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Marshalling The Art of Self-Defense For All

Editor's Note: Theresa Andrews is President of the Lower Mainland Chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Over the last six months, a significant number of our Chapter members have been active in the community participating in a Self-Defense course developed for blind and vision-impaired individuals and that consists of a combination of Martial Arts and Self-Defense techniques.

When Michael Sirota of SIROTA'S ALCHYMY, a Martial Arts school in Richmond, British Columbia, contacted Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians looking for people to take his course, I quickly discovered that we had someone very special. Not only does he run a program designed specifically for persons who are blind or partially sighted, his credentials and accomplishments include:

  • World Taekwondo Federation--5th Dan Black Belt;

  • World Hapkido Federation--4th Dan Black Belt;

  • Certified Canadian Coach (Level 3); and

  • Certified Wheelchair Sports Coach (Level 2).

Other experience includes:

  • Chief Commissioner--Canadian Taekwondo Commission;

  • Head of Team Canada--2004 World University Taekwondo Championships (Greece);

  • International Technical Director (Taekwondo)--International Martial Arts Federation of the Deaf;

  • Pioneer of Martial Arts Instruction for People with Special Learning Needs; and

  • Creator of Sightless Self-Defense.

When I approached Vancouver Chapter members and asked them if they would like to take Master Sirota's Self-Defense course, about a dozen agreed. During our first class when the instructor asked us all what we expected to get out of the course, the two main answers were learning how to defend oneself if attacked, and physical exercise.

But some may ask, "Why have a segregated class?"

Several members of our Chapter have or are participating in other Martial Arts programs, and a common concern is that these other classes focus on teaching the material from a visual perspective; thus, it is more difficult and takes longer to learn.

Master Sirota says, "From the instruction point of view, I use more explanation via words, rather than showing the students how to do it." As well as giving excellent explanations of the physical movement, he also uses touch extensively to illustrate the actions.

Our initial Self-Defense course was based on a Martial Art called Hapkido, which focuses on Self-Defense and emphasizes escaping various holds and grabs, joint locks, joint manipulations, throws and takedowns. Its main philosophy is to use the attacker's energy to the defender's advantage to escape an attack.

We also learned several techniques to defend ourselves using a White Cane.

Explains Master Sirota, "The Martial Art of Hapkido trains in various weapons in addition to the empty hand training. One of the weapons found in Hapkido training is the walking cane. Traditionally, it is not the same cane as the one used by blind people, but the one that is used by hospitals and the elderly.

"Another martial art that I have trained in and acquired instructor certification in is Eskrima, also known as Kali and Arnis. In Eskrima the main focus is on weaponry training, including sticks (28 inches), short staff (40 inches), staff (5-6 foot), swords and knives. As to why the cane is used--it is a non-offensive tool that is used by many. The cane, just like a staff, can be used for striking, blocking, joint locks and takedowns.

"I have adapted the weaponry training from Hapkido and Eskrima to implement it into the Sightless Self-Defense Program. My goal is to offer the participants various tools that they can learn and adapt to their own lifestyle."

After the successful completion of this pilot project, we moved on to learning a combination of Hapkido and Taekwondo, a striking system that uses kicking and punching.

This awesome learning opportunity has strengthened our Chapter, given members a focus on physical fitness, and increased self-confidence and pride. Most of all, we are having fun.

We will continue to build our skill level and as Master Sirota says, "our Sightless Self-Defense students will be practicing the same material as any other student; for example, patterns, board breaking, testing for stripes and higher rank."

He hopes one day to see all of us with black belts.

Our class is committed to assisting in the promotion of Self-Defense and Martial Arts for those with special needs, especially blind and vision-impaired individuals. This is a very unique program in Canada, and we as a Chapter are very honoured to participate in demonstrations to groups throughout the communities in the Greater Vancouver Area. These demos promote increased self-confidence and provide education and new possibilities for others.

Says Master Sirota, "The Sightless Self-Defense program promotes my belief in the inclusion of martial arts training for all people. I am committed to pioneering domestic and international martial arts and self-defense projects."