Recently, an instructor from another karate dojo asked me a question. Here is what they said...
âI have a student going up for a black belt rank test who has physical limitations and health issues. There will be a lot of people there watching their rank test. Iâm concerned about the test as the student is not physically able to perform certain techniques that are usually expected during a black belt test. Specifically, Iâm concerned that if we make exceptions for this student to pass their test that other students would feel this isnât fair. Obviously, I want to be inclusive, but I also donât want others to see the rank test and form a negative opinion on what it takes to earn a black belt. How do you maintain high standards and still be inclusive to those with physical limitations? What would you do in this situation?â
Here is my short answer: Set your standards high. However, be willing to modify when necessary.
Here's the longer answer: I have had students with total knee replacements, hip issues, heart issues and other physical challenges. Prior to testing, for those who have physical limitations, we teach modifications to specific techniques that will suit their bodies and physical abilities better.
The student MUST be able to defend themselves fully using the modified techniques. We also require the student to be able to verbalize the original way to perform the techniques, as listed in our system curriculum, even if they cannot do the technique themselves. They need to be able to teach others, without physical limitations, on how to do it properly.
At the beginning of that student's rank test, I explain this to all those present. This way there is no misunderstanding. All of our other students have expressed understanding. We are a karate family and they know that every member is pushed and challenged in their own way. No one has ever expressed any unfairness.
Remember, everyone is on their own martial arts journey. Those who have limitations or disabilities should still be pushed to their highest personal ability. Understand, their greatest ability will not be as high as the students without any physical limitations. Do not make comparisons. Rather, seek to improve ALL who come through your doors to be the best they can possibly be. Seek out their strengths and reinforce them.
When rank testing a student, the questions to ask yourself as an instructor are:
âThis is how I believe you lead a successful school and rank test.
Need more inspiration? Take a look at the Adaptive Martial Arts Association or Karate Adaptation for Disabled People. You might also appreciate the video below for an example of some inspiring disabled karate athletes competing in an international karate tournament.
P.S. If you know of any other martial arts organizations that support karate for all physical capabilities, please comment below!
Vashon Borich, Sensei teaches traditional karate & kobudo in Branson, Missouri. She considers herself a life-time student of the arts. Her blog is an open journal of lessons learned in the martial arts. If you are a martial artist and would like to contribute to her blog please contact her.
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