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Monday, April 13, 2015

Blind University Student Learns Krav Maga in Toronto (IKMF Toronto) by Luke Gagliardi


 On December 16th 2011, a blind man from Ponoka British Columbia was beaten until his face was unrecognizable to people who knew him well. On October 29th 2013, Micheal Smith from Whitby Ontario was assaulted by two females over a taxi ride. Unfortunately, there too many cases similar to these to relate them all without needing a forest of paper. The prevalence of assault cases on the blind is serious problem in today’s society. “People who feel anonymous are more likely to act violently”, a retired police officer once told me in reference to internet crime, “When people think they’re anonymous they feel empowered to do what they never would in a face to face situation… People almost never commit a crime that they think they will get caught for, at the time of the crime they always think they will get away with it”. That seems to hold true for the cases regarding assaults on the blind. Perpetrators assume that they are anonymous, and that the blind are defenceless. They are wrong.

 I talked to my friend Ka, whose eyesight is so limited that he is considered fully blind, and he is far from defenceless. In all appearances Ka seems like an average guy, but he’s not. Ka is one of the most driven people I know, he’s incredibly independent and ambitious. He’s one of those guys who you know are going to get exactly what they want from life. Ka has had a very athletic background; he’s done everything from goal ball— a really fun blind sport that is sort of like a hybrid of handball and soccer— to rock climbing, and he’s putting all that experience to the test, every Monday and Wednesday, at the International Krav Maga Federation of Toronto. Under the direction of lead instructor Christopher Gagné, Ka is learning what most would agree is the pinnacle of self-defence. When I said Ka wasn’t an average guy, I meant it. Ka, is blind in only the stiffest definition of the word. He has incredible echo-location and spacial-awareness skills, as well as hundreds of hours of traffic awareness training. Despite his lack of optics, Ka is a highly visual person that follows self-constructed, and very detailed mental maps of his environment. Ka has no problem navigating familiar spaces, or exploring new ones. If you can picture how Neo sees in the Matrix, you might start to understand how Ka navigates. Now, if you can picture Neo fighting blind, you’re getting closer to understanding Ka. 

Krav Maga is one of those arts that requires more than reflexes or biceps. It’s an intensive art that requires incredible dedication, and thousands of hours practice. It’s not just about form and stance. It’s about tactics, and to Ka, “it’s all about strategy”. I asked Ka how he is as a martial artist, I asked him to put modesty aside and tell me how good he thinks he is. Being a humble guy with high goals, Ka said only that he “has a lot of potential”. Ka mentioned that part of his potential is the practiced awareness he has for his surroundings and his own level of dedication at accomplishing his goals. Ka told me that most of his friends are very successful people who inspire him to reach further, and inspire him to set high goals. To Ka, blindness isn’t a disability, it’s just something that makes him work harder. It’s this work ethic, this level of commitment and perseverance that makes Ka a perfect martial artist. Ka, is always on the move, always trying to improve himself. He is a great advocate for independence and constantly works on acquiring the skills to be completely self-sustaining.

 For Ka and many others, Krav Maga adds an unshakable confidence that bolsters this independence. What Ka wants the blind community to know is that they are not defenceless, they possess innate skills that give them martial advantages, and make them dangerous to those who would mistake them as easy prey. Ka explained that when people move he can track them by the sound the air makes as it rustles their clothes. He can follow their movements and he can strike. I asked Ka if he thinks people would be surprised at how easily he could put them down. He told me that his instructor remarked on how “he barely ever misses”, and he has learned how to put a lot of weight behind those hits.

 But it’s not all hitting, Krav Maga teaches you situational awareness. Ka talked me through the basic stances. He elaborated on the passive stance, a stance that is to be constantly maintained with a vigilance that leaves a person always ready. This doesn’t mean that those trained in Krav Maga walk around always looking for a fight, just that they are always prepared in case one is brought to them. This is something that appealed to Ka when he was deciding what martial art he wanted to try. Ka mentioned the “One-Touch System”: training specially designed for blind people that teaches them how to break holds or escape grabby strangers. This, Ka said, “isn’t the most effective way to do things” he mentioned how “you break the grip, sure, but then what?” The One Touch System doesn’t, if you’ll pardon the pun, pack the punch Krav Maga does. It doesn’t take you all the way. This is the strategy that Ka mentioned earlier. Krav Maga teaches more than what to do when you get in a fight. It teaches you how to talk down aggressive people to avoid one, or how to incapacitate someone long enough to get away after one. Krav Maga, while militaristic, isn’t overly violent. Sure, it’s hard, but it’s effective, and it’s all for defence.

 Ka’s final message was one of encouragement. He told me that he wants everyone, especially those in the blind community, to have the skills to be independent. He wants to help others achieve that independence, he wants to encourage everyone to learn Krav Maga, and one day he even dreams of instructing a specialized course for the blind. He believes that Krav Maga gives the blind a confidence and edge that no other training can give. And as far as I’m concerned, if it means that the people assaulting the blind think twice before trying anything, that’s good enough. Those pathetic predators should be warned, Ka and his ilk are a lot closer to Daredevil than the damsel in distress.