Instructor Ken Goodrich is a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, a nine time US and World Breaking Association champion, and a three time USA Taekwondo champion in Board Breaking. He has broken 12 concrete blocks at once…using his elbow. What does someone with a skill set like that offer to kids with disabilities? Quite a lot. And when CHD Disability Resources reached out to him about teaching a class in Adaptive Martial Arts, he was all in.
“We realize this program has to be different for everyone, so we talk to families and fit what I’m teaching to their needs,” Goodrich explained. “Martial arts training is about motivation and confidence. We always want a positive attitude so people feel good and don’t give up. It’s also about respect. The kids are expected to address the instructor with courtesy, as sir, and to show respect for their peers.”
Among the eight kids in class, one has cerebral palsy, two are blind, one has prosthetic legs, one is autistic, two have ADHD, and one has epilepsy. Goodrich starts the class by sitting in a circle to talk. He wants to get to know everyone’s name and something about them. “If I don’t know you, it’s hard to teach you,” he tells the kids. “We’re family here so everybody gets what they need. In this class there is no excuse for not trying your best.”
Right away it appears that expectations in this class may be higher than some of these kids have been exposed to in other environments. When one kid says, “But I can’t…” Goodrich interrupts and says, “Don’t say those words! Do the best you can. Everyone is expected to do the best they can.”
Importantly, what constitutes “the best I can do” is different for each kid, and Goodrich is not critical of the outcome, only the effort. “We’re figuring it all out, but I’m not taking it easy on you. Are you OK? Do you want a hug? C’mon, you can do it. Do the best you can.”
Half way through the class, kids break out into groups. Leanne, who has epilepsy, works with an instructor and thinks about her goal: a kick. Her wheels are spinning and she is focused. “Know in your head that you can do it,” the instructor says. Her kicks get higher with increasingly good form. She smiles realizing what she can do.
“Leanne is 11 and goes to middle school in Agawam,” her mom Lynn explains. “She’s athletic and likes to move her body. She has enjoyed playing basketball and soccer at her own pace with some good coaches. I was looking for something different and I learned about CHD’s Disability Resources. I talked with Jessica Levine and she told me about the Adaptive Martial Arts class. I wanted Leanne to be with other kids, and everyone here is mellow and supportive. I can already see a difference in her. She is happier and looks forward to being here. It’s uplifting to be in a welcoming community, to be with other parents, and to get out of the house and be active. I think it’s great.”
How does Leanne feel about Adaptive Martial Arts? She says, “It makes me feel happy, like a butterfly.”
As these kids with disabilities complete another session of Adaptive Martial Arts and head off with their families, each one is better for having lived up to a simple expectation: do the best you can.
Leanne was able to attend the entire 8-week Adaptive Martial Arts session because a generous benefactor donated her tuition. Disability Resources receives no state or federal money to run our programs. Every dollar of our funding—100%—is raised through grants, special events and generous people. When you make a generous donation to Disability Resources, just follow the charge given to these disabled children: do the best you can.
To learn more at Adaptive Martial Arts or any CHD Disability Resources program, contact Jessica Levine at 413-788-9695 or firstname.lastname@example.org