My name is Matt Owen and I train with GKR Karate twice a week at classes in the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage. I have been training for eight years now and I have recently managed to achieve the grade of 1st kyu – the second black stripe on my brown belt.
When I was about 17, my then 5-year-old sister took karate classes at a local club in the village my family lived in at the time. I had always had a curious interest in what went on, but I had made the assumption that my physical limitations would make it a waste of time, as I have cerebral palsy.
Ten years later a chance knock on the door from a GKR representative offered me the opportunity to attend a class with GKR Karate. I was curious, so I went along for what I assumed would be my first and only lesson having come to the conclusion that karate wasn’t for me… However, a combination of enthusiastic instructors and friendly students, as well as the exercise I was getting, meant I found myself going back week after week.
Having my disability makes some of the moves particularly difficult, though I try to believe not impossible. I think that I first believed that I might be able to do something at karate when I came away from a grading four months later with my yellow belt!
With the help from Senseis (instructors) and other students around me that I trained with, I’ve slowly managed to improve my techniques. Of course, due to my physical restriction it is difficult but I try to not limit myself.
As time has gone on, I have managed to find new ways of improving and adapting my techniques. This has helped me overcome my physical restrictions. An example of this is when I need to learn a new combination or a whole Kata, I write down each move as bullets points to help me memorise them.
Even simple combinations will take me a bit more time to get used to, slowly working through two or three moves in my mind while many of the other students have managed to go through the sequence many times already. A simple combination such as punch – turn – kick – block will take me noticeably longer than the other students around me.
I tend to break down kata in a similar way, needing a written list of bullet points to learn even the easiest moves. It sometimes winds me up when others pick up these combinations so easily, but I usually get there in the end!
One of the benefits is that you are allowed to learn and develop at your own pace. If it takes me longer to learn combinations than others around me, repeated efforts for Senseis to teach me the combination isn’t treated with a negative response. As kata is taught in stages this helps me learn. The continual repetition to show better technique has helped me acquire knowledge and experience.
I found karate is beneficial to both the body and mind. This has helped me in other parts of my life. My disability sometimes causes me to trip and fall when my legs are tired, but karate has helped me with thinking more about my physical movements without feeling the need to look down at my legs, so I tend to stay upright more. In addition, karate has sped up my reaction times, so I can now move my hands quicker to protect myself if I need to! Other small improvements in my thinking and reaction speeds has helped me in other scenarios where I may have fallen in the past!