time someone turns up at your martial art class and says, “I’d love to learn but…” don’t see it as a problem, see it as just another challenge in your own learning.