School helps people with special needs learn martial arts


Three little bodies squirrel around an obstacle course in a small karate studio in North Austin.

The small boys clad in karate gis elephant-walk through the first part of the course, then jump over punching bags and crawl through makeshift tunnels as they warm up for their half-hour lessons at One World Karate.

Over in the school’s lobby area, their mothers look on, smiling and cheering as the children complete the course.

To most parents, seeing their kids achieve new feats is a special moment. But to these mothers, seeing the progress their boys make is especially rewarding. One World Karate is dedicated specifically to teaching to and accommodating people with special needs or disabilities who want to learn martial arts.

“We aren’t a school that makes room for them,” said Daniel Carroll, the founder of the school who is affectionately known as Saya (teacher) Dan. “It’s focused on them so that our classes are inclusive, everyone is welcome and all students of any ability can receive good martial arts instruction.”

At other martial arts schools, Carroll says, students with disabilities may not be allowed to enroll or would be limited in their participation. But at One World Karate, Carroll tailors his instruction, breaking down the concepts of martial arts to a level that his students can execute in their component pieces.

If a student is in a walker, for example, Carroll modifies the stances and blocks he’s teaching to fit the student’s needs. In that way, the student still learns the concept of the movement and is able to execute it in a modified way that takes into account a student’s special need.

For Carroll, the school is a labor of love. He grew up with an autistic sister and an adopted younger brother who also had a host of special needs. Later in life, he taught special education for seven years to help children like his siblings.

Through his school, Carroll said, he hopes to continue helping people with special needs by supplementing the range of motions they need to make at physical therapy sessions in a fun way, but also by helping them gain more focus, discipline and confidence.

One student in a wheelchair embodied perfectly what Carroll hopes to achieve through the school. The boy had cerebral palsy and had difficulty moving parts of his body. When he started at the school, he had never sat up on his own. One day, his mother came into his room and found him sitting up in his bed practicing his blocking drills.

“That’s why I do it,” Carroll says. “That’s all I really want. To hear from my parents, hear from my kids how it’s helping them and how it’s working.”

For parents, the classes are working on more than one level. Marielle Deckard, who has two boys enrolled in the school, says her therapists have noticed an improvement in the range of motions her children can do after they began karate lessons.

But, the classes also help teach the children discipline and focus, something that can often be hard to teach children with disabilities because they grow frustrated when their body can’t do the same things they see others doing. For Deckard’s 11-year-old son, who is in a wheelchair, the classes have taught him that he can do many things he never thought he could.

“It helped my oldest son with acknowledging his disabilities,” Deckard said. “You don’t see many people in wheelchairs doing karate, but he’s learned an adaptive form of it. He’s learned and he’s been in it for three years. It kind of made him come out of his shell.”



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