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In the 70’s TV show Kung Fu, one of the masters in the temple was blind. In fact he seemed to be Cane’s primary teacher and mentor. There was such a bond between the two that years after he left the temple Cane traveled to meet master Po for his birthday. There was also a TV show, Longstreet, in which the main character was blind. In one episode Bruce Lee was a guest star who taught Longstreet Kung Fu. Is this just TV hype or can a sight impaired person be taught and more importantly effectively perform martial arts. In my experience they can.
First of all let’s remember that being blind or sight impaired has a legal definition. The continuum is from those who are legally blind, in regards to driving a car, to those who have no sight at all. Given this span the degree of ability varies greatly, but with time, patience and properly tailored instruction they can be taught.
One concept is this: Every weakness is a strength, every strength a weakness. What does that mean? We all have strengths and weaknesses, that’s a fact. How we view them is just as important. For example, if you’re small someone might look at you as an easy mark. A strong attacker might drop his guard assuming you cannot defend yourself. If you can defend yourself he’s made a fatal mistake. He will be quite surprise as he looks up at you from the ground. In the same way a sight impaired person, who is trained, has an advantage because the attacker will assume that he can just walk up and assault or rob him.
How do you teach the sight impaired martial arts? First of all we must realistically look at the limitations of the student in choosing a style and understand, to be effective the sight impaired student must be in close contact with the attacker. Therefore, Jiu Jitsu with its combinations of infighting strikes locks and arm bars would be the most easily learned and most effective style.
Second what method of teaching do you use? The main challenge is that you cannot use visual cues. To say “Do this” or “move this way” doesn’t help the sight impaired because he can’t see what you’re doing. Like with any other skill it needs to be broken down into well described steps. Once you walk through the technique the student can begin to work off his other sense cues like touch once he acts out the movements with a partner. The more he practices the more natural the movements become and therefore the faster they are performed.
Thirdly, the student needs to how to rely on her other senses in jiu jitsu the same way she relies on them for the other situations in her daily life. It has been proven that the brain actually remaps itself using the portion that is normally used for sight and using it for other senses making them more acute. This is taught by testing the student’s senses and demonstrating to her how she connects with her environment.
Fourthly, like any other skill it takes practice. With all the instruction and work with the instructor if the student does not practice with a partner the newly taught skills will be lost. With diligent practice a sight impaired person can learn to defend herself in real life situations.
By Dave Heuthe

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