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Martialing The Art of Blindness

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Lisa McGauley is a social worker, who is married with two children. She lives in White Rock British Columbia.

Martial Arts have grown in popularity over the past decade. But Martial Arts for the Blind? Call me crazy. It will certainly not be the first time I have been accused of embarking on endeavors, which initially appear challenging and complex. I am 40 years old, married, and raising two beautiful children- 7 year old Kimberley, and 12 year old Connor.

At this point in my life and with this distinct lack of vision, I expected to be slowing down and not embracing a whole new field of study. My body has reminded me of slowing down on several occasions over the past few years, and that training as a 40 year old is much different than training at 20 years old. The physical difference is obvious. It is the scheduling time to train adequately at this level which is hard when caring for a growing family going in many different directions of their own.

I began training in Martial Arts 2 years ago as part of a general exercise program. I have always been active athletically. I competed 20 years ago on the National Blind Swim Team. I was also a National Team Member on the Disabled Skiers Circuit. I came to Martial Arts with a strong work ethic and well aware of the type of commitment it takes to reach dreams and goals.

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment. Perhaps I am simply nuts and an over-functioner. I was not looking for a new challenge but fell into Martial Arts through my kid's interest. My kids are wise and have long since returned to soccer, dance and the like.

This new challenge has set me on an incredible journey. It is blending my personal and professional interests. Central to any of the Martial Arts is conquering the inner self, the journey to self realization, the ability to focus the mind on what is at hand. The practice of Martial Arts is deadly , the study of Martial Arts is life long. It is about grounding ourselves as the tree is rooted in the earth. It is about embracing the "Chi" , the life force within us all. It is about harnessing the discipline necessary to overcome adversity. It is about exploring the triune harmony of the physical, mental and spiritual aspects within each one of us. And it is about understanding commitment and responsibility to ourselves and to others. The study continues to draw me closer.

For 2 years I trained 2-3 times a week for 2-3 hours a class. The workout was terrific. I trained with 2 head instructors. Being nearly blind was a challenge for us both. The forms and movements are subtle and exact. For almost the entire first year I worked partnered up having my elbows adjusted, hands positioned, feet arranged, eyes looking in the right direction, Tipping my joints this way and that. I felt like the old Gumby dolls. I have spent hours and hours brailing bodies in a variety of positions trying to master the intricacies of the movements.

As my base of learning and knowledge grew, I could do more and more independently. I spent many an hour losing my balance, misjudging distance and throwing myself across mats following jump kicks, spin kicks or lunging for my partner who had long since moved from his position. I have had to eat a lot of humble pie and tend to a multitude of physical injuries. For some insane reason, I continue to grow in love of the study of the Arts.

My learning needs out -grew the school I started in. I am now training twice a week one to one with an instructor from the Philippines. Pros Verceles, is my Grand Master and Guide. He is a black belt in several Martial Arts Forms. Martial Arts is a study of heightened awareness, confusion, surprise, assessment, learning about ourselves, our limitations and ability to react to the unexpected, balance, relaxation, strength and accuracy. We also study anatomy and physiology.

As blind people we react every day to the sudden and unexpected. Some situations, which jump to mind, include traffic, pedestrians, curbs, changing light conditions, bikes, skateboards and road construction. The element of expecting to be surprised is built into my day every time I venture outside the safety of my own home. At home I have it set up for my needs. As we enter the sighted world, we all know it is not set up for the blind. Every day is an adventure in courage, humor, faith and reacting to the unexpected.

Heightened awareness is a skill developed to assist us to interpret our world. Our skill level is surprisingly honed when you begin talking to sighted people about how dependent they are on vision alone. Our awareness of sounds, smells, touch, temperature, shadows, energies, subtle changes, tone of voices and sounds of groups. This heightened awareness is crucial in aiding us in having greater mastery over our environments. I find Martial Arts liberating especially with balance, relaxation, accuracy, strength and overall confidence. This discipline helps me to deal with feelings of panic and anxiety as the blanketing blindness slowly obstructs my remaining vision.

As with everything, martial arts are not for everyone. But if you have the desire in your heart to learn and have been holding back because you felt it was not for the blind, call me crazy but I say give it a try.

...You never know until you try.