The unequal equalizer was a phrase I first hear over 40 years ago. It was used by my old Sensei, Richard Jackson to illustrate how within a well structured Karate class, everybody has the same opportunity to perform at their highest level.
It is still true today, especially in regard to people with disabilities.
Having recently attended two championships for people with disabilities, The British Open at StokeMandeville and The European Championships in San Sebastian, Spain. More than ever I think I begin to understand that phrase.
The style of the championships isn’t that of the usual Karate / martial arts competition, far from it in fact. It differs in so many ways and for me it is like a breath of fresh air. The athletes are not pitted against one and other in an arena to see who is the strongest, fastest and most skilled. Their challenge is to demonstrate their ability. There are so many categories for people with disabilities that you could not hold a standard tournament, nor do I think you would want to. It would be unfair to all involved, participants, officials and spectators.
Let me try to give you a flavour of the events.
You may see Kata being performed by wheelchair users. This ranges from novice to higher grades, or you may see self defence demonstrated form a wheelchair.
At the Spanish event there was a young lady who gave a brilliant self defence display in her motorised wheelchair, mainly using her fully functioning good leg. She had no actual arms, only hands;I think she may have been a victim of the thalidomide drug.
You also have people with learning disabilities, down syndrome, visibility and hearing impairments or autism also performing Kata or sometimes just Kihon (basics). This may be done individually or in a group and it may or may not have been with a coach along side. There would also be other self defence displays and people performing weapons Kata but most of all, the other things you are likely to see is how everybody supports each other. Their courage, their endeavours and their great camaraderie really register with you.
What you don’t see is bad behaviour, big egos and prima donnas. You just get people trying to explore their potential with great commitment. There aren’t any losers, there can only be winners.
It needs mentioning that there is no charge for competitors or spectators, the costs were covered through funding and sponsorship. Also a lot of the training schemes are funded and free for participants within Britain.
At the European Championships, there was a slight hiccup. This came in the form of the WKF (World Karate Federation) trying to interfere with the event through reasons of their own. They gave ultimatums to the event organisers and some of the Karate-Ka that were affiliated to them. However, they were totally ignored and the event went ahead anyway. From my perspective they had no moral or ethical right to have tried to interfere with the event.
I feel that these sort of events should be celebrated, encouraged and given whole hearted support. It was not specifically a Karate event; it was a martial art event. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and puts shame on such an organisation.