Over the years from coaching, I have had many challenges. Dealing with unruly children or disrespectful teenagers is definitely a challenge. I don’t however, consider it to be any harder to coach children with disabilities. Blind, deaf, missing a limb, autistic, mentally challenged children all have an opportunity to excel in martial arts. I have taught several children with what people consider to be a disability. I consider it a diff-ability, meaning their abilities are different, not absent.
The press enterprise just wrote a story about Gianni Riquelme-Solis. He is a local 11-year-old middle school student from Corona. Gianni recently won two gold medals in a regional taekwondo competition.
Impressive and commendable, but it’s unique because he is blind.
The article states that Riquelme-Solis has been blind from birth, but that has not stopped him from being active. Apart from excelling at taekwondo, he also goes camping, takes swimming lessons, and is in band at Luiseño School. According to his instructor, Gianni was the only blind competitor in the competition. It made me think of several accomplished martial artists that I have seen over the years who would have what people consider to be a disability.
Matt Hamill is a deaf American mixed martial artist and wrestler who has competed in the Light Heavyweight division of the UFC. He is a three-time NCAA Division III National Champion in wrestling while attending the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Hamill also has a silver medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling and a gold medal in Freestyle Wrestling from the 2001 Summer Deaflympics, which is impressive also, but tells the story of how many deaf wrestlers must be out there and are very good at what they do. He is the only man to defeat Jon Jones, albeit by disqualification due to Jones’ illegal elbows. Hamill himself disputes the victory, which says a lot about his character. He was on the Ultimate Fighter TV Show which gave us a great perspective on the kind of man he is. I’m sure he doesn’t consider himself to be disabled at all.
I also thought right away of Baxter Humby. Baxter Humby is a Canadian kickboxer known as “The One Armed Bandit” due to his missing right hand, which was amputated at birth just below his elbow after becoming entangled with the umbilical cord. He is the only man in the world to win world titles with only one hand. He competes against not-disabled fighters and I have seen him fight on several occasions. Baxter is the current IMTC World Super Welterweight Champion. He holds a number of different title belts including WBC Super Welterweight National Champion , IKKC USA Kickboxing Champion, IMTC World Middleweight Champion, and IKBA International Kickboxing Champion. His interest in sports led him to take up running at age 11 and martial arts at 17. He ran for the Canadian National Track Team in Barcelona in 1992 and in Berlin in 1994. So the man has accomplished many feats that people with all of their limbs will never come close to. What an amazing person to not let something like a missing limb be an excuse for not doing the things he wants to do in life.
Clayton Kraft is an autistic boxer. During his first fight in Fresno California, according to the audience members, it was impossible to tell it was Clayton’s first time fighting in front of an audience. The 40-year-old may be an amateur boxer but he’s had decades of experience overcoming adversity. Clayton was born with autism but also a passion for boxing, and it’s a passion his coach knew he would have to make come to fruition. For the past several years, Clayton has been driving to monthly training sessions with a persistent edge to win his first boxing match one day. He got a chance in an exhibition fight during a sanctioned show. Exhibitions are meant to be lighter, but the punches can be very real when you’re on the other end of them. I’ve seen exhibitions get crazier than the other fights on a card several times. Maybe Clayton isn’t going to be a professional boxer, but he took a passion, despite his disability and turned it into a real sport, making him a legitimate martial artist with what some would consider to be a, yes, disability.
I hope this goes to show those of us with no disabilities that if we were to have half the drive and determination of those who were told they couldn’t do something because of a disability; that we are only limited by our own minds. More power to all of those out there trying to do what they dream.