Disability Karate: Inspiring the Disabled at St James’ Centre.

At first glance, Karate and Disability don’t seem like natural bedfellows. However within that counter-intuitive contradiction there is a gem of a concept which is proving to be an inspiration for disabled people.6X4A9159

Last week Ray Sweeney of the national Disability Karate Federation and John Johnston of the Sunny Hill and Normanton Karate clubs launched a programme of classes at the St. James Centre in Normanton to encourage disabled people in the area to benefit from this discipline.

Chris, who participated in the launch session was shown some of the basic moves, and shared his knowledge about karate. He hoped that his involvement would also give him improved skills in self-defence.


Although Karate can be conceived of as a sport it is also an activity that supports personal development. It is about building a state of mind through the repetition of controlled physical movements which feedback into personal and mental development. It is within this essence that it provides a positive outcome for disabled people.

There is a large body of research which provides some interesting insight as to why karate might actually be beneficial as a therapeutic pursuit. It has been established that in the womb there are 7 types of movements (these movements are very similar to routine karate exercises) that need to develop, to enable healthy mental development. Where those early movements were missed, and development impaired, performing them later in life, through karate, can aid the catch-up process. The repetition also helps to build new neural pathways in the brain and facilitate new physical capability. For those who are most disabled there is much about simply teaching people to move. That relies on giving the individual the belief that they can do it, that they actually have an ability, and to break the socialised blockage that they are disabled…from achieving anything.


Ray has some inspiring examples of how people have made impressive progress through being part of a karate group. He cites the case of a 55 year old man, who had never spoken, was confined to a wheel chair, bent over, spending most of his time staring into his lap. He’d been institutionalised to feel that he could not participate. Within 6 months he’d become more active, talkative and included.

There is a remarkable instance of a young girl with severe autism who only spoke through text on her phone. After engaging with karate and realising that she was good at it, she became chatty, and more out-going, was awarded her black belt , and then won the British Open. This transformation only happened when she had her karate suit on – the minute she changed back into her normal clothes, and her “mask” was removed, her veil of silence came down again. The next step is for her to become that “karate self” all of the time.


There are many great stories of where people’s self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline and self-control have progressed through following this technique with the real prospect of further, broader training and employment.

Ray’s aim is, initially, to promote “inclusion” through providing the opportunity to participate. This is now possible at the St James Centre. For the longer term, it is about “integration” into a mainstream environment and for people of all abilities to enjoy karate together.


While Karate is about discipline, control, spirituality and intellect – this programme is also about fun! And through that fun, many people can achieve something, where they thought that any achievement was impossible. They can do it at a rate that suits them, and in a way that can change their life, immeasurably.

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