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    What would you give to your Martial Art

    By Shihan Mike Armstrong

    Have you ever thought about what you would sacrifice for your Martial Art? We all gladly dedicate our time, money, and personal comfort. However, what are you willing to sacrifice? This is a Question I had to answer at the age of 22. I had been in the Martial Arts for 11 years and a doctor told me that I would have to quit Karate or go BLIND. I did not quit the Martial Arts!

    I have had vision problems since birth. Like many people I had to wear corrective lenses. Then when I was 16 I tore my retina due to a hit on the head. After seeing several doctors I was told that I have a retinal disease called non-diabetic retinopathy. This makes my retina more susceptible to retinal detachments. No surgery was necessary at that time. The only recommendation was to put an extra pillow under my head when I slept. This scenario repeated itself three more times, until at 22 when I was told that they could not save the vision in my right eye. The doctor also informed me that I had to “quit doing all contact sports including Martial Arts or you will go blind.”

    Can you imagine being 22, a 2nd Dan, having Karate students and a very active life style and having to quit? I tried, for three months I stopped training and teaching. This put me into a bout of depression. I decided that I could not live my life in a constant state of fear of what could happen. So I started my classes back up and continued my studies. At first I did not spar or take any falls, but with time I gradually incorporated them back into my life. This may have led to my downfall.

    I did not have any more vision problems until just before my 27th birthday. I set up an appointment with my doctor because I was experiencing pain in my right eye and light sensitivity in the left. His examination discovered a retinal tear and a cataract on my good eye. Two days later I was rushed into surgery. That surgery and two more after were unsuccessful. Approximately three weeks after I turned 27 I was pronounced totally blind with no hope of regaining my sight. Subsequently I have had to have both of my eyes removed.

    Blindness is the most difficult thing I have ever had to deal with. I knew I did not want to wallow in self pity, so I immediately decided to move on with my life. My family, Sensei, students, friends, and our government were very supportive. I think this; my faith and the discipline of the martial Arts were instrumental in making my transition relatively smooth.

    In many ways my abilities as a teacher and a practitioner of the martial arts has improved dramatically. Since the loss of my sight I have more time to spend teaching and training. Being a Sensei is my main form of income. This helps drive me to be the best martial artist I can be. To this end I have been cross training in multiple forms of martial arts. Kyokushin is and always will be my main system; but, I have earned a Black belt in Aiki Jujitsu and am pursuing the same in traditional Samurai Sword and Shaolin Wu Shu.

    It is hard to imagine how a blind man can teach Martial Arts; but, I have adapted and do a pretty good job of it. In fact, there have been several instances where visitors have observed an entire class without realizing that I am blind. When I teach I use spatial awareness in conjunction with the sound that students make to lock in on them. The two things I have to pay close attention to is articulation when verbalizing techniques and solid representation when demonstrating. I also take full advantage of my Sensei or students sight to help me correct mistakes I may miss. My students are progressing quite well and seem very happy with their training.

    I haven’t found any magical way or force to feel punches or kicks before they hit me; However, I have found that Kyokushin and Aiki Jujitsu are the ideal systems for the blind. Kyokushin is perfect because of the conditioning and the aggressive nature of our fighting. Aiki Jujitsu is also excellent because of its hands on approach to self-defense.

    There is no way to tell if the Martial Arts were the cause of my blindness, but I know my life would be so much less enjoyable with out it. I met my wife through my school and most of my best friends are Martial Artists. My life is good and only getting better. I used to wish that I could spend all of my time training in Martial Arts And playing Drums. Well, now I can. We must be careful of what we wish for. HA, HA

    Shihan Mike Armstrong

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