Future Reflections Fall 1992, Vol. 11 No. 4



by Jody W. Ianuzzi

Reprinted from the February, 1992, Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind.

[PICTURE] Judy Ianuzzi wears her gi (judo uniform) and black belt with pride

A blind woman is traveling alone down a dark, deserted street. There are some people who might consider her helpless and vulnerable. I would like to change that image. That blind woman just might be me on my way to teach my judo class.

As we all know, the challenges of blindness can be overcome by learning alternative techniques, but some situations can be a bit more challenging than others. As a child in public school, I remember the schoolyard bully, who tested my vision by punching me in the face. My gym teacher gave me a permanent waiver from class after years of sitting on the sidelines while the rest of the class played a variety of ball games.

Eventually I found a solution to these challenges as well. Judo became my ultimate alternative technique. When I first heard about judo classes, I was hesitant. Based on my past experience, I didn't think the judo instructor would consider me as a student. Happily, I was wrong! The instructor didn't care that I couldn't see. He was more interested in what I could do, and I could do judo. I sincerely mean it when I say that my life hasn't been the same since that day.

It is now twenty years later. Life has come full circle. I am the instructor, and I am recruiting blind and sighted members to my judo club. I want to give to my students what judo has given to me.

Unlike some other martial arts, judo needs no adaptation for blind players, who have been active in judo for many years, practicing with sighted players on an equal basis. For blind children judo can provide an opportunity to be just one of the kids, both at practice and during club activities. This is as it should be, because it benefits both the blind and sighted players and embodies the philosophy of judo as well.

Judo is a full contact form of self-defense that includes throwing techniques, pins, chokes, and joint-locks. A basic principle of judo is that a small person can throw a larger by using that person's motion to complete the throw. In this way, if a person pushes you, you pull him or her into a throw.

The physical benefits of judo practice include self-defense training, weight control, and physical fitness. With regular practice there is a noticeable improvement in balance, coordination, and orientation. Judo can be enjoyed by men and women of all ages from small children to adults. It is a great way to get back into shape and stay there while having a lot of fun, too. One enjoyable aspect of judo is that it challenges the mind as well as the body. Other forms of exercise can be boring, and it is easy to lose interest in them.

My students and I have attended many tournaments and clinics, both large and small, and we have never been excluded or shown any favoritism. I remember one tournament we attended at West Point. One of the club instructors wanted to present my student with the Best Player trophy, based on her blindness. The tournament director's reaction was to say, "It's no big deal that she's blind; I'll give her the Best Player trophy when she comes here and wins." She won a lot more than a trophy that day. On the way home from the tournament she told me that it was the first time in her life she felt like she was just one of the kids. And for the first time I began to realize that I was giving back some of what judo had given to me.

There is a philosophical benefit to judo training. As you challenge yourself, you gain a feeling of accomplishment that carries over to all aspects of life. The knowledge that you can handle a physical conflict makes a verbal conflict much less threatening. You will find that you develop a strength of mind to stand up for what you believe in, but also a strength of mind that will allow you to step back when that is the wise thing to do. You actually become less defensive and more relaxed. In twenty years it has never been necessary for me to use judo for self-defense, but I have used the strength of judo every day in all types of situations.

Part of this strength comes from a feeling that you are in control. You carry this control with you in confident body language, in the way you walk and communicate with people. When you project confidence, you are less likely to be confronted.

The self-confidence that can be gained from judo is very important to children. The blind child who is frustrated by his or her limitations in mainstreamed gym classes or who is segregated in classes for disabled students can feel less capable than classmates. Judo gives the blind child the opportunity to participate in mainstreamed activity on an equal basis with his or her peers. When the other kids are talking about their sports and club activities, the blind child can join in with talk of personal accomplishments. This equality is important to blind children, but it is also very important to their sighted peers as well. The focus is on what you can do, not on what you can't. It becomes less important that you can't play baseball when there is something unique you can be proud of. "I can" is the concept that becomes important.

Self-defense is important to everyone nowadays, but as blind people we are perceived by some as more vulnerable than others. Judo gives a balance to this misconception. All of us should learn to defend ourselves, not just for our own benefit, but as a means to change society's image of blindness.

Self-defense can be as simple as being sure of who is at your door before you open it, or as involved as defending your life. You should avoid shortcuts through less traveled areas and stay in places where there is safety in numbers. Also avoid walking next to buildings since doorways and alleys are places where someone might hide. Stay in the center of the sidewalk so that you can be clear on all sides. When I walk down the street, I try to identify the age, sex, number, and location of the people around me. This is kind of a game, but it is also a way of training yourself to be more aware of everything around you, so you can anticipate a situation before it develops.

Judo classes are usually taught in a club setting, which includes men, women, and children of all ages. Judo is often a family activity. There are judo clubs all over most states. Judo instructors usually teach at no charge. This might seem surprising, but we enjoy judo, and we teach because we love it. Class fees are usually minimal and include club dues, a uniform, and United States Judo Association membership. The United States Judo Association has been very active in encouraging instructors to recruit blind players, and the instructors are already familiar with the benefits of judo to blind players.

As you learn judo, your skills and attitude will develop. The school bully will be less of a threat. You can walk down that deserted street and be a lot less vulnerable than some might think. Those people who attempt to dominate you will not be successful. The unsolicited helper who attempts to take you across the street or the airline employee who attempts to load you into the wheelchair will both be surprised to find that you are in control of the situation. Judo is a way to even the odds and change what it means to be blind. I have made judo my ultimate alternative technique, and I hope you will make it yours as well.

I hope I have sparked an interest in you to learn judo. It can change your life as it has changed mine. If you would like more information or if you would like to locate a judo club near you, contact Larry Lee, Executive Director, United States Judo Association, 19 N. Union Blvd., Colorado Springs, Colorado 80909, (719) 633-7750. He is waiting to hear from you!