This past weekend I had the wonderful fortune to work with children with disabilities doing an activity close to my heart – Taekwondo. ❤ My background is predominantly in dancing (classical ballet and ballroom), as well as in figure skating, but being a Martial Arts practitioner for many years, and an instructor, has proven to be not only incredibly fulfilling, but also life-changing.
I moved to a new state some months ago, leaving behind a job teaching children Okinawan Karate. I was eager to find an opportunity in which I could work with children again, specifically doing a physical activity. I believe that movement of any kind is incredibly beneficial (for countless reasons!), especially for children, for whom creating this healthy, lifetime habit comes more easily. (If you are an adult who began fitness, for example, later in life, you know what I mean – if we start early on, embracing exercise as a positive, FUN activity, it is more likely that we keep up with it as we age.) Learning spatial and body awareness, as well as how to interact interpersonally and physically with others are valuable life skills – Martial Arts definitely cater to both.
I am blessed to be able to assist both at a Ninjutsu Dojo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, where I am also a student – working with children is always eye-opening, and I find that they teach me just as much! That work aside, I was also eager to find a way to volunteer to guide those less able to participate in such activities – I don’t like to see ANYONE left out! It is easy to take for granted that many of us CAN do sports… When our routine takes over, we almost run on autopilot, dashing from one class to the next, sometimes even begrudgingly! But. . .how blessed are we?! For some individuals, the process of making a fist with which to punch a target may take many weeks of practice!
The disabilities this particular organization – KEEN of Greater DC – works with (for the Martial Arts Program) range from Autism, to Echolalia, to Cerebral Palsy – so the group is mixed, requiring different levels of guidance and instruction. Though my background is not specific to disabilities, I find that working with these children comes very naturally – their genuine enthusiasm, eager curiosity, and love of playtime is absolutely contagious!
The activities we coached the kids through ranged from running about the room holding hands, to simple stretches, to punching and kicking targets. We also hauled out an enormous, thick mat onto which they jumped from a mini trampoline – it was tremendously crowd-pleasing! 🙂
For a few of the children, these activities are “new” each week – they might need us to form the fists for them with our own hands, or have us demonstrate a couple of extra times. For others, you can see exciting improvements over the course of the class (and over time.) In both instances, though, you see a LOT of smiling, and hear a TON of giggling. ❤
The experience is so richly rewarding, I’d be hard-pressure to measure, or describe it! What we “get” from coaching is as much tangible as it is not – there is no recognition, nor compensation…but neither do I (nor any of the volunteers) want any such reimbursement. There is, instead, a profound thankfulness that seems to fill each cell to the point of overflowing. As an Empath, I cry as much for joy as I do sadness – I was moved to tears by the elated shrieks when contact was made with a target…or my extra “that-was-AWESOME” high-five! produced a flood of smiling. How can you put a value on something like that?!
The absolute jubilation that is felt all around makes every moment worth it. These children face physical and mental challenges that most of their peers are unfamiliar with entirely – the burden is a heavy one, and it prevents them from taking part in many school sports and extracurricular activities. I was so delighted to find an organization that caters to allowing individuals with disabilities to experience the same fun and enjoyment with exercise and physical play. Keen, incidentally, has only three main employees. . . and yet making a difference is SO important to them that they manage to offer twenty-seven programs!
I will definitely be back for the next round – how precious a gift were the smiles and laughter. Add to that the grateful nods of parents able to take comfort and joy in their child’s participation? True blessing. And then some.