Should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

I got an e-mail over the weekend from Eric Dexheimer, a reporter over at The Statesman, who was doing some research for an interesting article about an above-knee amputee MMA fighter, Jorge De Leon. The twist to the story is that despite covering his prosthesis with a protective foam and being physically fit for the event, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation fined the event organiser $5,500 and disqualified the event. To quote from Eric’s piece:

The official crime was that De Leon had broken a rule prohibiting fighters from wearing “metal, straps, buckles, necklaces, jewelry or other objects (including piercings) that may cause injury to either fighter.” “The leg would fall under ‘other object,’ ” explained Susan Stanford, a spokeswoman for the agency.

So, the question I rolled around in my head was – should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

The above is an interesting scenario – on the one hand, I think it’s awesome that he’s gone ahead and participated in an MMA match despite his disability, and feel quite strongly that he shouldn’t have been disqualified. On the other hand, knowing how much potential damage a prostheesis can inflict on a person, particularly some of the edges and parts relating to the knee, supporting titanium pole and so forth, I can see that there may be grounds in terms of safety of the prosthesis during a match.

In some ways, I’d argue that there simply being a prosthesis isn’t unsafe per se. The prosthesis is merely a tool that can used and manipulated as a weapon, no different to a knee, fist, elbow, etc. In fact, due to the greater degree of movement and kinetic energy that can be harnessed, it could be argued that these natural extensions of the body are no less safe than a prosthesis, it all comes down to the use thereof. For example, if I were to strike with a roundhouse kick, my prosthesis would likely cause a significant impact – however, due to the way kinetic energy can be manipulated via muscle and hard bone, I imagine that a roundhouse kick by a seasoned martial artist would arguably have greater impact. I have compared my kicking techniques to my instructors and other experienced martial artists I have trained with, and I would actually believe their strikes are actually more powerful than something I can generate. This is reflected in Eric’s article, noting that experienced athletic prosthetist Jan Stokosa found that while sparring with below-amputee Ron Mann, it was his real leg that caused greater impact compared to his prosthesis.

One of the disadvantages of a prosthesis compared to fully-functional limbs is that we don’t have the same degree of control compared to a physical leg owing to the lack of muscles, and this lack of control could well be grounds for arguing issues against its use (i.e. unintentional damage or injury due to the relative instability of the leg). Mind, contrary to that, I’ve seen some pretty scrappy MMA bouts, and I don’t think controlled striking is necessarily a universal component that all participants believe in; this does make sense in the spirit of MMA though, given its potential to simulate “real” combat, rather than point-based or light contact sparring quite common amongst “traditional” martial arts styles in the West. Mind, I certainly wouldn’t have the balls to compete in an MMA match, looks too full-on for my sensibilities!

As a point of comparison, if it’s relevant, whenever I spar with other martial artists I do two things – first up, I give them advanced warning to watch how they strike in case they unintentionally hurt themselves on the prosthesis. Secondly, I make it a habit not to actually strike using my prosthesis during sparring – this is more in line with my philosophy that I don’t believe I can control the leg to such a degree that I can guarantee there won’t be unnecessary impact to my sparring partner.

But MMA is arguably quite different to a lot of sparring I would do in class – if your body has a natural advantage (athletic, muscular, experience), does the presence of a prosthesis make much of a difference to the spirit of a match if it’s considered simply a function of the body, akin to the aforementioned attributes? When grappling arts like Brazilian Jujutsu were introduced into MMA competitions and proved an effective (and arguably essential) part of a combatants’ repertoire, the style wasn’t banned – rather, participants had to learn how the system worked and how to counter it. In that sense, is the presence of a prosthesis any different?

As an amputee, I can assure you that whilst there may be advantages to having a prosthesis during such a match, there are also a huge amount of disadvantages – balance, limited control, lactic acid buildup in the stump, incredible amount of energy expenditure to move/use the limb compared to an able-bodied competitor. The question is – do the disadvantages even out the advantages?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t many opportunities for amputee martial artists to be recognised and compete if they wish – I would be absolutely thrilled if karate or something similar would get introduced at a Paralympic level, as the only martial art currently available is judo, and participation is based on the basis of your eyesight-related disability. There is no avenue for amputees to compete.

I’m pretty on the fence with this one, hence why I’ve jumped back and forth on either side of the argument… I know it may be a little convoluted, but hopefully I’ve helped stimulate some discussion on the situation.

On a final note, for those interested in reading more about Ron Mann, check out the following sites:

He has also run some workshops and competitions at the Extremity Games – according to the website, the next one is happening next month in Texas. It’s definitely an event I’d love to go to, but putting aside the money factor (gotta love those Australian mortgages!), I’d want to get into more shape before thinking about heading over there to compete 😉

Huge props to Eric on his excellent report on this issue and for getting in touch – I just wish I checked my mail a little earlier so my response could have been more useful! I highly recommend you check it out to get the full story, it makes for a great read:

Not going down without a fight on his prosthetic leg: Agency says war vet’s bout broke law as technology and martial arts converge.

Share

Training round-up

Training this week was a little bit different – Sensei wasn’t able to make it, so we had training with Dai-Sensei (the Big Sensei), who is actually my usual Sensei’s father (and who I trained under during 2007-2008… which reminds me, I really should add a couple of posts to fill in the blank spaces between the old Gisoku no Jutsu and the new Gisoku Budo blogs).

Anywho, training was different, as it sometimes is when Dai-Sensei takes our class. This time, we focused on bunkai from some of the lower kata, which was good as I’ll be required to demonstrate it in my future gradings. Now, this is all well and good, but Dai-Sensei brought in some goodies to accompany training – kobudo weapons 😀 We had a few options to work with, including jo, hanbo, sai, nunchaku, tonfa, katana, wakizashi and kama. What Dai-Sensei was trying to demonstrate was the relationship/connection between open-handed forms and kobudo forms, showing how one complements the other and that your open-handed karate kata has forms the work well with weapons. More importantly, it demonstrated that the principles of attack/defense/counter in kata can be re-enforced by applying the same principles in kobudo.

But the best part of the evening was playing with these:

SaiImage sourced from Wikimedia Commons, original image by chris ?

😀 😀 😀

Sai are awesome, and that’s probably because I watched too much TMNT as a kid 😀 Was great fun using them in class, and while I didn’t learn much that was all the useful due to the short period of time using them (though I learned a basic method for how to trap a Bo!), it was still so much fun 😀

It also brought to the fore my interest in kobudo, and that I’d really like to get into it down the line. Though I can imagine the look Wifey would give me if I came home with more stuff to complement some of the staffs I have around the place from when I started doing mixed-style stick fighting last year 😉

Share

Training roundup

Last night’s training went really well – by the time I was finished the top of my gi was soaked with sweat, and whenever that happens, I always figure it’s been a good session 🙂

With grading coming up this weekend, there was a lot of emphasis on getting core techniques polished in preparation for it, as well as kata. Despite the fact I did two stupid things (jammed my thumbnail into the side of my nose accidentally while doing a wrist-grab counter, which cut it and had it start bleeding; and knocked one of my fingers on my right hand and caused it to start swelling up [nothing an ice pack when I got home couldn’t fix!]), it was a really good, productive session. The best part was when we were working on kata towards the end of class – the first two times I did it I felt I was doing a bit of a rubbish job, so with the next few times we did it, I deliberately slowed down with increased focus, and felt extremely satisfied at the end of it. I’ve corrected my bad shuto habit where I would typically raise my striking/blocking (When is a block a block? When is a block a strike? Think about it…) arm too high, but I’m still falling into the trap of doing my age-uke too high and wasting the principle that demands economy of motion in perfecting your skills as a martial artist. Despite the fact I’ve read up on the concept in various forms over the years and know better 😛

So yeah, still plenty to do, but it was a good, solid training session 😀

Share

Another lightbulb moment – amputee-friendly round kicks (mawashi geri)

So, recently Wifey and I watched Enter the Dragon (again). And me being me, afterwards whilst getting ready for bed and doing the last-minute clean-up before bed, I started doing karate around the house – in the kitchen, the lounge room, the hallway, stuff like that. Weird thing though – I was practicing my mawashi geri (round kick) with my real leg (i.e. right leg kicking, left leg pivoting), and had a crazy lightbulb moment. This doesn’t happen often, so bear with me while I try and make this coherent!

The secret as I understand from all of you out there with two legs is that a good mawashi geri relies on awesome hip power (in fact, the root of all good karate comes from the use of your torso, which works in conjunction with the rest of your body in perfect harmony… right???). Unfortunately, things get a bit tricky for me because my mawashi geri with my right leg is generally pretty weak, as there’s no knee/ankle/foot to drive and pivot the left leg, which are essential in throwing your hips into the technique to create a controlled reaction. Think of it chopping off your left leg, substituting it with a vertical pole with a hinge in the middle, and blindly flailing around 180-240° trying not to get the pole to collapse underneath you whilst trying to make a decent kick. Doesn’t work too well.

The answer, possibly, is a simple one, and crazily enough I mentioned the precept in one of my posts from my old blog in 2007 (here) – use your upper body to control your body’s rotation. I found that by simply using my shoulders, I could regain control of my hips and follow through with a considerably improved technique.

I’ll try and explain further – I start with my left leg forward, right leg back in a short fighting stance (give me time to get it working reliably in a long zenkutsu dachi!). Follow the usual components of a mawashi geri – knee-raised to the side, lower right-leg pulled in tight to help with producing a snapping motion; make this form whilst pushing off your right foot to propel the action forward.

Now here’s where the new stuff begins – try and swivel your hips to get you started, but twist your shoulders going in the same direction of your mawashi geri. Don’t go crazy, make it a measured, control action, keeping your arms up in a defensive position, controlled, and tight (i.e. don’t flail them about). The combined use of these forces will drive the leg by way of the hips in a circular motion, using the planted left leg as a single vertical axis.

Once the leg extends and snaps forward, start with the hips as much as possible with control, then use your shoulders to finish the backwards snapping motion. Pull the foot back and land from the technique with control, no arms flailing, no landing in a sloppy stance. Control is essential, which in turn means watch your speed and stay focused.

I’ll have to keep at it to see how this technique holds up, but I’m really, really excited by this – my mawashi geri with my right leg has always been rubbish, but through this lightbulb moment and my consistent efforts in stretching my legs regularly during the week to increase their flexibility, I reckon I’m getting somewhere 😀

Share

Sore muscles!

The weekend’s seminar is catching up with me I think! It’s quite interesting, as I didn’t think I went full-on enough to be fighting sore muscles, bumps, bruises and stuff. I’ve got some choice bruises on my lower/upper arms, raw elbows, sore chest muscles and, something which is a first for me, the muscles around my neck and throat are a bit sore from all the chokes and holds I’ve been put in. Not having done much in the way of grabs/chokes before this is all rather new to me. It’s certainly not bothering me though.

Oh, the other interesting/bemusing thing is that all the choking work’s given me some crazy shaver-burn on my neck – the skin was all sensitive after shaving Sunday morning before training, and all the groundwork saw it looking a bit red and raw afterward!

My wrists have also been a bit cranky because of all the joint manipulation as well – might have to look into ways to increase their flexibility when they’re turned in on themselves if it’s possible, as I’d like to be able to take a bit more stress on the joint before having to tap out.

So yeah, just some random musings on my current state 🙂 Certainly not a grumble though – the aching muscles are a sign that I still managed to get a physical workout over the seminars, which is what I wanted to achieve! 😀

Share

Companion blogs

Calendar

August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031