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Martial Hearts

By: Darius Andaya

“They might not understand you. They might not be able to do the techniques. They might get hurt. They might hurt someone else. They may become violent.”

These are just some of the reasons why some parents would not let their kids with Down syndrome learn taekwon-do. In actuality, the reverse is true.

Kids with Down syndrome have the most to gain from studying taekwon-do. The reasons these parents shy away from it are the very reasons why they should have their kids study it. They struggle with coordination. They have low muscle tone. They cannot express themselves clearly. They cannot protect themselves. In my mind, these kids are exactly the reason why any martial art was invented.

Darryl joined my classes when he was about 9. He had very low muscle tone and was very uncoordinated. But that weakness came with a high level of flexibility. He can kick very high, which is a very big asset in Taekwon-do. The key with him was time and patience. We practiced him slowly on his patterns, sometimes one or two steps at a time, 10 minutes at a time. It takes time, but he did understand and he was able to learn the techniques.

The atmosphere of respect and discipline enabled him to learn to respect people around him, both in and out of the training hall. Taekwon-do teaches one to kick and punch. However, an integral part of the discipline is knowing its proper use –which is ONLY for self-defense. In truth, as one becomes more proficient in the art, it becomes less likely that he/she will use it to hurt someone. This is true for everyone, even those with Down syndrome.

As for the risk of being hurt, how is it different from riding a bike, playing on the playground, or even playing basketball or volleyball? The risks are always there, yet parents think nothing of allowing their kids to do all of these activities. In taekwon-do, kids wear protective gear when they spar. More often than not, clubs use soft mats on the floors for added protection.

Darryl is now a blue stripe belt. Although he progressed slower than the rest of the class, his determination and perseverance never lagged behind. He was there at every class doing the exact same thing everyone else did. He worked hard and yet still able to return a smile for everyone willing to give him one. Recently, he competed at his first tournament, against mainstream students. No stress. No nervousness. Just a big smile in his face. He didn’t win, but the reaction from spectators was far better than a medal anyway. A black belt from another school sought us out just to shake our hands. He said Darryl was “amazing and awesome.”

Truly, if anyone has the heart for it, and the ability to capture hearts, it is Darryl. A heart full of discipline, respect, innocence and love. A true Martial Heart.

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