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“Watch out for Falling Cows”

Photographed by Alison

Sheehey of Weldon, California

During the 1980′s, my Karate teacher and all of us, his senior students were involved in teaching the disabled.  How is that possible, you might say, given that they may not have working legs, or eyes, or ears, or in the case of cerebral palsy: they have faulty electrical impulses in their brains making it difficult to walk, talk, or to reach for a simple object.

Well, we concentrated on teaching them by focusing on what they could actually do: the disabled in wheelchairs learned how to punch and to use their chairs as weapons, turning sharply to the left or right or forward by manipulating the wheels. Those who couldn’t see could still punch, kick, and walk, those who couldn’t hear could do everything else, and those with cerebral palsy learned to punch and kick even if they could not stand. They learned kneeling or lying on the ground.

Everyone’s movements became smoother, better, stronger, faster, regardless of their disability. And most importantly, they developed a strong self-confidence that they didn’t have before.

And so it was with one of my teacher’s most disabled students, Ed, who happened to be the head person at the Californians With Disabilities Foundation. Ed was a quadriplegic who’d had a bout of polio as an infant.  He and my teacher spent many hours together working on trying  (successfully, I might add) to get legislation passed to help people with disabilities to gain access to buildings, to prevent discrimination in hiring, etc.  My teacher had taught him to use his electric wheelchair as a weapon by pushing a lever on his wheelchair with the help of his shoulder, with the movements transferring down to his right hand.

One day at the airport, on their way to yet another meeting with a big-honcho concerning disabilities, they were hurriedly walking side-by-side and talking. Then, just as my teacher was about to take a step, just as he was about to put down his foot, Ed swung his chair sharply and took his foot out from under him. My teacher fell into a heap, to his sudden shock, and uttered a few choice words on the way back up. Red faced, he looked at Ed, who was grinning from ear to ear: Ed’s timing had been perfect.  He’d learned perfect timing and focus from his teacher and he’d shown his teacher all of it with a “hands-on” demonstration!  My teacher immediately stopped being angry and began to laugh until his stomach hurt. Ed was laughing, too………


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