Wheelchair seido karate

Pauline Vetuna
John Forster is a karate teacher. He has a black belt in seido karate. Seido karate is a type of Japanese karate. John works at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Melbourne. He has started karate classes for people in wheelchairs. He says anyone can join the classes. John changes the karate movements to suit each student's ability. With each punch and defence movement the students must shout 'kiai'. This is the Japanese word for shout. Shouting with each movement is a lovely way for a student to feel their power and force. And it feels good.
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Pauline Vetuna on 09/02/2012
Two men with wheelchairs face each other performing karate punches.
Karate photos 014 taken by Pauline Ventuna

Karate students master their exercises.

John Forster works at the Spinal Community Integration Service [SCIS] at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Kew, Melbourne. He has a black belt in seido karate. John also has many years of experience working with people who have sustained spinal cord injuries. Some years ago he decided to start adapting seido karate for wheelchair users. The first classes were held last year.

Seido karate

Karate is an unarmed combat where your body is the weapon. Seido is a traditional style of karate that includes Zen philosophy.

Seido literally means sincere way in Japanese. The idea is to develop 'complete' individuals, who are committed to improving themselves and their communities. This involves a non-quitting spirit. It is achieved through the practise of the seido karate syllabus. The syllabus includes 20 grades and the mastery of the katas, which are the formal exercises that form each grade.

The World Seido Karate Organisation has a charitable arm that embodies the Seido philosophy. It offers support to help people including people with a vision impairment and people with a hearing impairment to train in karate.

Adapting karate for disabilities

One of the ideas behind Seido is that it should be karate for everyone. That means it is not just for those who are the most physically strong or coordinated. Each student starts at a different point and progresses at their own speed.

With this in mind, John started thinking about how Seido karate could be adapted for people who use wheelchairs. He talked to colleagues with spinal cord injuries about what it might look like. It seemed like an enormous task, given the size of the syllabus and the number of exercises.

John eventually realised all he had to do was remember how he had started as a beginner. How technique was learned and improved on through practice. And so he adapted techniques for people in wheelchairs according to their level of ability. The student then practises their own individual techniques until they develop. In this way the student is responsible for monitoring their progress and mastering their exercises.

The classes continue to be refined and exercises adapted to capitalise on wheelchair movement. The classes start with a thorough warm-up, focusing on the upper body. This includes punches and block strikes. Some aerobic exercises follow, to allow students to get in touch with their breath. Kiai, which literally means shout, accompanies a punch or a block. Shouting with each movement is a lovely way to get a sense of your own power and force. And it feels good.

Going at your own pace

People who use both manual and electric wheelchairs attend the classes. John believes if you want to try, no matter what your abilities are, he and his co-instructor will find a way for you to participate. A quadriplegic may not be able to perform the physical exercises, but there are breathing and shouting exercises that can empower them.

When beginning classes, a student must be aware of their own range of movement. They need to know what they can and can't do so the technique can be modified. For example, if a person cannot form a fist, that is fine. Another position will be chosen that utilises their strengths. Each student has their own technique to work towards and it is their job to perfect it.

A class for all abilities

John teaches the class from a wheelchair. He says he promotes the classes as karate for people with wheelchairs but ideally they could be classes for people with any ability. He would like to fully realise the idea that Seido is karate for all.

He is optimistic and confident the program will grow. Classes are continuing this year, beginning this week. For more information you can contact John at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre.

Readers comments (2)

Hi John,

I have a son who is in a wheel chair and was born with Spina Bifida. He is obsessed with martial arts and have very good up body movement. I was enquiring if these classes in this article are still up and running and would you consider training a 9 years old to learn self defence via this technique. I am also keen for him to learn the discipline, traditions of a martial art if possible as a way for Aaron to learn life skills.

Please let me know if this class still runs and if this would be a possibility ?

Kind regards

Hi John,
My apologies, but I have not accessed this site, altho was aware of Pauline's article. A colleague brought it to my attention today.
Whilst several months belated, I am available to talk with you about what we could provide for your son.
Please contact me via email at john.forster@austin.org.au
If you would like to provide me with your phone number, I am happy to call you and discuss this more.

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