Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wheelchair Manifesto

A couple of times I've had the pleasure of having a person in a wheelchair show up to try out a Krav class. I love this. Thinking about how to put someone at an uncommon disadvantage in the best possible position to survive an attack and get home safe gets my brain juices flowing in the right direction.

In both cases the person was worried about "holding back" the rest of the class. I'm going to say it out loud: stop it. You have as much right to train as anybody, and we have a spot for you on the mat right there with everybody else. Almost every student comes to us with some sort of disadvantage to training, some are just more visible than others. Every student who sticks it out improves and grows stronger. Every single one.

Take a look at what you can do if you give yourself the chance here. Andy Campbell and the others are not special and they don't have superpowers. They just kept showing up to train.

Here are some things you can do to put yourself in the best possible position for success:

*address the issue of strength. Someone who wants to dominate or harm another chooses their victim because they think they're weak. Some people will assume that because of the chair. Surprise them by being strong.

First, grip strength. Unless the person in the chair has a neurological or muscular condition that causes weakness, he or she will probably have better than average grip strength (assuming they regularly manually manipulate the chair). Make it better. If you need to grab someone & get them close enough to keep punching them with your other hand, you want to be strong enough to do that. Get one of those squeezy things & squeeze it. A lot. Engage the pinky. CrossFit coach Jeremy Ross tells me the pinky is an important & frequently overlooked component of grip strength.

Second, arm & shoulder strength. There are loads of dumbell and barbell excercises you can do at the gym (overhead press, bench press, face pulls, pull ups, etc.) Also do exercises that manipulate your own body weight, because that's what you'll be doing if you get dumped out of the chair & have to fight from there. If you can't do pushups yet, start facedown on the ground. Get up to your elbows as explosively and quickly as you can. From your elbows, get up to your hands. Again, do it with as much power and speed as you've got. Keep it up until you can explode from being face down onto a high pushup position. Now, start cranking out pushups.

Do combat crawls on various surfaces. If you've only done them on the mat, the parking lot is going to be quite a surprise.

Pull yourself up from a downed position using various rails or bars. Get creative. At the same time you'll get strong.

Figure out the best method to get quickly back into the chair from various positions & hone that skill. It's super important.

***Occasionally do all these things without taking the time to use your hands to rearrange your legs so they lay straight. In a crisis you won't have time to make sure everything is all perfectly lined up. Training from whatever position you land in will give you a tremendous mental and physical advantage when you need to put your skills to work for real.

When you come to class, try to have some sort of locking mechanism on your wheels that will prevent you from rolling backward when you punch. But if you don't have it yet don't wait to come until that's in place. We can back you up to a wall to give you some stability, but you will eventually need to be able to stabilize yourself in an outside environment. You will also need to strap your feet down so they don't drop onto the floor & trip up your movement. However, the straps should have a breakaway component so you can separate yourself from the chair if you get dumped. I have an idea about how to do this, but I suspect the wheelchair community already has a better plan in place that I just don't know about.

Now let's train!

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