First things first, it is important to state that karate is for everyone. ‘Everyone’ here means even people with physical and mental disabilities like blindness, autism, and prosthetics. Many people view karate – and most other martial arts- in the image of movie depiction and see it as a sport for the macho fit and super athletic.
The reverse is, however, the real truth. Karate is not just about fighting. It is a discipline in its strictest sense. It seeks to impart to those who take part in it some important life skills like perseverance, mental sharpness, focus, and self-control. These are skills that everyone could use regardless of their mental or physical state.
Actually, it can be argued that people with certain disabilities need karate’s life lessons even more to help them overcome the handicaps that life hands them at every turn.
That said, it is important to note that the original rules of karate were designed for people without disabilities. Kicks, stances, and strikes, for instance, were designed to be executed using two hands and legs. Eyesight was important for timing and focus.
As such, it became necessary to form some adaptive rules in order to accomodate people with disabilities in these physical areas.
Karate adaptation for disabled people
The single most effective adaptation of karate to suit people with disabilities does not focus on change of rules. Rather, it centers around the approaches to training. Remember it is these very tough rules that make the discipline so beneficial, so it is important that they are maintained as much as possible.
Personal training, as opposed to group training, is the most common adaptation to suit disabled karate artists. The trainer takes time to assess the learners physical and mental handicaps, then designs a training regime with two aims:
- To utilize the able parts of the learner e.g improve balance on one leg
- To strengthen correctable handicaps e.g improve verbal communication for autistic learners
The downside of individual training is that it can prove to be quite costly. Where the leaner’s handicap is not extremely limiting, they may participate in group trainig sessions but usually, pair up with the trainer him/herself.
Adaptation of rules usualy happens in competitive karate matches, which are themselves relatively new. The World Karate Federation formed the Para-Karate Commission in 2006 to facilitate this adaptation. Wheelchair artists were the first batch to have their competitive rules reviewed.
The commision has continually adapted the rules to accomodate deaf, dumb, blind and athletes with other physical and mental handicaps. This includes formulating different degrees of each spectrum of disability to ensure that competitors do not come up in advantage-disadvantage pairings.
The rules also require that disabled artists pass certain medical tests before competing.
Main events for disabled katate artists around the world
Para-karate was first recognized as a paralympic sport in 2015 and has made huge strides since then. In May 2018, the first Para Karate Championships in Europe were held in Novi Sad, Serbia. Close to 50 para-karatekas took part. The WKF is commited to promoting this area of the sport.