Active learning with judo: Martial arts empowers visually impaired students

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By Usa Express Daily

Estimated read time: 2-3

OGDEN — What began as an experiment at a school a couple of years ago soon turned into an empowering opportunity for the students, providing them with a PE credit and a life skill they can practice for years to come.

It was the end of the semester for high school students at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Ogden. Inside the gymnasium, a judo tournament and belt promotion ceremony was taking place. This marked the end of students’ year-long training with coaches from USA Stars Judo Club.

John Green, a volunteer coach at the school, credits Sensei Adam Blackburn, founder of USA Stars Judo Club in Salt Lake City, with the vision to make this happen.

“He’s the driving force behind this program,” Green said.

And now, two years after its inception, the class is still going strong. In the past it was taught just once a week, but next year it will expand to be taught twice a week.

Students at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind practice judo.
Students at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind practice judo. (Photo: Dan Rascon, KSL-TV)

Judo is one of the most popular martial arts forms in the world. It is practiced by over 28 million people in more than 200 countries, and thus transcends cultural boundaries.

Blackburn, reflecting on the universality of judo, remarked, “Judo is the same everywhere.”

To help teach the students, Blackburn has enlisted the help of coaches from diverse areas including Venezuela, Mexico, Australia, Germany and the Czech Republic. Many of the coaches volunteer their time. Green said it’s a privilege to volunteer and he’s gotten more out of it than he ever imagined.

“Every week I leave feeling revitalized and happy,” Blackburn said.

Judo has helped these students develop valuable attributes. Through training and practice, they honed their skills of mindfulness, balance and body control.

“Judo is the perfect sport for blind people because you don’t need any vision,” Casey Reyes, a student at the school, explained. “All you need is your body, mindfulness and balance.”

Student Casey Reyes talks about judo at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.
Student Casey Reyes talks about judo at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. (Photo: Dan Rascon, KSL-TV)

Judo, often referred to as the “gentle way,” taught these students to utilize their opponents’ strength and force against them.

During a friendly sparring session, Reyes was able to sense his opponent’s strength and use that momentum against him to win his match.

“Judo taught me a lot of things, specifically about my body, about how to feel your body, how to feel the other person and kind of sense their movement,” Reyes said. “Judo has helped me to break out of my comfort zone, and to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

Blackburn also provides judo lessons at his studio in South Salt Lake: USA Stars of SLC Judo Club at 2212 S. West Temple, Unit 45. You can reach Blackburn at 801-889-5319.


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