From the editor:
Sometimes participating in sports can be intimidating and even isolating. This month, we hear from Matthew Duffell-Hoffman, a student at South Carolina University who actively participates in martial arts, and Francesco Magisano, who serves as both the Director of TriAchilles and a competitor for team USA. Each of these blind athletes reminds us that adaptive sports exist and that blind people, too, have a place in athletics worldwide.
I started participating in grappling sports when I was eight and joined a recreational league wrestling team, immediately falling in love with the nature of the competition. There is nothing like pitting the combined power of your body and mind directly against your opponent’s. Who is stronger? Who is faster? Who knows more moves? Who thinks more quickly? Who plans better? who can anticipate the other? Every factor matters, and I love the rush these questions bring.
In high school, I was a varsity starter on the wrestling team for four years and captain for two, but after graduating I decided not to continue wrestling. It would have been too great of a time commitment. One of my friends from the wrestling team, who graduated a couple of years before I did, told me about the Judo and Jiu-Jitsu club at our university, and I decided to give it a try. It has now been a little over a year since I began doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and I enjoy the sport even more than wrestling. Jiu-Jitsu adds complexity and difficulty to the mental and tactical aspects of grappling. In wrestling, the goal is to pin your opponent’s back to the ground. In contrast, the goal in Jiu-Jitsu is to submit your opponent. This submition can be accomplished through either choking or joint locks. Joint locks can be done to just about any part of the body–shoulders, elbows, and knees being the most likely targets. Chokes can come from any direction with a large variety of grips for leverage. Jiu-Jitsu can also be Gi or No-Gi. A gi is a traditional martial arts uniform that provides a jacket, pants, and a belt to grip. In Jiu-Jitsu, you must learn to perform and defend against both submissions using the gi for grips, including chokes using the collar of the gi, as well as their No-Gi counterparts. I planned to start competing in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments this fall, but clearly 2020 had other plans.
Part of why I enjoy grappling sports so much is because of the simple accommodations needed for my participation. The first time I walked into the wrestling room with my white cane, the coach, with no hesitation, gathered the team together and explained the rules for wrestling a blind person. It’s as simple as maintaining contact. For both wrestling and No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, my opponent and I start with our hands touching, fingers pointing towards each other, palm-to-palm, with one palm facing up and the other down. For Judo and Gi Jiu-Jitsu, we start with a collar and sleeve grip. If contact is broken during a match, the referee stops the match and we reset from the starting position. If it happens during practice, my teammates just regain contact before continuing, instead of blitzing me as I am sure they would prefer.
Another accommodation that allows me to participate is the important role I get to play when new moves are presented–the dummy. When an instructor is introducing something new, they need someone to demonstrate on. Instead of attempting to teach me and my peers separately, they use me for the demonstration, so I can get a feel for the move without them having to spend extra time with me or singling me out.
Touching hands or gripping a gi may not sound like ways to get ample information, but once you’ve developed the skill you can get a sense of where your opponent is, how they are moving, and even where other body parts are from a couple of contact points. When a match is on the ground, I would argue that my blindness is an advantage. I was never plagued by a desire to try and use my eyes to figure out what my opponent was doing. Instead, I just pay attention to how my opponent’s weight is shifting and can then figure out where an arm or leg is based on my contact with the rest of their body. Furthermore, because I do not rely on vision, my other senses allow me to predict moves my opponent’s body unintentionally alludes to, making the act of faking me out that much harder to accomplish. Many may assume that my blindness would hinder me from participating in grappling sports; however, I firmly believe that with simple acomodations, which everyone I’ve ever competed against has been willing to follow, sports such as Judo and Jiu-Jitsu can be a great way to exercise, learn, and grow as an individual.
Achilles International is a global organization bringing adaptive sports and fitness to people with disabilities through a combination of virtual workout content as well as in-person sessions, coordinated on the chapter level. People of all ages and abilities are welcome to participate at their comfort level. At our flagship chapter in New York City, we regularly have participants ranging in age, from kids all the way up to senior citizens, with a wide variety of disabilities attend our weekly workouts.The easiest way to get involved is to head to www.achillesinternational.org and fill out either an athlete membership application or a volunteer/guide application. This gathered information will put you on the radar of your closest local chapter. Alternatively, you can also explore the list of chapters spread across the country and world to find ones you like, as well as explore our library of virtual workout content. While walking, running, hand cycling, and wheeling tend to be our most popular activities, we also have an up and coming multi sport team involved in triathlon and cycling events. For any questions, just head to our website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.