Karate and Dyspraxia

Discussion in 'Disabled Martial Artists' started by MFrank93, Sep 21, 2020.

  1. MFrank93

    MFrank93 New Member

    Hey everyone. So I'm in my late 20's and have been thinking about getting into martial arts, specifically karate. My issue is that I have somewhat severe dyspraxia, which is a condition that effects my motor skills. I'm not limber at all, have real issues with something as simple as gripping a pen correctly, and really struggle with things like shaving or tying shoelaces. So I wonder if martial arts would even be possible for me. I've done some research and received mixed results, from it being pretty much impossible to actually helping improve dyspraxia. I figured I'd post here and ask if any of you have similar experiences or thoughts you'd like to share on the topic, and if you have any advise on how to deal with the anxiety and embarrassment of starting a class while having these impairments. Thanks in advance.
  2. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    Welcome to MAP!

    Any good school will have instructors and fellow students that encourage and support you, whatever challenges you have. If you don't get that support, go to another school that gives it.

    You won't be the first, nor the last that pursues martial arts with physical ailments that may cause some extra difficulties along the way. I have only admiration and respect for fellow students that have pursued martial arts with extra challenges.

    I have mentioned it here before. There is a student from another location in my school. He has severe limitations. He can only really use one arm. And he has to put on leg braces to stand up for a few minutes. I witnessed him in my ring in a tournament. He used his electric powered wheelchair to get to the center of the ring. He had braces to be able to stand up, and did a modified version of a form with his one arm. Yes, it stood out. But in a good way. That dude has martial spirit like crazy~! Everyone I know who saw it was extremely inspired by him.

    I also knew a student who needed a kidney transplant. he had other physical issues too. He would get in from dialysis, have swollen feet, but still get out there and do his Tai Chi Chuan. He was also one of the first ones to reach out to me as a beginner and practice push hands with me and give me tips outside class.

    We have had students who were legally blind. And we have multiple students who have some sort of Asperger's/ Autism/ or something along those lines. One of those students is one of the best students in my school in my opinion (and the opinion of others at my school. He is widely respected.)

    Martial arts are for everyone! Maybe you will never look like Bruce Lee. So what? Neither will I! Compete against yourself. Judge your progress by who you were a couple of weeks ago, a couple of months ago, a couple of years ago, not the person next to you. To improve yourself is all that matters.

    I would talk to instructors at potential schools about the dyspraxia. See how they react. Any decent instructor will find ways to work with and around any potential limitations. Knowing what is going on will help them think about any potential modifications.

    I have to make some modifications here and there because I have knee issues.

    Best of luck to you! Keep us posted on how it goes. :)
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2020
    Mitch, MFrank93 and Jaydub like this.
  3. hewho

    hewho Valued Member

    Hi, also a dyspraxic. I can only speak for myself, but I have seen a massive improvement in my coordination from doing martial arts, including karate. Good instructors, if they know the specifics about dyspraxia or not, will do their best to help you, and should be patient with you. You might need to have multiple demonstrations, and work at a slow pace to start with, but so does every new student. Find that supportive environment, talk to your instructor as much as you can.

    Most of all, don't put too much pressure on yourself. You will pick stuff up at your own pace, and when you get it it is a brilliant feeling. Good luck! Feel free to send me messages if you think I can be of any help.
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  4. Mitch

    Mitch Lord Mitch of MAP Admin

    MA can certainly help people with dyspraxia, I have seen it myself at my TKD club.

    A good instructor should always be interested in what you can do, not what you can't, and will always be looking to help you fulfill your potential.

    Visit local clubs, talk to the instructors, see what they have to say. Good luck!
    aaradia likes this.
  5. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    That is something my long time instructor always told me. When I was depressed about limitations I had with some long time injuries....

    She would tell me "Don't focus on what you can't do, focus on what you CAN do."

    Words to live by, in life, not just martial arts. That was a mantra for me that helped get me though the COVID shutdown!
    Mitch likes this.
  6. MFrank93

    MFrank93 New Member

    Thanks for the advise all. I decided to take the plunge and take a class and see how I like it. I have it in a few days, super nervous, but the instructor seemed understanding and seemed to think it could help. Fingers crossed!
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  7. IronMaiden1991

    IronMaiden1991 Active Member

    Dyspraxic myself here. I found martial arts highly challenging physically and emotionally, but a decade on and the constant learning and practice even when it sucked has cross-applied into my skill aquisition rate in not just martial arts, but other skills like yoga.

    I don't know how learning is for non dyspraxics as I have no personal experience to compare, but generally with an explanation to my instructors theyve found ways to help me learn.

    Im one of those 'learn by trial and error' and 'learn by feeling' people. For example with stances, see if I can get a one to one session in and focus on how i feel in a stance, if I do the stance correctly, Ill stay in it as long as I can so my body gets used to the feeling of it. It made it personally easier for me than going through the (often difficult for dyspraxics) process of doing step by step instructions which complicate things for me.

    I found that while it means my foundations will be all I focus on for a long time, and doing out of hours horse stance and nekoashi in karate to keep the feeling there, it meant my foundations were stronger than people who started around me at the same time.

    If you can learn to look at techniques as principles as well, that means you can bypass a lot of the step by step training I find others do by habit. For example in Judo, I have people who train when they break a technique down go 'step here, grip here, twist this way, step here' etc etc and I might struggle with their 10 step setup for a throw. On the other hand I go with a principle: Hips lower than theirs, turn them with I'm taking a sharp left and trip them on the way down.'

    But that's just me though. You might not learn through feeling. If I can find any resources I'll take a look when Im not working.
  8. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    30 plus years in martial arts. - diagnosed with dyspraxia, dyslexia and adhd.

    It was in fact my dyspraxia that got me into martial arts. At school I was always picked last for football (soccer to those of you in America who dont know what football is) . On the pitch I was always given the same instructions " you are a defender. If anyone comes near you, do not go for the ball, just hack their legs out" Eventually I dispensed with the pretence of the a ball entirely.

    I have found that one of the best things about martial arts is that you learn it in a group but progress as an individual. You are only measured against yourself. It doesn't matter where you start, there will always be someone who is more fit, flexible, strong, coordinated, skilled or, (these days for me) younger than you.

    As a dyspraxic I am really attracted to arts with forms/kata because I find great joy in the flow of the movement. You will find that you will still be unable to walk though a doorway without bumping into it. you will still find scratches and bruises on your body in every day life that you cannot account for. but if you allow yourself to learn and progress at your own rate you will also find that you will be able to move with a grace and precision that people will wonder at.

    Speaking of the joy of movement - I am off to do a little moving right now.

  9. MFrank93

    MFrank93 New Member

    Thanks for the advise everyone. I can only speak for my own experiences, but wanted to give an update for any other Dyspraxians out there.

    I've done about 6 classes in Kenpo karate. I find it a really vigorous workout, though that may just be because I'm so out of shape, lol. Bit of a humbling experience to find that out. But after every session I feel accomplished. My instructors have praised me and I've noticed some improvement already-- especially in my kicks. My biggest issue seems to be my footwork and retaining stances, which is a struggle. That and certain stretches. But I've been assured that's normal for a beginner and I'll get better as I practice over time.

    Overall, I'm glad I started it. I found a great school that was willing to work around my difficulties and seeing that I'm able to make progress despite them has been a real boost to me. I don't yet know how long I'll continue this or if I'll get anywhere close to black belt, but I'm planning to stick with it and am excited to see where this journey takes me. Thanks again for all the encouragement and helping convince me that this was a worthy step to take.;)
  10. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member


    All brains have a limit to how much they can process and how much they can remember at any one time. People with dyspraxia, dyslexia, and or A.D.H.D. tend to hit their limits earlier than others.

    Concentrating on fewer steps at a time is a way to reduce processing load on the brain. Using understanding to replace wrote memory it is a way to reduce brute memory load on the brain. A good way to do this is to break a task down into manage lumps and then bite sized pieces.

    It should be noted that all brains have a limit where they bite off more than they can chew. This is why all disciplines have their own way of breaking things down into lumps that are easier to process and to remember. E.g. focusing on footwork, or grips, or entry's to throws etc.

    There are a number of different ways that one can do this.

    if you are trying to learn a set of things, e.g. the movements of a form. Limit yourself to a few steps at a time. take your time. it is better to learn 1 or 2 steps in class and remember and practice them at home than to learn 5 steps in class and forget them before you get home.

    If you are learning a process e.g how to lock an arm, how to throw, or a combination of strikes. Start from the end of the process then work back to the beginning.

    for a lock: start from the point when you and your partner are in the position were you are actually applying the lock.

    for a throw: start from the point where you are in position, your partner is in position, you have a good grip on your partner and you only have to move a fraction to break the opponents balance and throw them to the floor.

    For a combination of strikes: start from the point of the final strike where you your fist/foot is actually on your partner, and you are in the correct stance with the correct balance, posture, and distance so that you can strike through the target.

    The key is make sure you know and understand where you are going. Once you know this you can always build up the number of steps it takes you to get there.
  11. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    Side Note - dyspraxics can play football. :)

    It is just not very usual.

    I attended a conference with a talk on supporting dyspraxic athletes. Although most of the speakers clients did solo (non-team) sports, a few did football.
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  12. hewho

    hewho Valued Member

    I think there're probably some of us in every sport, but it would definitely be good for more coaches to have an understanding. What was your biggest takeaway from that conference?
  13. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    The following is a brief summary of my understanding of dyspraxia based on a postgraduate qualification on specific learning differences (S. P. L. D.’s) Dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and dyscalculia; 10 years continuing professional development, and 10 years of supporting students with S. P. L. D.’s in higher education.

    Dyslexia is characterised as difficulty with word and letters. Dyscalculia difficulty with numbers. Attention deficit disorder as difficulty with maintaining appropriate level of focus. Dyspraxia is characterised as a difficulty with processing spatial relationships.

    it is now understood that although S. P. L. D.’s are differentiated in this way, when you look past the “headline” difficulties, they are more similar than they are different. There is a huge overlap in the experience of specific learning differences. Particularly in the areas of memory, learning, time management, task management, fragile concentration, concentration span, and more.

    The single best written, most accessible, and most informative source to find out more about the shared experience of S. P. L. D.’s is the book “that’s the way I think” by the psychologist David Grant.


    Specifically thinking about the impact of dyspraxia on participating in sport, learning sports, and carrying out the activity of sports.

    Many dyspraxic’s find it easy to get lost. the stress of this can deter students from training. A solution to this is ask a friend to attend the first session with you. Take snapshots on your phone of key waypoints on the journey. Give yourself a little bit more time to get to the location, but don’t give yourself too much time. Once you have begun to attend regularly measure the average journey time and plan accordingly.

    In the session. Difficulties could include. Difficulties in processing and transferring the movements of the instructor into your own movements. Poor posture due to lack of kinaesthetic “muscle” body awareness. Difficulty in coordinating movements of the body. Difficulty in coordinating movement relative to surroundings. Difficulty in transferring memory from conscious memory to kinaesthetic “muscle” memory.

    These difficulties are not unique to people with S. P. L. D.’s. You will see these difficulties in all of your classmates. None of these difficulties stop you from learning. It’s just that you’re likely to experience more of these difficulties and a bit more severely.

    The principal impact of this is that your capacity to remember new stuff is likely to be overloaded quicker than your classmates. The solution is to break things down into manageable lumps, to break manageable lumps down into bite size pieces, and to focus on memorising fewer steps at time.

    This is why the single best advice is to train at your own pace and not worry how quickly other people are learning stuff. I know from personal experience that this is easier said than done but you can do it.

    There are actually some benefits to having S. P. L. D.’s when training in martial arts. Martial arts are a journey not a destination. It doesn’t matter who you are or how skilled you are at some point if you keep going long enough you will hit a barrier. The disadvantage of dyspraxia is that you hit a lot of barriers early on. The advantage is that you learn to cope with the frustrations that this can cause.

    Anecdotally in 30+ years of martial arts I have seen mainly exceptionally talented students race forward until they hit a barrier. They no longer get the same reward for their efforts, their egos suffer, and they quit.

    Although it is difficult for dyspraxic’s to build muscle memory. Once muscle memory is built, it is just as good as anybody else’s. Once you have build up your skills in muscle memory you can actually use it to learn new actions. This by-passes many potential problems that come from the thoughtful processing of spatial relationships. In short dyspraxiacs can be good at learning by feel.

    This brings practical benefits. In an applied fight situation there is very little time for thoughtful cognitive processing. Building up your ability to process situations through feel actively translates into faster more coordinated movement under pressure and ability to feel, adjust, and respond quickly.

    One way to begin to build these skills at the start is to consciously focus on “listening” to how it feels inside your own body when you stand in a particular stance, do a strike, a throw or move from one technique to another.

    Some arts like karate place an early emphasis on maximising the external impact of a movement e.g. the speed and power of a strike rather than on building awareness of what is going on inside the body. However as student’s progress in the art the focus shifts to internal awareness. This means that you might progress slower than your classmates at the start but have a much better understanding of how your own body works and therefore progress faster later on.
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  14. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member


    I break actions down into manageable lumps and bite sized pieces/packets. Experienced students are better skilled at learning new moves than beginners. Different individuals are more or less able to memorise new material. I adjust the size of manageable lumps and bite size/ packets accordingly.

    When teaching a bite/packet:

    I demonstrate first, getting the student to just watch and observe. Then I demonstrate getting the student to copy my actions. I provide both positive and corrective feed-back. I get the student to practice on their own for a while. I review them again. I ask the student to explain to me what they feel from their body as they carry out an action. I make further corrections. I ask the student if the action feels different after the corrections. If yes, I ask them to explain what feels different and to suggest a reason why.

    I encourage students to think about what they are asked to do and to ask questions. My aim is to help the student understand the art for themselves. Not to mimic it like a robot.

    “Do and Review” is key to this way of teaching and learning. Pressure testing, partner work and sparing play a key role in the student building a practical understanding of the art for themselves.

    As a result much of my personal emphasis in teaching is to provide students with a range of tools for learning so that they can select and apply a way of learning that works best for them.
  15. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    An afterthought but. none the less an important point. Language processing puts a heavy load on processing. For some people learning in a foreign language can create a significant barrier to learning.

    e.g. the instructor says, "Choku Tsuki , Gyaku Tsuki , Mae Geri , Gedan-Barai" - I'm there thinking, what does Tsuki mean again ? I fail to remember the other three instructions and the rest of the class is already half way though the movements. but if the instructor says " lead punch, back hand punch, roundhouse kick, clear down" straight away I understand it, I can remember it easily, and I can focus on trying to do the techniques.

    Again this is also true to some extent for people without SPLD's it is easier to learn and remember something new using words that you already know then to attach technical language to it. than to do it the other way.

    e.g .put your right hand on your upper left arm, feel the muscle, feel the two attachment points, say "upper arm, two attachment points, Biceps" or say "biceps, two attachment points, upper arm," then put your hand on it.

    which way works best for you?
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