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DYSPRAXIA AND MY KARATE JOURNEY

At a young age I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, I think around the age of six or seven. Dyspraxia is a condition affecting physical co-ordination. It affects many areas of life and in particular fine and gross motor coordination, it though doesn’t affect ones intelligence.
It can have a big affect on participation and functioning in everyday life situations in education, work and employment.

It can affect educational and recreational activities, including but not limited to driving, diy, handwriting, balance and spatial awareness.
It can affect social and emotional difficulties as well as causing problems with time management, planning and personal organisation, and these may also affect an adult’s education or employment experiences.

Many people with dyspraxia also experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing. Dyspraxia refers to those people who have additional problems planning, organising and carrying out movements in the right order in everyday situations. Dyspraxia can also affect articulation and speech, perception and thought.

It is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects a person’s ability to perform movements in a smooth and coordinated way and can have a big impact upon balance and coordination. Many people diagnosed with dyspraxia may well choose to avoid sport and fitness training often being self concussions regarding their ability to preform movement. Throughout my childhood I was very clumsy and often bumped into things and fell over, I was bullied at school because of my difficulties and always the last to be picked in team physical education games. This resulted in me having very self limiting belief and due to also largely overweight. I was badly bullied at school.

I was constantly behind my peers. When I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, I was told that I probably wouldn’t ever have much spatial awareness, co-ordination, or balance and it was almost pointless trying to improve as I wouldn’t to much of a extent. I didn’t think at that point I would ever get married, hold down a good job or be able to drive, despite dyspraxia not affecting intelligence.

I’ve always been passionate about sport and fitness but until 14 months ago I was overweight until losing 9 1/2 stone in weight.

When younger I was encouraged to look to do some sport and came across Thai boxing at a local gym it looked great and I spent the next six years doing Thai boxing, panatukan, kali, JKD and grappling. I then came across a sport based karate club and spent a couple of years with them before really finding the art for me Go Ju Ryu karate, when I was doing this I was also training in Jujutsu and ninjutsu but now on the whole I just do Go Ju Ryu karate. Unbelievably on Saturday 27th July I took and passed my black belt grading out in Belgium this is not something I dreamed I could achieve particularly with dyspraxia. On the grading there is a technique you are required to do which involves balancing on one leg whilst doing four kicks without putting your foot down, this isn’t something I dreamt I could do but I did on grading without losing my balance once.

I love everything about Go Ju Ryu karate and I strongly believe it’s incredible effective and covers everything. Often because of the difficulties experienced with dyspraxia it’s very common for a person to be inactive and as a result experience weight related issues to. It is often suggested that someone with dyspraxia has difficulties with under developed motor neurons, meaning communication isn’t effectively received in a timely manner or correctly. However, these weaker neural pathways can be developed. This is where I strongly believe karate comes into its own. When younger and involved in occupational therapy the training they did with me is no different to what I covered in every karate class.

Every time we learn something new through reputation our neurons will develop. When we learn something new like a new kata, we must repeat it continuously to learn it, and improve it, it must be better all the time we don’t just learn it and forget it, this strengths the neurons in our brain. Learning new katas and sequences then forces our neurons to be challenged in new ways.

For proper development though to take it’s so key though to be in the right club. I’ve been under clubs without such a understanding and allowed for excuses of weaknesses. Through training in Wessex this is where things really have started to change I limited myself so much before believing I would never be able to balance for a second. The one leg kicking technique for shodan grading would of filled me with fear, it is something I would of just written off. I was under sensei’ who despite being nice enough accepted poor excuses and limiting beliefs though my self esteem and confidence has developed so much the past three and a half years. Karate uniquely targets a lot of the areas that dyspraxia causes problems with.

I feel that I was given poor advice when I was told that I wouldn’t be able to do certain things. I may not of overcome all the difficulties linked with dyspraxia however with my desire and the support and encouragement of sensei particularly during our 1-1 sessions a lot of these linked difficulties can and have been addressed.

I may struggle more, but everyone’s path in karate is their own unique journey but to be at the stage my balance and coordination, self esteem, focus are all developing the right way is massive. As said above many people with dyspraxia also have weight related issues for me karate gives me so much focus to train hard it’s a real bedrock in my life and all my training outside of karate is focussed on further development to become the best karateka I possible can be. We have a opportunity to either accept the excuses or accept the difficulties linked with dyspraxia and then be prepared to tackle these difficulties as only then will one improve our neurons in our brain. Learning new katas and sequences then forces our neurons to be challenged in new ways. To now have achieved my black belt is more than a dream come true and shows dyspraxia doesn’t need to stop us doing anything if we want it enough.

I’ll leave you with some advice for anyone thinking of taking up karate.

1) Make sure that you find the right club and right sensei, someone who will truly help you and believe in you, someone who will understand the challenges linked with dyspraxia but be prepared to push you beyond what you believe to be your own capabilities and limits.

2) take each day and each small improvement as a encouragement and be prepared to accept it’s a lifelong journey and takes time to improve and may take longer to work through the grading system.

3) be prepared to challenge your beliefs about how far you believe you can go, always keep challenging and pushing yourself.

4) take as many opportunities to attend different training camps, competitions, and courses getting used to training with different instructors and in different locations it really opens karate up more.

5) Have fun!

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Claire Carlin

Claire was diagnosed at a young age and now in her 30's works full time as a chaplain in a prison and has a 2:1 degree in Theology. She is massive football fan and loves karate.

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