Learning to walk again through karate

Normally I’d be gearing up to train about now, but I was falling asleep at my desk, so I’m home taking it easy and having an early one tonight. This will likely ensure I get paid out next week at training, but that’s fair enough 😛 Ever since I injured myself through lack of concentration due to sleepiness at training a few years back, I’m always hesitant to train if I’m feeling particularly knackered, so I err on the side of caution these days 😛 Anywho, I digress…

Today I wanted to talk about how doing karate has, for me, taught me how to walk again. This may be a bit of a misnomer, as some may think that doing martial arts was part of my rehabilitation post-amputation; it isn’t, as I had my leg amputated when I was a baby, so I learned to walk as a kid. What I’m getting at is how karate has taught me how to walk *again*.

I’ll explain – as an amputee, you compensate for the lack of muscle movement and control as much as possible. For a below-knee amputee, they utilise their existing knee to a greater degree than an able-bodied person would in order to compensate for the lack of movement you normally derive from your ankle, and the act of shifting pressure and distribution of weight you use the various muscles in your foot for. A below-knee amputee with a good gait can obtain quite a high degree of movement from mastering the use of their prosthesis and their remaining muscles – I’ve seen some footage of Ron Mann doing some work with pads and a bag, and the guy’s awesome despite being a below-knee amputee (if you’re interested in reading more, I’ve linked to his MySpace site and blog on my side panel).

For above-knee amputees, it’s a little different. We have to use our hips to compensate for the lack of a knee, and rely on our stump to pick up the remaining walking motion with our gait. I was watching on… Enough Rope with Andrew Denton a few years back, where they had an above-knee amputee and a below-knee amputee on the show talking about their conditions. It was the first time I’d heard amputees from both sides of the spectrum talk about their conditions, and I didn’t realise that above-knees had to put a higher amount of energy into their gait to achieve the equivalent movement that a below-knee would. That would explain why I look a bit unco compared to the likes of Ron!

Anywho, the preamble is meant to set up discussion on walking. So, as an above-knee amputee with a reasonably good gait for my condition to begin with, my typical method for walking was to simply plod around the place without paying much attention to how I walked, except to try and minimise the limp 😉 However, over the years I’ve found that I have gradually evolved my complete method of walking. I’m no longer plodding around – instead, I’ve learned to use my remaining leg to a much greater degree to assist me in walking. Before where I’d simply walk or plod everywhere, I now use my calf muscles, knee, ankle and all the muscles running along my foot and in my toes to walk with far more control and less tension. Instead of each stepping-phase being a case of stepping with my right foot, step with the left and try and match up as the body falls forward as fast as practical, I can now take measured action preceding the step with my prosthesis, gently arc my body over my center line, and gently ease myself into the next step.

Karate has also had an immeasurable improvement with balancing on my left leg. Walking as an amputee is kinda like walking on slits; the extra problem you get as an above knee is that your stilt has a free-swinging hinge in the middle of it, and the wrong move will see you fall over in a dramatic, if not amusing, fashion. From doing karate, I’ve gradually improved the ability to balance myself on my left leg, move my center of balance, and be able to control my body by twisting myself while pivoting on my artificial foot. The simple act of kicking with my real leg and holding myself up with my prosthesis has meant that I’ve gradually enhanced my balance as a general rule, but particularly on the fake leg.

The end result, as far as walking goes, is that I have a two-pronged attack on my previous method of walking – my control has become far greater with my real leg, and I have learned “flexibility”, enhanced balance and more control over my prosthesis, meaning that I can walk in a way that places less strain on my body while achieving a far superior gait.

So my advice for other amputees out there is to give martial arts a go – it will be hard work training your body to work with your prosthesis, but if you can stick with it, the results are not only beneficial for all the usual reasons (fitness, confidence, self defense), but it will also assist in the most basic of movements – walking.

So there we go, I’ve made a contribution that should ease my guilt for not being at training tonight 🙂


Companion blogs


March 2009