A Calgary karate dojo is training students who are blind or visually impaired in the traditional Japanese martial arts.
The classes come after a successful test of the program on March 1.
“It was super challenging but at the same time it was exciting. I believe karate can be for everyone,” said Sensei Juan Osuna. “We don’t look at the disabilities of people, we look at their abilities so we can take advantage of those.”
One of the students from the March class is 12-year-old Zach Abdullah, who lost his vision at eight years old. He says he plans on returning to the dojo.
“It was really fun. Punching and kicking things is fun, because I am a normal 12-year-old boy,” said Abdullah. “It felt different from the other ASRAB stuff that I do. It felt more like we were trying to do something instead of just have fun, which I liked.”
Zach’s mother Chris Abdullah says her initial concerns of seeing her son in a fighting sport quickly disappeared.
“The kids that were in it were all at different levels and they were able to adapt it to their level, depending on how much sight they have or their skill level,” said Chris Abdullah. “It was a wonderful opportunity and the kids really enjoyed it.”
The Abdullahs discovered the karate class through ASRAB, which aims to support visually impaired Albertans to lead active lives and participate in competitive sports.
ASRAB program coordinator Miranda Brown says karate is a natural fit.
“It’s really good for people with visual impairments, the class is very tactile. It’s a lot of kicking and punching and getting that coordination,” said Brown. “Also they walk away having a good workout.”
Osuna’s dojo is no stranger to students with physical challenges. His son Santiago, who helps teach the blind students, has cerebral palsy. Despite that, at 17 he’s now an elite athlete on Canada’s national para-karate team. Other students in his dojo have challenges ranging from motor diseases to autism.
“I’d like to think we are helping build a more empathetic society here. This is a small contribution,” said Osuna.
Eventually Osuna wants to see visually impaired students training in regular classes with everyone else.
“I see no reason why visually impaired students can’t be in the class with all of us.”